Malou Eudela's Graduation Speech

"May we not forget that there are faces behind the numbers and targets we report. May we always take time to listen to them and amplify their voice whenever necessary. As we take leadership roles, may we not fall prey into the vicious cycle of business as usual. May we put our knowledge and expertise into good use especially in bridging the gaps that we see in our fields."

Eudela, Malou - Graduation Photo1

Malou Eudela, Master in Disaster Resilience and Sustainable Development, The University of Newcastle

I would like to begin my speech by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the Land to which we meet today, and I pay my respects to the Elders past, present and emerging. 

To the representatives of the Australia government, members of the Diplomatic corps, fellow graduating scholars, a pleasant afternoon.

I have a confession to make. And, it is all right for you to share this.

It took me two applications to Australia Awards Scholarship to make it to the program and land an opportunity to speak to you today. During my first panel interview in 2014, I was told that my Re-Entry Action Plan (REAP) was too ambitious. When I received the email of rejection on December 26 that year, I did not even have to open the message to know what’s in it. The subject alone says it all. UNSUCCESSFUL. It was written all caps. What a way to celebrate Christmas Season I thought. Yes, I was heartbroken but never hopeless. I worked on their suggestions, and in 2016 I applied again with a different REAP. Many of you here will affirm that our AAS journey was not a walk in the park. Do you recall that pressure of passing the English proficiency exam? Or, that horror of waiting for the medical exam result for you might have health issues that will derail the visa process? Were you also worried whether you get the offer from the University of your choice? Early on, it’s been already a roller-coaster of emotions for some of us. Who would have thought that our time here went like a breeze because before I know it, the next email I received from our Student Contact Officer has the subject: “It’s time to go home”. Well, at least they were not in all caps.

Our Introductory Academic Program has a lot of readings that, much to our surprise, sleepless nights started way early than expected. Perhaps during the IAP, many of us were already asking ourselves on “why are we here and why are we doing all this?” I bet that question recurs quite often especially when faced with assessment dues, exams or presentations. Well, we can sometimes laugh at the thought of how DEADlines can make us feel so ‘alive’. And, even if we are resolved that AAS is an opportunity too good to miss and being temporarily away from home is worth it, we can’t help but still feel homesick every time we realized how many family events we missed back home. So off, we go for a bike, walk or jog, or we randomly hop on the bus or train to ponder on things, or spontaneously book trips online to visit other states in the country, or better yet grab some milk tea, fish and chips and other comfort food there is. Some of us managed to enroll in yoga, surfing or swimming class if only to divert our attention from missing home. It is safe to say then that - along with the postgrad degrees we’ve earned, we have also successfully mastered the art of coping, diversion and multi-tasking. And for that, I can only say ‘well done’!

While in Australia, I had the opportunity to do volunteer engagements at the University of Newcastle and its partner community organizations. What I fondly remember was that joy of seeing children with eyes wide open as they exclaimed ‘WOW’ upon entry in the Dinosaur Exhibit where I was assigned. But, imagine the horror I felt when they began to ask me information about dinosaurs which they know better than I do. I think I will never do the same volunteer shift again in the fear of another possible embarrassment. To strike a balance to that story, let me share something I am proud of. In September, four other AAS scholars from the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney and myself joined the Geneva Challenge 2018. Our proposal is about a mobile application that promotes climate change activism through nudging and gamification. Our team has been chosen as one of the three semi-finalists in the North America-Oceania region. Although we did not advance to the finals to pitch the idea in Switzerland, the plan remains worth pursuing and rolling out. I believe that it can prompt more people into climate action through education. So, please take this part of the speech as an advertisement that we are open for partnership. On leadership, along with the other AAS scholars in this room, we took the challenge to revise the constitution of the Filipino Student Council of New South Wales to draw wider participation from more institutions within the state and provide better support to the Filipino students.

My humanitarian work in the Philippines led me to take the program in the University of Newcastle. Back home, I have witnessed the displacement of people due to armed conflict and natural hazards such as typhoon and flooding. One of my greatest takeaways in the program is that there is nothing natural about disasters. We do not want to put the blame on nature for the vulnerabilities that are deeply anchored in our social, economic and political systems. That is why our department in UoN has stopped using the term ‘natural disasters’. Don’t get me wrong as I don’t want to sound like we’re in a class here. However, I wish to put forth an exciting opportunity for collaboration where we can all be a part of. We are in an era faced with many wicked or complex problems. Such do not have a single solution for they rather entail multi-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary approach. We need each other. Given the wealth of ideas and expertise in this room, there is no better way but to work together. We have the power to bring that good brand of change in the fields of poverty reduction, responsible governance, sustainable development, climate action, provision of accessible and quality health, innovation and technology, gender mainstreaming, social entrepreneurship and inclusion. And being a part of a strong AAS family that continues to expand is a great start to build valuable networks and partnerships. So, look around intently because the next head of state, minister, Nobel Peace Prize awardee or United Nations secretary we will be working with might be in this room.

In three weeks, I will return home and work on my Re-Entry Action Plan. I will partner with the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office in my hometown, Bago City. We will work with mothers in crafting disaster risk reduction training materials. Hopefully, through it, we can help address the gap between government legislation and practical community application. The conference I attended in Perth last September highlighted how important community participation is in the success of any programs. It’s interesting to note that in all the conferences I have been to, that is always one of the core messages being conveyed. Indeed, great frameworks and plans will never suffice if we take out genuine stakeholders’ participation from the equation. May we not forget that there are faces behind the numbers and targets we report. May we always take time to listen to them and amplify their voice whenever necessary. As we take leadership roles, may we not fall prey into the vicious cycle of business as usual. May we put our knowledge and expertise into good use especially in bridging the gaps that we see in our fields. However, that is always easier thought and said than done. So, I pray for courage and patience for all of us. It is easy to get frustrated when our suggestions are not listened to or we do not get the support that we need, or if the system we are in is too rigid to accommodate change and innovations. But, please do not lose heart. Take inspiration on the thought that - somewhere, somehow, there are other AAS scholars who are giving their best efforts to make things better in their respective offices or organizations no matter how difficult. Anything of value seems to take time to prosper. So, we need to keep on pressing.

I will end this speech with words of gratitude because we could not have achieved this breakthrough without the help of many people. So, on behalf of all the graduating AAS scholars in New South Wales, I sincerely express our utmost gratitude to the Australian Government for being so generous in helping our respective countries’ development through your world-class education. Thank you very much to all our Student Contact Officers who have tirelessly extended their support all throughout the program especially to Lynne Williams who is not just an SCO, but has also been a sister, mother, and friend rolled into one. And, thank you to all the unsung and unnamed people whose trust and confidence brought us here. We are very grateful to our families, friends, mentors and loved ones who have been our great support system through and through.

This journey is one for the books which we will definitely not forget. I wish everyone the very best. Together, let us make this world a better place.