DLSU-UoN Graduation Speech - by Lady Hanifah Mindalano

To the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, Her Excellency Amanda Gorely; University of Newcastle Pro Vice-Chancellor for International and Advancement Mrs. Winnie Eley; DLSU President Br. Raymundo Suplido; College of Business Dean Dr. Brian Gozun; Faculty of Business and Law Assistant Dean Dr. Tony Drew; DLSU Commerical Law Department Chair Atty. Antonio Ligon; CHED Chairperson Hon. Patricia Licuanan; DLSU Alumni Association Dr. Derrick Yu; administrators, university fellows, faculty and graduates, friends and family, good afternoon.

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I am extremely honoured to be speaking in front of you in this very important occasion. While to many graduates, this culminates a chapter of their lives, to our batch, this is a continuation of what we have begun from DLSU to UON, Australia. We’re just taking a breather from the fun and challenges that we have faced and survived in our Australia Awards journey. This is our much-deserved reward and today, we celebrate it.

Now when I was asked to give a speech in this ceremony, I said YES without hesitation. I knew I had a lot of stories to share. But I was warned I only had ten minutes to speak, ten minutes to fit more than a year of wonderful adventure. I panicked for a second, how could I possibly pull this off? Then I remembered our training at the Uni: we read 10-15 academic journals, each with 20-50 pages at least. That’s around 20 thousand words, all for one essay where we had to argue our points using only 300 words. In my mind, I heard my friends in Australia say “You’d be alright, mate!” I reckon they’re right.

So I took a step back and walked down memory lane. Out of the many reasons I had for applying in this program, three motivations stood out: 1.) my frustrations 2.) my lack of experience and 3.) I was heartbroken.

I was frustrated with the incessant power interruptions in my city accompanied by lack of water supply. I was frustrated we have no internet connection. I had to travel two to three hours to Iligan or Cagayan de Oro just to send an email with attachment or upload documents for my application. I was frustrated that even when the law allowed me to introduce changes in my office, I can still be hamstrung by people’s resistance to cultural change.

This brings me to my second motivation: lack of experience. I wanted to spur change in our organization but I did not have the technical know-how, much less the exposure to bring it into being. Hence, I decided to dive into my own obliviousness and braved a program I had no solid background in.

Number 3, I was heartbroken. Heartbroken because we had too many talents in my community who could be making massive waves and remarkable contributions to our country but they were stuck in thankless jobs, watching days pass them by. They didn’t have much choice, they couldn’t leave their families and there were not a lot of opportunities in my hometown. It was heartbreaking because I couldn’t do anything about it. And when I told my family I wanted to find employment somewhere else because there was nothing for me there, they suggested I settle down because I was already beyond the age of raising a family. Apparently to them, marriage was the answer to my problem.

Fast forward, I applied for the scholarship, interviewed, got in, Alhamulillah (thank God). I attended Monday to Friday classes in DLSU and underwent legal exercises on conflict management, honed our skills in research, classroom presentations, studied industrial relations. It was overwhelming at first but we had speedy wifi connection everywhere, access to the library and approachable professors. Back that up with support from our respective mentors and our generous and patient family in PAHRODF who readily responded to our concerns, we were very encouraged to push through our endeavors.

Two months later, we were in Australia. There I caught sight of the Sydney Opera House for the very first time. I knew that DFAT and the immigration officers will have to forcibly drag me out of Australia because I instantly fell in love with the country. We were immediately given a tour of the Uni, libraries open 24hours, high end facilities, infinite access to international academic journals, books and other sources, amazing study spaces, friendly and helpful librarians and professors who are available for consultations via phone call, text message, Skype or by appointment in their office. It was impressive how all these were provided to us by the program.

But it wasn’t all study and work of course. There were heaps of fun involved and since we only had a year to spend there, we made sure every second counted. We travelled a lot. We visited and took tons of selfies in the breathtaking beaches of Australia, the stunning mountains, spectacular views, listened about their history, reveled in their beautiful arts and memorial museums, picnicked and jogged in their picturesque parks and botanical gardens, marveled at the bluest of skies, made friends with the warm outgoing Aussies and relished the multi-cultural ambiance that it offered. Not to mention, their four seasons.  Winter was my favorite. The first time I experienced fresh snow fall was in Hobart, Tasmania. In case you’re wondering, yes, the first thng I did was make snow angel. I had snowball fight with friends, some weren’t playing nicely. We made a snowman, it was nothing like Olaf. Our hands were frozen beneath our gloves but we let our happiness rage on. We let it go. The cold never bothered us anyway. We were pleased with the traffic-free public transport, the amiable bus drivers, wide open roads, systemic rubbish disposal, I could go on and on with this list but I reckon, the most important takeaway from the experience is how the scholarship addressed my frustrations, my lack of experience, and my broken heart. The main reasons that propelled me to embark upon this venture.

From my Australia Awards journey, I learned that I needed to experience those frustrations to kick me out of my comfort zone and actually think about what I could do to remedy the situation. I needed to think outside the box and this program gave me the environment to do just that. My lack of knowledge in HRM was not going to be an excuse to exempt myself from becoming a part of the solution. Had I insisted on this as my limitation, I probably would have pulled back early on and still not know what I can be capable of doing as a willing partner for development. If it wasn’t for this scholarship, I would not have met passionate change makers and brilliant HR managers, my classmates. Some practically wrote the book on Organizational Behaviour, others know Training and Development like the back of their hands, while the rest are seasoned HR practitioners and consultants. I have been blessed to be in the midst of such incredible group of leaders and critical thinkers.

In this program I also realized I needed to allow my heart to break because nation building isn’t for the faint-hearted. There will be many times that despite hard work, you will not achieve the results you hoped for and that’s alright. Change takes time. I’m anticipating there will be roadblocks in the implementation of our REAP. The ultimate challenge is to stay on track and never lose sight of our goal.

When I left Australia, it shattered my heart into pieces. I cried buckets at the airport. I cried some more when I arrived home with a candle-lit dinner waiting for me. I was welcomed with eight days of black out. I had to climb on top of our roof to get signal and connect with friends both overseas and in the Philippines. I was back in the dark ages. I could easily sneak under a rock and forget the rest of the world but I’ve already been through several heartbreaks in Australia, I think I’d be alright. I just need to keep going. And that’s exactly my message to every one of my batch mates. For us to keep going. It’s easier said than done but there’s no other way to remedy our frustrations than to do something about it ourselves. We have been so fortunate to be supported by our government and Australia in our endeavor to pursue further studies. It’s time we pay it forward. Let our DLSU-UON education serve as pathway to attaining excellence in public service and upgrading ourselves to become more useful components of our society.

And so in behalf of my batch mates, I would like express my sincerest gradtitude to the Australia Awards Scholarship, De La Salle University, PAHRODF, University of Newcastle, our mentors…and all those involved in making this once in a lifetime opportunity a reality. We hope to meet, if not surpass your expectations, in our commitment to become active partners for change and development. To my batch mates, my friends, my family, thank you so much for everything.

My heartfelt congratulations! We finally made it! Now let’s get things going!