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The Pursuit of a Well-Balanced University Life

The Pursuit of a Well-Balanced University Life

Speech delivered by Jo-Dann N. Darong
Honors’ Day at the Foundation University
11 February 2019

Are you happy that you are being honoured by this institution of intellectuals? Are you happy that your name is among the very names being recognized today?


The pursuit of finding a purposeful and intentional life has never been easy, moreso, finding happiness.

In my four years in Foundation University, such pursuit indeed was not easy. I belong to the Class of 2007 and we call ourselves the “Golden Minds”. Golds are for first placers. Golds are reserved for the best and the brightest. Mind you, as a class we have to live up to the expectations of shining like a gold and literally, bringing gold medals to FU.

And speaking of expectations, I hope you will not assume that I was the most intellectual student in my batch or the smartest kid during my time just because I am speaking before you this afternoon. I was just like anybody who wants to be consumed by earth everytime Dr. Mira was inch closer. Thank God this University trained us to speak conversational English – I later on survived. I was just like anybody who spends morning breaks at the cafeteria, attends mass on Wednesdays/Fridays, stays at the Social Garden in between classes, feels exhausted when IT room is filled with social media addicts, returns overdue books to the library and takes the queues all the way to the Cashier just to get an exam permit.

But I can assure you that I have tried my very best to embrace the core values of this institution while others were conscious about how they look. Yes, I started to understand excellence, commitment and integrity and at the same time challenged by them.

How many of you are willing to write a book with me? If you do, the title would then be “The Struggles of an Honor Student”? Of course, being here today and being at the top of your respective colleges do not come without much sacrifice. Honor students are expected to having greater intelligence and healthy mental state.

The dilemma of having a social life and at the same time maintaining good grades are deniably haunting.

This medal was given to me in an occasion like this in 2007. It says “Outstanding Student of the Year”. It meant so much to me back then even though I already had the “Sophomore Student of the Year”, “Junior Student of the Year” and other awards. I was so honored and delighted because I had to win three nerve-wracking national competitions and maintain three challenging scholarships just to have it. The scholarships coupled with the hardwork of my beloved Mama Josie and Papa Danny helped me survive college. And one more thing, I had to be a role model because I was the student council president and a member of the Corp of Ushers and Usherettes.

Can you now imagine the look on the faces of Dean Cariño, Dean Tanilon, Dean Calisang, and the rest of my professors when I had to skip their classes to attend to co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in and out of the campus? I thank their huge heart for allowing me to pass their subjects. I hope I did not fail them now.

I am not sharing these things to brag. I just want to share my fair share of sacrifices.

While some of you are punishing yourselves memorizing every word of every required book, you should start challenging yourselves to doing things you are not yet good at or the things that you had to postpone doing.

Who among you were Valedictorians or Salutatorians – in elementary, in high school, including those who are expecting to be one?

Are you wondering what happened to class valedictorians? Since I put premium on research, allow me to share some insightful answers. In most studies, grades are undeniably becoming excellent predictors of self-discipline and conscientiousness. But most of the time, it is a significant predictor of the ability to comply with rules.

Karen Arnold who followed 81 high school performers who graduated top of their classes found out that nearly 90 percent of them have achieved amazing professional careers in highest tier jobs in America. Well, that sounds usual and expected. What is striking about this Boston College research is it shows that what makes students likely to be impressive in the classroom is the same thing that makes them less likely to change the world, run the world, and impress the world. In most cases, Valedictorians and honor students are likely to follow the rules of any game and they don’t challenge the system. Apparently, they are regarded as being “conformists” because if they do not comply, they don’t get the incentives of high grades. They are often being characterized as “generalists” who can’t devote all their energies to a single area. And if this becomes a norm, generalists will not be experts (Barker, 2017). Maybe you are passionate about History, however, you cannot prioritize it nor dedicate all your limited energies to it. If you intend to be part of the honor roll then getting flat one (1.0) in other subjects or disciplines must be part of the priority list.

A well-celebrated study at Harvard shows that college grades are no longer excellent predictors of subsequent life success. Records show that over seven hundred American millionaires are not happy with their 2.9 average GPAs in college but they are now living in happy, luxurious life.

Eversince, I find ‘getting good grades’ and ‘learning about life’ as two different things. I am not a conformist but at least I am a generalist. I have decided to concentrate in Economics but I for one didn’t only take it academically. I was not consumed by having good grades. I was not contented of getting honors and awards based solely on grades.

I spent more time pursuing new knowledge outside the classroom and experiencing life-long learning. I was part of a bigger, brighter and bolder community “whose quest is for freedom and truth.”

I started this talk by asking all of you whether you are happy, and if you are indeed happy which I bet you are, I asked “are you truly happy?”

When I stepped out of college and joined the employment world, I decided to seek my own happiness. When I was in it, I asked myself – is happiness universal? Is the pursuit of happiness is dependent on where you live? Will I be happy living and working elsewhere?

One of my Master’s degree professors shared the philosophy of Epicurus which is to be free of unnecessary desires. This Greek scientist and philosopher proposes that having happiness means having freedom from worry. It is commonly known as “ataraxia”.

We seek ataraxia by spending time avoiding pain rather than finding pleasure. Yes, you heard me – happiness is the absence of pain and not the presence of pleasure. Peace of mind and serene calmness are better than satisfaction, afterall humans will never be satisfied.

I know that happiness has long been in the playground for philosophical discussions. With this I decided to enroll in a Doctor of Philosophy program. In one of my PhD classes, I have overly understood that living a quality life is a societal dream and happiness is a personal goal.
This information lingered in my head and pushed me to study ‘Happiness’ in more detail. I started my research on the global guide to being happy. I will share to you some of my discoveries. Only those which I have personally validated to be true.

Let us start by taking a little trip to Denmark. This Scandinavian country always ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. Thanks to Hygge [hue-geh].

The Hygge approach to finding happiness is worth knowing. Spending cosy moments and having simple things are keys to happiness. Taking breaktime and me-time to relax and reinvigorate allows you to develop a happy life. To see is to believe, and so I went to Denmark to see how Danish society practice hygge. Trust me, happy life is evident there. But I don’t think “simple life” in Denmark can be likened to our Filipino or Bisaya notion of “simple life”.
I went to Sweden to see if other Scandinavian countries do share the same view of happiness. I learned that Swedish people believed in Lagom [low-gom]. I could hardly believe that one of the richest countries believes in “not too little and not too much” kind of motto. Living in moderation or right amount of things is a way to living a better, happy life in Sweden.

The popularity of hygge and lagom especially in this very age has brought a new level of attention to other happiness concepts and philosophies.

I went to Taiwan to learn Wu Wei – the art of letting go of worries and I visited France to study Apprivoise – the philosophy of taming things which are bothering or disturbing us. Both Wu Wei and Apprivoise are telling us to avoid conflicts and negative emotions.

Then I realized, how about third world countries? How do they see happiness? In 2017, I was invited to present my PhD paper in a conference held in Ghana, Africa. After my presentation, I sought the help of an African psychology professor. I discovered the world of Ubuntu [oo-boon-too]. Ubuntu is the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity (Mfenyana, 2018). Happiness can be achieved when charity is expressed. Africans believe that their actions potentially impact the lives of others and vice versa. For them, finding happiness is not a personal journey.

My mentor, the late Dr. Cayetano Paderanga, Jr., former NEDA Secretary, sent me to Japan on an official business. When I was there, I saw first-hand that Japanese people tend to be so serious. I have also learned that they have the highest suicidal rates. And I wondered how do Japanese find happiness? I did my research as expected. I have learned Wabi-Sabi or the value of not trying to reach perfection and when things didn’t go as plan, they embrace Kintsugi or the value of allowing broken things to be repaired with pride. Then I stepped into the world of Ikigai [i-key-guy]. I was happy to know that Japanese people has deeper, more expansive interpretation of happiness. Ikigai allows you to ask these questions:

First Question: What do you love? (These speak of your passion.)
Second Question: What are you good at? (These speak of your profession.)
Third Question: What does the world need? (These speak of your mission.)
Fourth Question: What can you get paid for? This speak of your vocation.

Ikigai centers around a life of meaning and not just happiness. The four questions provide each one of us the practical guide to discovering our own ikigai.

The Danish tradition of hygge [hue-geh] and Swedish concept of lagom [low-gom] are reminding all of you that having good grades are awesome but you need to find time appreciating simple and more memorable things.

The wu wei of Taiwanese people and the apprivoise of the French are teaching you not to worry too much and enjoy every single moment there is. The African concept of ubuntu is allowing us to not only think of ourselves and that even though you, honor students, have to compete to stay in the race, you still have classmates, friends and colleagues who are also needing help from you.

Up until this point, Japanese secret to a long and happy life becomes my personal reminder that happiness is ultimately a personal decision. And of all philosophies of happiness, ikigai provided me the complete guide.

I am expressing my passion, building my profession, continuing my mission and keeping my vocation.

This medal used to be my major source of happiness back then. Goodness, I later on realized that this was just one of the keys to happiness.

Discovering the world makes me happy. The world is beginning to be my oyster. I am happy.

I hope that whatever award you will receive today and in the future, it will serve as keys to happiness and not the only source of your happiness for you, but for family and loved ones.

To our University President, University Chancellors, University Registrar, Deans, and Professors, and especially to the Sinco Family, thank you for helping me find my happiness.

To our honorees, start finding your own ikigai. Afterall, our very own founder, Dr. Vincente G. Sinco, considers all of you as individuals whose pursuit is excellence of mind, body and character.

Daghang Salamat!

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