By Manny Villar Jr.
(Manny Villar Jr. was commencement speaker at the University of the Philippines Visayas, Miagao Campus on June 22, 2018. Following is from his commencement speech:)
When I was growing up, my dreams were simple: a better life, a bright future. But it was not big. I had no interest in politics and government. I never imagined becoming a congressman or a senator or a president.
That all changed when I entered the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1966. The years I spent in UP was a turning point in my life as it gave me the opportunity to dream big.
I met young people my age who had dreams larger than they are. Many of my classmates at that time wanted to change the world. I said to myself, “Gusto ko lang baguhin at palakihin negosyo namin, samantalang itong mga kaklase ko gustong baguhin ang mundo.”
I know this is cliché to many but UP gave me the confidence to think that I can change the world. Some people would say, “ang yabang yabang ng mga taga-UP!” Looking back, I realized that a little braggadocio is essential to changing the world!
It was my encounter with the best and the brightest in the country that allowed me to dream big. Sure, I still wanted to give my family a better life but I realized that as I work on this, I can also fight for better lives for my neighbors, my community, my country.
This brings me to my next point. Graduations are also times for hope. It is a time to hope that what you have learned in UP will propel you and your family to a better life. It is a time to hope that what you have become is enough to make a contribution to make our world a better place.
But how can you contribute to the country? How can you serve the people, which is an expectation especially because you are graduating from the premier university of the country? Let us not reinvent the wheel in trying to answer these questions.
Our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal wrote in El Filibusterismo: “A man is great, not because he goes ahead of his generation, which is in any case impossible, but because he discerns what it wants.”
Another distinguished Filipino, Jose W. Diokno wrote that the task of the youth is to acquire “the capacity to understand what our people want and say it clearly so that they themselves will see it, and seeing, gather their strength to achieve it.”
Your contribution is not limited to public service. Of course, it would be good if you can enter government and serve the people there. But public service is not the exclusive domain of politics and government. Today, the arena of worthy struggles can be found where there is a need for change: in everyday life, in the university, at the workplace, in the community.
In fact, let me state it more clearly. Do you want a better life for your family? Do you want to serve the country? Then become an entrepreneur! Many of you know that this has been my advocacy in life.
Entrepreneurship provides opportunities for our people. It helps in the formation of capital. It facilitates the creation of employment opportunities not only for owners and their family members, but also for other people. Entrepreneurship therefore directly leads to more business, more job opportunities and better quality of life for the Filipinos.
Many graduates complain that it is difficult to get a job these days despite having a diploma. The solution is to create your own job and create jobs for others. Be an entrepreneur!
And your generation—the millennials—are perfectly suited for entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are individuals who possess innovative and creative minds. They are hard working, optimistic, independent, and achievement-oriented. They have vision and capability to create new ventures. Through innovation, an entrepreneur discovers new things, new products or services, and these in turn benefit society in general. I know this first hand because I work with a lot of millennials. More than half of our workforce in Vista Land are millennials.
The great inventor, Thomas Edison, once remarked that he never invented anything if he did not think of the service it might give to others. Edison, said: “ … I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent.” And this attitude of entrepreneurs never ends.
About five years ago, I also had my “graduation.” After 21 years in public service, I left politics in 2013 and returned to my first love: being an entrepreneur.
As I went back to my status as ordinary citizen, I immediately fell in love with entrepreneurship again. It was a like a reunion I was so excited about. I felt like an apprentice. It felt like my first day at work. It is true what they say, “love is sweeter the second time around.”
Upon my return to business, I began to see the world differently. I love comparing it to watching television. When I was in politics, my view was monochromatic, it was in black and white, it was blurry. As an entrepreneur, I was seeing the world in super high color definition!
I began to study the lay of the land of our business, after all, I was absent for a long time. It did not take long for me to find a new challenge, a new opportunity—retailing and malls. Can you imagine a retired politician selling coffee, home furnishings and furnitures, and baked goods?
When I broached this idea, many people in Vista Land shook their heads. “Sir, this does not make sense. There are already heavy players in that field. It will be difficult to compete.” One look and it does seem corporate suicide to embark on retail and malls already dominated by a number of big players.
Some had doubts. But I never doubted myself.
If there is one lesson I want to impart to you as you embark on your own journey, it is this: Embrace challenges and erase the idea of giving up in your DNA.
This is what keeps me going. I could have easily retired and do what retirees do but this new challenge keeps me up. I leave my house at 5 a.m. to go to work. It’s a 24/7 job. Even on Sundays, I would go to the gym, have a light breakfast and then start my meetings for the day.
I have always believed that entrepreneurship is the key to both personal and national progress. Despite many success stories, our society is still designed to train our young people to work as employees. We need to push for a radical change in the way our people, especially the youth, view wealth creation and progress.
It is not about working for a big corporation, dressing in a coat and tie or some hip corporate attire, sitting behind a desk, buying the latest smartphones when you get your bonus. That is not success.
Rather it is when you build something from the ground up with your blood, sweat and tears. When you can put up something that can provide you profit, give other people jobs and help in building our nation. When I see people turning the houses we sell into their own homes, when I see them enjoying a cup of coffee, I feel a sense of fulfillment. That is success. That is the Filipino dream.
By way of concluding, let me repeat what I consider to be an important lesson in my life, which I hope can also help you: your circumstances today will not determine what is possible tomorrow.
In other words, where you are now, whatever difficulties and challenges you face, do not determine where you are going. Armed with the values and principles you learned from your parents and strengthened at school, you can make your life better. And as UP has taught us, let us also make sure that we uplift the condition of our neighbor and our communities.
Congratulations to all our teachers, administrators, parents and of course, to the graduates of UP Visayas 2018!