Historic graduation of Ateneo School of Government

Today, 22 August 2015, the Ateneo de Manila School of Government will be holding its commencement exercises, with Representative Leni Robredo as our commencement speaker. It is our biggest graduation ceremony ever with more than 200 being recognized by the school as having completed their Masters in Public Management. This number includes those who obtained their MPM degrees, majoring on rural development from the Development Academy of the Philippines under a joint academic program with ASoG.

This is my final commencement exercise as Dean of ASoG. As I promised to myself and to former Ateneo de Manila president Fr. Ben Nebres SJ, who asked me to come home from Washington DC in 2006 so I could run the school, that I would stay only for ten years in ASoG so that the school can be renewed. In June 2016, the ten-year mark would be surpassed. It is time to go for new adventures and perhaps a new mission.

When our graduates begin their march, I will recall the words of the late Father Horacio de la Costa SJ who spoke before the graduating class of Ateneo de Davao in 1953, and asked these questoins: “When a brand-new plane taxies up to the runway and pauses for a moment before the take-off, one question is uppermost in the minds of everyone on board. Will it fly?  Tonight, you are like a row of brand-new planes ranged at start of a runway. And all of us, your loved ones, your teachers, are asking the same question. Will you fly?”

Today, I will ask this question to our new alumni: will you fly as eagles? And to answer this question, I will propose this checklist: (1) Are you persons of  practical excellence? (2) Are you persons of principles:  (3) Are you persons for others, for the people?  (4) Are you leaders? (5) Are you servants of God?

Our graduates should be persons of practical excellence, what Fr. De La Costa described in his 1953 speech as “persons of judgment”. Their Ateneo education should make them a better bureaucrat, manager, administrator, supervisor and employee —in short, a more effective public servant. Practical excellence means that we have given them a set of competencies that will enable our graduates to deliver services better and more effectively to the people.

Our graduates should be persons of principles. From the beginning, we insisted that our students learn how to think ethically. To know your principles, and to stick to them, you must learn how to navigate the dilemmas of politics. In my own career as a public servant, the most difficult challenge has been—how can I do the right thing the right way? It is not enough to do the ethical thing; it is just as important to do it the right way so that you are able to implement decisions, defend your actions, and actually solve problems.

Our graduates should be persons of the people. To be a public servant is to be a servant of our people, and especially for the poorest in our society. A public servant is a person-for-others. Let me quote directly again from Fr. De La Costa, as his words, 62 years later, still resonates loudly for you our graduates today:  “We need national leaders; the best we can get. But make no mistake: it is local and regional community leaders that our people need most of all. Not leaders who reside in some distant capital, out of touch with them, out of their reach, but leaders who are right here with them, who know them and whom they know; who understand their problems, their hopes, their dreams, and who can, because of the education they have received, give substance to these hopes and dreams.”

Our graduates should be leaders. We always say that the Ateneo School of Government is above all a graduate school of leadership and public service. Our mission is to mold leaders who will have the kind of impact on the world that Ignatius Loyola did. To quote from Chris Lowney who wrote a book on leadership as practiced by the Jesuits: “Genuine leadership—focuses on the possible, the future. Love-driven leaders seek out and honor the potential in self and others. Heroic leaders seek to shape the future rather that passively endure whatever unfolds. And ingenuity-driven leaders uncover ways to turn human potential into achievement and a vision of the future into a reality.”

Finally, we hope that our graduates are servants of God. And if true that they are persons of God, then they will be persons of practical excellence, their judgments will be based on truth and God is truth. They will be persons of principles for the Lord will give them strength and courage to do the good thing the right way. They will be persons for the people, persons for others, for God is love. And they will be leaders, like The Lord, our true King who led by becoming like us, who in weakness found grace, who died so we may all live.

Today, on the final commencement ceremony I will attend as ASoG Dean, I will congratulate my students and remind them it is a great honor to be now our alumni, and with great honor comes great responsibility. I am sure they will meet that expectation and their teachers.


Facebook page: Dean Tony La Vina Twitter: tonylavs

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