Monday, April 6, 2009

Graduations, Barkada, Gearing Up for Cebu, Thailand

It's been a while, but it's only because not much has been happening. Such is the nature of summer vacation; I'm supposed to be working on secondary projects, etc, but I've mostly been reading and listening to the news on my iPod in the hammock.
March 24th marked the Ring Hop ceremony of the local university. I was honored by a request to be a guest of honor and speaker there. A ring hop ceremony, for those of you who do not know what a ring hop is, is the ceremony at which point graduates receive their graduation rings by walking through a large ring.
Below is a transcript of the speech that I gave:

I won’t take too much of your time

Akong basahon og hinay lang

Maayong gabii, greetings and, most importantly, congratulations! Most of you probably know me by now. My name is Sean Stanhill and I am a Peace Corps volunteer, teaching English and Information Communication Technology at San Juan National High School. I am dually honored this evening, to have been invited to speak at your ring hop as well as to have befriended some of you during my past four months here in San Juan.

Having recently graduated from college myself last May, it is certainly a humbling experience to be standing before you almost a year later, sharing that same tradition of commencement with all of you.

The cultures of my country and yours vary wildly. Aside from the obvious differences, like foods, communication styles and hobbies, the custom by which we herald in graduation differs. When I was formally invited to speak at your ring hop, my first response was a resounding YES…What’s a ring hop?

Indeed, we do not have ring hops; my college didn’t even have graduation rings. But rings are merely a material symbol of the real accomplishments and the true achievements each of you have worked so hard for. I’m standing before a graduating class, all of you poised to burst the scene and charge into the world skilled, competent and energetic.

As you know, our global economy is shrinking. Many countries have been adversely affected by the economic downturn that started late 2008. To tell you that graduating from college to enter the work force now will be easy is not truthful. I will face the same competition and difficulty, trying to enter into my own country’s workforce after my two years of service here in the Philippines.

Less of a barrier and more of a bar, the economic downturn will be conquered. We, as a generation, must set our goals high, to look beyond the immediate challenges and to use our gifts to meet the challenges of the 21st Century head-on. We must strive to make a better world in which our own children will not have to fear an economic crises of this magnitude in their own lifetimes. Success is not an option, it’s a calling.

The future is truly a gift. Unlike anything else in our lives, the future is opportunity; it will be anything that we want it to be. I say we because success, as you all know, requires teamwork. There are as many reasons to go to college as there are people sitting in front of me. But one thing unites all of you: you now possess the tools to shape your futures, much like a metal smith or mechanic.

I was thinking the other night that, in our lifetimes, there are two rings that demarcate true life achievements. Some of you, I know, already have one of them, the rest of you are receiving the other this evening. I’m speaking of course, of marriage and education. Two sides of the same coin if you will, one can not truly be successful in marriage without the education to support his or her family, nor can one succeed in a career without the friendship, love and support of family.

I have been lucky enough to witness one such matrimonial ceremony, my dear friends Coky and Rodolfo. But this evening, I am privileged to bear witness to the reception of your rings, all of you, who have worked so hard to be here tonight.

Tonight is your night to shine. Humility is a virtue, yet there is a time and place for everything. Take this night in stride as an evening for pride; all of you deserve it.

My gratitude, again, for inviting me to share this evening with all of you, thank you and congratulations.

Ingat, ayu-ayo, take care.

The next day, I was invited to witness the graduation ceremony. It was very strange sitting there, an honored guest at a college graduation ceremony, having graduated from college less than a year earlier.

After two days of rest, I sat through yet another graduation ceremony, that of my own high school. It was exactly like any high school graduation I have been to in the states. The ceremony even took place in English. Not much to say about it I guess. It was short and sweet, about an hour and a half. We graduated 90 boys and about 130 girls. This ratio is typical.

It was really touching to see my students walking with their proud parents.

Shortly after graduation, I went out to see some live music with my counterpart when a group of her former students came in. They are a
barkada, or a formalized, small social circle. They have known each other since pre-school. To make a long story short, after a week of hanging out with them everyday,often at the beach, they formally adopted me into their barkada (only by saying that I belong with them now, no special ceremony or anything). From left to right: Aiza, Roselle, Sixto, James, Janus and Hazel. As you all know, I have been very happy here at site with my work and home life but my social life here has been, well, lacking. I have been very lonely, often spending hours in my room reading, being solitary and antisocial. Having these friends, who are all 22, is a blessing (Sean! Did you really just use that word? -- Yeah, I did).
More than anyone
here at my site, they really get that I'm a volunteer and don't allow me to pay for anything. Get that? They don't want me to pay for anything because I'm on a tight living allowance. They are so touched by my being here. It took a while for me to tell them why I would give up two years of my life without pay to work in another culture, but once they understood, a few even started to cry! I'm really lucky.
Unfortunately, they will all be leaving after Holy Week to go to Cebu and Manila to work but they will be back for Fiesta
in late June. My site is home for them and they will always be coming back.

On April 13th, I leave at 1 a.m. to go to Cebu for training for 10 days with the rest of my batch mates and then, from there
to Thailand. Brian, if you're reading this, I already have the necklace you gave me for Europe packed. For those of you who don't know, Brian Krohn (Rhodes Scholar and brew master extraordinaire, as well as my roommate for three years) gave me a medallion he bought in Thailand that is said to protect travelers. I wore it every day through Europe for two months, on all my travels throughout the U.S. and my trips to New Zealand and the Philippines. Later this month it will be going full circle back to its place of origin. There's something sweetly poetic about all that, especially since it was never intended.

Books I've just finished reading:
In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines by Stanley Karnow, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky and Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (Oi!)

Think local. Act global. Learn more about the Peace Corps