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  • Michael P. Sy

Ph.D. Graduation Speech 2019

Paghayo sa Taglagas Graduation Ceremony 2019

Less is More: A Critical Perspective of Academic Success

To Ambassador Jose C. Laurel V, Consul General Charmaine A. Serna-Chua, consuls, vice consuls, ministers, attachés, and members of the Philippine Embassy in Japan; to the Association of Filipino Students in Japan President, Ms. Ea Kristine Clarisse Tulin, its members, professors, family members, esteemed guests, and to my fellow graduates… Mabuhay and welcome to the Paghayo sa Taglagas graduation ceremony of 2019!

Today marks a season of success. It is a legitimate moment to take pride in our accomplishments and an opportune time to look forward to a promising future. To all the graduates, congratulations! Before I begin, allow me already to tell you the end point of this graduation speech: Success is a social construct that compels people to do “More” and is therefore addicting. Hence, success necessitates critical understanding in modern-day living in order for us to rediscover how the concept of doing “Less” is the new “More”.

At this day and age, success has been conceptualized by modern-day society highlighting the values of “More”. As an occupational therapist and a budding occupational scientist, I would like to frame “modern-day success” as a construct from Professor Anne Wilcock’s doing, being, becoming, and belonging concepts. Throughout our graduate school life here in Japan, doing more conference presentations, publications, and classes determine success; being more knowledgeable, active in doing research, and “balanced” as an individual measure how successful we are; becoming more productive, busy, and competitive are desired qualities among young academics; and, belonging more to our universities, professional societies, and communities make us feel more successful. While “doing, being, becoming, and belonging More” is collectively perceived positively in today’s world, the “More” concept can be utterly addicting.

In the past three years of doing full-time scholarship, I was able to publish seven peer-reviewed publications, attended more than 20 international conferences in 12 countries, completed three doctoral certifications outside Japan in three European universities, received grants, invited for lectureships internationally, and so on and so forth. You may have done less or more, but in this competitive society, perhaps all of us would agree that we all want to do “More” of that for ourselves and our future. Like drugs, chasing after success is addictive. It is difficult to pause and stop this addictive state when you are so used to it and especially when society expects us to be successful. Let me reiterate that the concepts of success and “More” are constructed positively; however, as future scientists, thinkers, and nation builders, it is our obligation to be critical in how we view these concepts to reduce and eradicate any bias. While I have discussed the concept of “More”, what could be on the other side of the spectrum?

The diploma that we are to receive is a testament that we indeed did “More”. But, what does it mean to do “Less”? In today’s society, doing “Less” for one’s self is usually frowned upon. Resting, taking breaks, sleeping, and less working hours are sometimes perceived to be detrimental to one’s success. However, I contend that the concept of “Less” is equally important as the concept of “More” with regard to defining success and most especially on how this success can be shared with others.

Upon entering my Ph.D. chapter at Tokyo Metropolitan University in September 2016, I had the impression that only in doing “More” will I achieve success. I am more than grateful to have met people along the way who taught me that “Less” is the new “More”. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage my fellow Filipino scholars who are already in the business of (re)building our nation, who are still engaged in their scholarship, and to my fellow graduates to look beyond our accomplishments. I am proposing that “doing, being, becoming, and belonging Less” can lead us not only to success, but to a life with infinite meaning and purpose. In my personal journey, I realized that in doing Less, we can start appreciating the beauty of nature and the simplicity of life; in being Less, we can begin to serve not only ourselves but others; in becoming Less, we can discover our hidden skills we thought we never had including collaborative skills, adaptive skills, pakikisama, and grit; and, in belonging Less, we can recognize that when everyone is against us and in times of solitude and desperation, our God will never leave us nor forsake us.

This speech is called “Message to the Graduating Students” and, therefore, these insights are very much applicable to myself. We are successful today because, at some point throughout our scholarship, we recognized that we are “Less”. Hence, we sought the supervision and help of our dear professors, we requested the assistance of our Japanese colleagues for our translation and survival needs in Japan, we desired to hear encouraging words from our friends and loved ones, and we longed for the genuine company of our Filipino community here in Japan. The immeasurable support we received from these groups of people has indeed propelled us to where we are now today—successfully graduating with a master’s or doctorate degree—simply because we realized that we can be More if we know we are Less.

As we open our next life chapter, let us go forth and carry out the concept of doing, being, becoming, and belonging Less towards sustainable nation building and nation bridging. In front of me are the next generation of Filipino scientists, thinkers, and leaders who, I hope, would put forth the welfare and interests of our less resourced and privileged kababayans through their discoveries, innovations, and masterpieces. I believe that the Philippines need scientific leaders who will embrace and actuate this value of “Less” today in order to remain sober from the addictive potency of modern-day success. It says in Philippians 2:3–11:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this in mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.”

And while I would like to say More, I choose to say Less. Congratulations to all the graduates of 2019… To God be all the glory, honor, and power!

Graduation speech by Michael Palapal Sy, PhD, MHPEd, OTRP

Video of the Actual Speech:

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