Amazing this computer age stuff.. You can’t live without it, but you can’t live with it either. For almost a month, my laptop has been acting up (slow, not loading, can’t detect wifi) and somebody said it might have been infected by a virus and could crash anytime. That explains why I haven’t been writing much. So yesterday, for fear of losing all my pictures, I began transferring them to CDs for safekeeping. I’m already halfway done (ran out of CDs). Whew!
And while I was doing this, I came across a speech I made in 2007. I was invited to talk to the graduating class of Del Monte School, a special private school from which only a handful graduate every year. So rather than have it get lost in digital memory, I decided to immortalize it here on the internet.
Speech to the Graduating Class of Del Monte School 2007
Thank you, Ms. Lily, for that glowing introduction.
Parents, teachers, students, graduates, good evening. How are you all tonight? Aah, this does bring back memories. I remember standing on a stage just like this one, during my own graduation ceremony, frozen in fright to be speaking in front of all our parents. Back then it was only about 30 people, but to me, it seemed like hundreds. I can just imagine what you guys in the front row are feeling.
I would like to thank Ms. Lily and Ms. Delia for inviting me to speak at this very important occasion. I’ve never done this before and I’m overwhelmed by the honor.
I’d like to start by telling you a little bit about myself and my experiences at Del Monte School. In 1972, my dad, the late Reynaldo Cuerdo, was promoted to Superintendent and he brought his family from Phillips to Cawayanon. At the time, DMS was accepting students in the higher grade levels only. My sister and brother were accepted 3 years later for Grade 3 and Grade 1, respectively. In 1979, I became part of the first Kindergarten class. There were 5 of us—David Epp, Rosanne Keyes, Oscar Schnitzler, Ryan Barger and myself.
Because of the temporary nature of Del Monte employees, my classmates came and went. Oscar was sent to a school in Germany because his parents spent most of their time traveling. At the same time, Elena Arinzol came in. The Epps and the Keyes were transferred out sometime during Grade 2 and the Bargers also left in the summer before Grade 4.
My stay at DMS was somewhat what you might call mediocre, or so I thought. I believed this because I could never seem to manage getting into first place… at anything. There always was someone who was taller, older, the faster runner, or the quicker thinker. I even decided once that I’d much rather forget my DMS experience because it brought too many embarrassing memories to mind. It was only later, when I started working actually, when I began to realize its importance and how privileged I was to have studied here.
DMS is an enigma for most outsiders. Let me tell you what other people out there in the world think about our wonderful school. They don’t. In fact, they’ve never heard of it. When I was accepted into a much larger high school in Quezon City, none of my classmates were impressed when I described it. They were impressed though, when I told them I had been awarded Second Honor, supposedly the equivalent of Salutatorian where they came from. My brief popularity ended when they asked how many students were in my class whereupon my answer was TWO. (Laugh) One classmate in particular had always believed I was hiding something until he was transferred by his company to Cagayan de Oro last year. I was bringing him around to see my beloved home, Cawayanon, when he suddenly burst out laughing as we passed the school. After all these years, he finally saw that I had been telling the truth after all.
So what is DMS? Why do parents push so hard just to get their children into this obscure, almost non-existent institution? Do you know why? I’ll tell you why.
Because we all end up speaking English. (Laugh) Actually, this is just one of the reasons, but it is the most important. You see, once a person has internalized a language, and they begin thinking in it, that’s when it becomes a part of their being. So our English proficiency sets us apart from the rest of the world this early in life. In other words, you have just been given a head start in the race for the highest paying jobs in the country and abroad. While we’re on the subject of English, have you parents noticed the changes in accent of your previously Visayan-speaking kids? Amazing how the American intonation can inculcate itself in students’ tongues so easily, even after just a few weeks in the school. This culture, insignificant as it may seem, has in fact become the signature of DMS, because once you’ve learned the nuances and expressions of the language, you will carry them throughout your lifetime. My elder sister is an example of that. She spent only 3 years at DMS but became editor-in-chief of both her high school and college newspaper, having impressed her English teachers so much. Incidentally, she has never fully caught on the Filipino language though she lived in Manila for 10 years.
The second reason is because it is a small school. (Laugh) I bet you weren’t expecting that. It is best rephrased as because it is an exclusive school. So exclusive that the screening process is so strict that only a few students are accepted into each level. Take these seven members of the graduating class. I’m guessing you didn’t meet each other all at the same time, did you? You met at different stages therefore you got to know each other in different circumstances. You then realized that not only do you have to make do with each other, but you needed to learn how to work with the rest of the school in the same way. Because you realized that you have no choice in the matter. It’s either you are best friends with your classmates or… you’re best friends. It’s either you play kickball or Scottie with the other kids—and be accepted—or you don’t—and be cast off. There’s no other way around it. So how does this prepare us for the future?
One, your personality development is now more advanced than that of kids from larger schools. You now have an idea what your strengths and weaknesses are. You now know how to adjust to other personalities and situations. You have the ability to be more flexible in extreme circumstances. For the last three years of my stay at DMS, I had one classmate. Her name was Elena Arinzol. We were best friends and best enemies at the same time. She was always the aggressive one, where I was always laid back. They say opposites attract and in our case, that was true. However, when it came to academics, we were always head to head and never got along.
Two, you are exposed to more experiences than the average student. As an individual, you have more space to explore, more questions to ask, and ultimately, more time to discover the world. What this means is that you now have the capability to perceive details in a short span of time, much faster than your to-be colleagues and peers. And more important, you will remember them more often and with clarity. In my work as a travel coordinator, I find myself spotting unusual sights not mentioned in the travel brochure and pointing them out to visitors. It’s funny, but they seem to appreciate those bits of trivia much more than the usual guiding spiel.
And third, you are now more academically advanced than other kids, because you have been encouraged to learn at your own pace. You don’t have to wait for your other classmates to catch up if your brain absorbs information like a sponge. You were also expected to live up to the competition. In DMS, there are only two kinds of competition—the first, between you and your classmates, and the second, with yourself. Your sense of competition becomes part of your daily habit that your high school teachers ultimately make you the benchmark of your class. And as a result, you now have the rare break of being accepted into better colleges and universities based on your intelligence alone. When Elena and I graduated in 1986, we were both working on the Advanced Levels of all our subjects, earning for us each the coveted Silver Medal. We both took the first and second screening exams for Philippine Science High School and passed, landing in the second and third places for Region 10.
Now, graduates, before you go and become stuck-up and self-important, let me bring you back down to earth for a second. There is one disadvantage with the DMS experience, and that is the students become confused when asked what they want to be when they grow up. This is probably caused by the fact that we are encouraged to explore every possibility and every opportunity that comes our way. After college, most, not all, end up putting up their own business because they feel they cannot settle for an office job. My brother is fast becoming a gym tycoon, with two branches of his rock-climbing gym in Quezon City and Mandaluyong and a third being developed in Guam. Likewise, those who become employed rise up the ranks so quickly that they eventually end up calling the shots in the company that hired them.
So is this all that Del Monte School does for us? I don’t think so. As we move on, forward toward our dreams and ambitions, we are struck by the blessings and circumstances that God has brought upon us that we may enjoy the fruits of our parents’ labor. We are fortunate to have dedicated mentors in the teachers Del Monte has particularly chosen for our extraordinary experience.
My mentor was Miss Angelina Yap, who peacefully returned to our Creator late last year. Some of you still remember her? She joined Del Monte School in 1982 and became my Grade 3 level adviser. She instilled in us a love for reading and composition and was very strict when it came to understanding the subject and verb agreement. Even long after we’d graduated, she was still there to guide us as we traveled the highways of literature and communication. Yes, Miss Yap gave many fruitful years of her life to DMS before she went on to greater work.
And, of course, there are our memories. Even if a student was with DMS for just a few months, as with the children of several foreign managers in the past, they carry with them a lifetime of remembrances when they leave. What more if you had studied here for the entire length of 7 years or more?
So as I come to the end of my talk, I’d just like to say this: be proud. Of your parents, because without them, you couldn’t have gotten into this exceptional school in the first place. Be proud of your teachers, because without them, we wouldn’t have reached this level of high standard in education. And most importantly, be proud of yourselves. For making it this far, and for accepting the challenges that life will throw at you from this day forward. You have just completed stringent training that has produced independent individuals who understand the meaning of teamwork. This is what you have (strike the heart)… here at Del Monte School.