25th Anniversary Keynote Speaker
Good evening fellow PWU Alumnae.
Ikinararangal ko po na ihatid sa inyo ang pagbati ng ating minamahal na si
Helena Benitez was 5 years old when her mother and aunts started the Philippine Women’s University. Throughout their long lives, these women served as mentors and role models for the many people who were fortunate enough to know them. But even those of us who never had the opportunity to meet them have benefited from their cultural legacy through our PWU education.
Last month, I attended a wedding where most of the women were graduates of either Assumption or Maryknoll. I know because that seemed to be the first question that they asked each other. “Where did you go to school?” When I replied, “Philippine Women’s and U.P.” the inevitable response was “ahhh – because you own it.” Well no, we do not own PWU and although I am related to the Benitezes for whom 2 buildings are named at U.P. we do not own those either.
That, and the invitation to come and be with you tonight, got me to think more deeply about PWU and the role that it played in my life. I promised Arceli I would keep this short, so let me get straight to the point and tell you.
What I got from PWU was a good sense of who I am and a confidence that has helped me face any situation, deal with people from different walks of life and remain proud to be Filipino.
Maybe it was because I had to carry the flag pole at convocations since I was the tallest one in our class. Or that I had to work really hard in Mrs. Miranda’s Chemistry class or make sense of Mrs. Alegre’s colorful lectures (with matching wardrobe). When you had to swim all those laps with Mrs. Bediones’es whistle blowing in your ear whenever you came up for air, or spend all those hours on Mrs. Villaflor’s productions, you learned life skills that stay with you forever.
I am sure you have your own memories of what made going to PWU such a special time in our lives. It made me proud to know that it was the first university for women in Asia founded by Asians. I appreciated the opportunity it gave me to have Muslim friends because PWU offered a non-sectarian education in a predominantly Christian country. At PWU, nation building was not some abstract concept but something that informed our curriculum, inspired our students and got us involved in many, many extra-curricular activities.
I am in awe of Philippine Women’s alumnae who, finding themselves in a situation calling for hard work or commitment, do not hesitate to do what needs to be done. And they don’t make a big thing about it but they tend to become the backbone of whatever organizations they are involved in - whether in leadership positions or simply by doing their jobs well.
I have met PWU alumnae from all walks of life and find a strength about them that does not need to hide behind class distinctions nor derive value from how much money they may or may not have. We may not speak the same way, or write the same way and we certainly do not think the same way but what impresses me about PWU alumnae is how they have managed to use their cultural legacy to make sense of the real world around them. We are not afraid of change and we do not run away from a challenge, we just do what needs to be done. Whether it is in our homes or in the workplace. Whether we remained in the Philippines or made new lives for ourselves somewhere else. At PWU we were taught early to identify and nurture whatever gifts we had and to use those gifts to the best of our abilities not only for our own benefit but also to help others.
How do we preserve PWU’s cultural legacy in these changing times? I am no expert but it seems to me that we preserve it by putting it to good use, by adapting it to our needs and by giving back when we can. And that giving back means sharing what we have learned - not just what we have earned. Those of us who have had the opportunity to live outside the Philippines and seen how simple things like obeying traffic signs can benefit our whole community because it teaches us a basic respect for the law - we can and should share those lessons with our friends and relatives back home. We can provide a voice of reason and a fresh way of looking at what seem to be major obstacles to development but are really just problems that people can do something about. In whatever ways we can, we should remain engaged with what goes on in the Philippines so that when others look at us as their mentors or role models, they will find that no matter where we have been or what we have done in our lives, what we all share is a cultural heritage that traces back to our good old days at PWU.
Maraming salamat po sa inyong lahat and more power to all of you and the PWU Alumnae Association of Southern California!
May 23, 2009