This is the inspirational speech delivered by Kagay-anon youth leader and millennial lawyer Ernesto B Neri on the occasion of the first Xavier Ateneo Senior High School Academic Convocation held at XU Gymnasium on Wednesday, August 2. Contributed photo. 

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen! 

First, please allow me to congratulate everybody. Not just those who will receive an award today but everybody in this community. Everybody is better off; everybody’s dignity is enhanced because of this tradition. Everybody has done their part. Remember, achievements are not our own doing. It is both a grace and the product of a community and a family and with that everybody has contributed. 

Excellence. Experience excellence. It actually gave me quite a challenge to reflect what this is. You know, it is not as if we wake up in the morning telling ourselves we will be excellent today. Nobody does that I think. Also, we have a concept that excellence is something that we get in the form of a medal or certificate — as if it is bestowed and poof you are excellent. 

So what is it? 

As what the theme suggests — “Experience Excellence” — excellence is a lived experience. It is not a measurement but a way of life. In the course of my Atenean journey (since Nursery), I have come to realize three main ingredients of living or experiencing excellence. But it requires something many are afraid to do. So let us begin.

First point.


Such a loaded phrase don’t you think? But, friends, it all begins here. It all begins here. Falling in love conjures a lot of images and definitions — philosophies, movies, music... But let us focus on the idea that falling in love is that unexplainable explosion of energy of emotions directed to someone or to some idea. Sorry to burst your bubble but what we are after today is falling in love not with someone else, but with someone more close to you — and that is — falling in love with — your own uniqueness.

Loving your uniqueness, recognizing that you are special amidst all your imperfections, shortcomings, limitations, sinfulness, or weirdness — loving your uniqueness is the seed of excellence. 

Bear that in mind first because this sort of appreciation of your own uniqueness builds up a sense of confidence in you. It gives you the freedom to probe your own self, your contours, and dark sides. It also helps you see your “default” setting, your own patterns of behavior. So let this be a tip. Try to record your day. Try to write it down. The things in the day that excite you, that dampen you, those ideas that attract you. Anything. And after a couple of months, look back and read it. You will laugh but I assure you, if you are sensitive enough, you will begin to see consistent patterns that reveal your default setting. 

It can be anything! Your excitement about a violin recital.

Your excitement about a violin recital.

A new dance move your team will do. 

Your obsession for calligraphy.

Your fascination with biology.

Doing blogger poses on the sidewalk

Making a business out of ice-cream sandwiches. 

Whatever. Each one of you has your own mojo.  And once you find it, seize it! 

In my case, it was my obsession with old games called Age of Empires and Sim City 3 where I fell in love with history and the broader social sciences. 

I could not explain it but the idea of playing battles with these ancient leaders captured my imagination. I was entranced by the whole idea of building civilizations and empires and managing cities. 

I began to read books about them. Researched characters like Augustus, Julius Caesar, Pericles, Hannibal, and all those generals. And bit by bit, I began to see that so much of our world now is because of the choices made by the leaders of the past and the social systems that defined their realities. 

This struck to my cord and, looking back, was my sort of eureka moment that led me to where I am now. This game triggered something in me and it never left me ever since. 

So try to look back guys, look for those patterns, for those eureka moments because these are sparks of love.  

So probe it. Write it down. And seize it. And fall in love with it! Pedro Arrupe perfectly captures this when he said that, "What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what gets you out of bed in the mornings, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude." 

But falling in love is just the start. This leads me to my second point.


Once you appropriate or at least pin point that thing that seizes your imagination you, invest! 

There is actually another word for this “invest in your feelings” thing. It is what you call #Hugot. Hugot, as I understand it is that deep well of energy source which can only be refilled with actual immersive experience. 

So build your deep well. Fill it with experience. That is why we have organizations, immersion programs, and community service. Please never waste it! Join organizations; build skill sets that are aligned with your hugot. Join seminars. Network with like-minded people. Enroll for free in edX or Coursera. Skill and experience are a central dynamo of excellence. 

Let me emphasize though, joining organizations will make you discover more about yourself and your capacity to lead, things that you do not learn in the classroom.

Allow me to share my #Hugot story. In second year college, I had an immersion in Sumilao Bukidnon. This was in the time when the farmers marched for thousands of kilometers to Manila to demand land reform. One day, while we were playing in the field, a small kid asked if where is my home located? I said it is in CDO. Then he further asked, “Did you march for it?” I could not respond. 

Here is a kid whose idea of owning property is that you have to walk thousands of kilometers! 

Putting all these experiences together, it pointed to one direction, I want to understand how these injustices play in the context of history and power. Then, law school happened and finally, here, I am a millennial lawyer attempting to stand up for human rights and social justice in this very interesting time. 

And when I feel so exhausted in law school from reading tons of books, I just look back and draw from the hugot. It really helps. It gives you meaning and life. And finally, this leads me to my last point.

COMMIT! (Big word!) 

Committing requires you to direct your #hugot towards a greater, public, mission. In the words of Frederick Buechner, "Your vocation in life is the intersection between your greatest joy the world's greatest need."

In this point, the question is no longer about what is in it for me, but: Who is it for?

Yes, it can be for your family, for your parents, for your relatives. But we — Ateneans — we are called to the frontiers. We are called to the trenches of life and ask the bigger questions of justice and faith. 

And if you do not know where to begin, — and this is a serious advice — what you can do is visit Seriously! This is a good start. You have 17 options! From climate justice to economic enterprise, to urban planning to cultural enhancement, from justice work to education — this is the place where you can start. Commitment is the fuel of excellence.

And this leads me to an example of the Xavier Night School. What started off as an alternative birthday celebration of Kuya Jett now has evolved into a fully-integrated program supported by government and housed under the Arrupe Educational Center. Volunteers before would decide to stay for a couple of hours to teach street kids basic Math and English. 

For them, the night school is the answer to the question of: For whom is our education? 

They realize that their education is not only for themselves. It is for those who are powerless, voiceless, to those who cannot even think for themselves, those we just pass by every day in Divisoria.

In omnibus, amare et servire.

In everything, love and serve. 

So there you have it. Excellence is not a standard of measurement. It is a way of life. It is not an end product but a way of proceeding. When others are the forefront of your mission, then excellence will spontaneously rise to the surface of your life. 

We live in a world where people say to temper your feelings, to not fall in love, never invest, and having no commitments, but as far as what Ignatius has shown us, and what Xavier has taught me, for one to prosper in this world and to set it on fire, it is basically to fall in love. Stay in love, because it will decide everything.

Good morning and thank you so much!∎