Mikaela Irene Fudolig
Speech at the Phi Kappa Phi Recognition Rites, Jan 31, Benitez Hall, College of Education, UP Diliman
On behalf of Phi Kappa Phi honorees
Good afternoon, everyone.
Today, we are honored by our nomination to the International Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Today, our academic achievement is recognized, our intellectual pursuits rewarded. Today, we confirm that passion for academic excellence is rewarding, in-style, and relevant.
We stand in gratitude for this recognition. We bask in the glory of our validation. We take comfort in its implications.
Comfort, you ask? Why comfort?
For the past few years, outside and inside the academe, intellectual achievement has gone under siege. Opinion makers from all over have sought to belittle intellectual competence as an ingredient for success. They claim that academic achievement is an elitist criterion that should be abolished. The emergence of new theories on intelligence has led many un-informed self-styled experts to reject academics as a valid objective of passionate pursuit. Some have equated -- wrongly, I must emphasize – high intellectual achievement with low emotional quotient. Even others whose careers have been anchored on superior academic credentials have joined the bandwagon to demand that academic achievers not just participate, but also excel, in some other fields, in order to be truly recognized.
Please don’t get me wrong. I appreciate and encourage the development of multiple talents. But to put down academic achievement as nothing without other activities: that leads to brain drain in its worst and most insidious form.
I have heard people talk. Honor students, especially those with the highest honors, are dismissed as nerds. (I really don’t mind being called one, but do they have to be so derisive?) When some teacher says a student is very bright, another says, he must have an emotional problem. When one talks about a student’s high grades, another asks, “so how many student organizations has he joined? Can he dance? Can he sing? Can he play a musical instrument?” Why, these faultfinders even count your friends, and wrongly conclude that you don’t have any.
The heavy social pressure to belong to one or several groups has taken its toll on some of our most promising batchmates. Not a small number of them have fallen by the wayside of academic life, having lost their passion to excel in their studies. And though they salve their wounded pride by saying “grades are nothing,” a number of doors have closed on them, excluding them from opportunities to serve the country in the best way they can.
I am told that in the 1950’s and the ‘60’s, intellectual achievement was held in awe. Now, with a few, but well highlighted cases, it is dismissed as irrelevant. The media love to point out that the best of our sports heroes have not finished school, making it more difficult for parents to motivate their children to study. Even in Philippine politics, high academic achievement has all but lost its value; for when was the last time any politician was appreciated for high intelligence more than grandiose rhetoric? And, with a perceived prevalence of low-end outsourcing jobs available to graduates, is academic achievement still all that necessary?
Has academic excellence gone out of style?
Has academic excellence become an anachronism?
Is academic excellence now irrelevant?
If we follow the thinking of our detractors, the answer could be “probably, yes,”
But today, we answer these questions with a resounding “NO”!
Those who seek to discredit academic achievement as elitist, those who seek to promote the advancement of talent at the expense of intellectual pursuits, they miss the point. The importance of rewarding academic achievement, of recognizing it as a valid pursuit by itself and in itself, lies not in the achievement alone.
What is more important is the process that goes on as a student achieves from day to day. More than being summa cum laude, it is becoming summa cum laude. More than being here, it is becoming qualified to be invited here.
That process, ladies and gentlemen, is called the pursuit of excellence. Not just excellence by other people’s standards, but the true excellence one feels achieved when one has done his best. The consistency in effort, the single-mindedness of ideal across the disciplines that we study, the relentless passion to deliver one’s best – these are what are being honored today.
The pursuit of excellence is never irrelevant. It drives the progress of nations. It elicits the respect of our neighbors. It propels people, and countries, to greatness.
It is the reason why we are here.
Soon, most of us will leave the University for what is called “real adult life,” the real world out there. Some will join industry. Others will join the government. Others will move to other fields. The rest will stay to teach and do graduate studies. There may be no grades nor academic honors outside the academe. But that doesn’t matter.
Our passion for excellence will keep us relevant even outside the University. It will be our best weapon against the harsh realities and vicissitudes out there. It will make us the best we can be. Managers who lead. Politicians who deliver. Lawyers who win landmark decisions. Scientists who change the world. Teachers who inspire to greatness.
We will become successful farmers, well-read authors, sought-after consultants, great parents. If we inspire people to be like us in the way we do things, they will be more productive and successful.
And maybe we can rebuild this nation, regain our neighbors’ respect from those old days when we were the most advanced country in this part of the world. Those old days when we, as a nation, honored passion for excellence and held academic achievement in awe.
Let those days begin – again. Today.