‘Liquid modernity’


Grace M. Pulido Tan
Grace M. Pulido Tan

I  am still reeling from the graduation of my older son from Harvard Law School with a JD degree. Except for my eldest daughter who had recently given birth to our first granddaughter, we were all at Holmes Field, standing proud and jubilant under a glorious Cambridge sky. Family from Boston, San Diego, and Niagara Falls joined us for good measure, and we were probably the biggest cheering squad on that day. After all, my son was the only homegrown Filipino in the HLS JD Class of 2018. Of course, he wore a barong under his red and black regalia!
It was an epic moment of unspeakable gratitude and nostalgia. My once little boy now a recipient of one of the world’s most sought-after diplomas, head to head with the best and the brightest. How did he get there? How could he, along with all of us, have deserved such a singular blessing? Pete Davis, the Graduate Commencement speaker who is also from HLS, provided me with a handle – commitment.
The defining characteristic of this generation, according to Davis, is being in “infinite browsing mode,“ always keeping options open, never wanting to commit to any one identity or place or community. Like liquid, he said, millennials “remain in a state that can adapt to fit any future shape,” what the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman calls “liquid modernity.”
How apt! Immediately, images flashed in my mind of young adults moving in rapid succession of career options and relationships. They seem to be in a perpetual state of testing the waters; as Davis describes it, “like (being) in a long hallway with thousands of different doors to browse.”
Sure, modern liquidity can bring “all the good that can come from having so many options,” the fun of novelty, and endless possibilities. The downside is, says Davis, the more frequent we exercise options, “the less satisfied I am with any given option.” But “those who left the hallway, shut the door behind them, and settled in” truly inspire and “sustain the work.” In other words, those who commit to something “for the long haul.”
Like my son. Early on, he learned to appreciate his unique gifts and the enormous good it could bring him and to a wider and more diverse community than he was born to, beyond self. He opted out of an exclusive boys’ school and went to the Philippine Science High School. From then on, he committed to a life of mental curiousity, academic excellence, discipline, and perseverance. He stayed the course and focused on his goal to apply his talents and aptitudes to best use. From a wide array of options, he chose to become a Biomedical Engineer and while at work in this field, he discovered how law could better advance medical science. So decided to go to Harvard – and no other. He was so purpose-driven even as a young boy, and gave everything it took to bring him where he is now.
So also it is in his personal affairs. He knew exactly whom he wanted for a wife, and once he found her, he committed to her for the long haul. Five days to graduation, he proposed and got engaged.
Congratulations, son, and thank you, Lord, for enabling him!