After joining the USA-ASEAN summit in Palm Springs, California in February 2016 at the invitation of President Barack Obama, President Benigno S. Aquino III went to Loyola Marymount University to receive an honorary degree on humane letters.
He confided to the audience, “I am writing the speech while delivering it.” He shared vignettes about two professors.
The first took place in his senior year in Ateneo as an economics major. The professor gave a final exam on Nobel laureate Gunnar Myrdal’s Asian Drama that required students to answer eight questions for each of the book’s three volumes. The day after the grueling exam, the professor told the class, ““I hope now you know that you do not know.” He quoted the teacher further:
“You know you can be anybody, if all you have to do is recite by your own memory that which was imparted to you. But we hope to…have developed in you an ability to think. And that in turn led to, perhaps, our ability to accept concepts, like…Why do you have to accept the status quo when the status quo does not really address that which is needed by man?”
The other was Ms. Advincula who taught political science and focused on the Constitution. He recalled what she told their class:
“I see the faces of students who are questioning why they have to study something which is supposed to be the fundamental law of the land only to exist in a universe where tomorrow it may cease to be the fundamental law of the land. Where is the relevance of that which you are asked not just to read, but to memorize and take to heart? And she said: ‘…Tomorrow, you may be holding…the reins of power, and…if you do not know the difference between right and wrong, how can anyone expect you or your generation to do that which is right? That is my mission, to teach you right from wrong, so that when the time comes that you do hold the reins of power, you will do that which is right.”
This probably explains why he always brought with him a well-worn copy of the Constitution that he regularly referred to whenever he tackled key issues affecting the lives of millions of citizens.
He also shared that he had a chat with President Obama who was also looking forward to ending his tenure just over a year hence. He suggested to him two films that he had discovered during a Holy Week holiday: The Cardinal and The Shoes of the Fisherman. He discussed The Cardinal in his Loyola speech:
“The Cardinal talks of the life of a person who will eventually become a cardinal, who started as a priest on the fast track. And, it seemed like, for every situation at that early part of his career, he had—how should I put it?—dogmatic answers to any and every situation… So the film…traces his growth as a person of faith. Why was it such a significant experience in my life?
“The Cardinal showed me a person who had to deal with the realities of his situation, and his own personal growth, as to how to achieve this… I was very fortunate to go to…that institution where we had programs like immersion, where people of wealth, of status, were able to be brought to communities (where people) had nothing, and experience life on the other side of the spectrum. They showed us the conditions, they asked us to ask ourselves the question whether or not this was right, or this was wrong. They gave us the necessary tools to be able to effect the changes on that which was wrong by doing that which was right. It always told us to measure our actions on the basis of how does it affect the other?”
Realizing that he had already spoken at some length, he said:
“The difficulty in trying to write this speech was, I had to reflect on 56 years of my life. And I was hoping to be able to do all the main points in ten minutes or less. Right now, I’m beginning to feel my mother at my back saying, “You know, we have other things to do. You might want to move on.”
So he summed up by saying that while the theme song in The Cardinal had no lyrics, Frank Sinatra made it a memorable song: “In a sense, it encapsulates my own journey as to how to become a better Christian and a better Catholic. And, if I may quote:
“Should my heart not be humble, should my eyes fail to see,
“Should my feet sometimes stumble on the way, stay with me.
“Like the lamb that in springtime wanders far from the fold,
“Comes the darkness and the frost, I get lost, I grow cold.
“I grow cold, I grow weary, and I know I have sinned,
“And I go seeking shelter and I cry in the wind.
“Though I grope and I blunder and I kneel and I’m wrong,
“Though the road buckles under where I walk, walk along.
“Till I find, to my wonder, every task leads to Thee,
“All that I can do is pray, stay with me,
“Stay with me.”