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Graduation Reflection Speech by Ayedee Ace M. Domingo, II, MD, MBA

THREE LESSONS I LEARNED IN MBA

Graduation Reflection by Ayedee Ace M. Domingo, II, MD, MBA

Our guest of honor, Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua, representing Secretary Carlos Dominguez III of the Department of Finance, AGSB MBA class of 1969;
Mr. Roberto Delgado, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ateneo de Manila University
Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin of the Society of Jesus, President of the Ateneo de Manila University
Fr. Jose Cruz of the Society of Jesus, Vice President for University and Global Relations
Dr. Antonette Palma Angeles, Vice President for the Ateneo Professional Schools
Dr Maria Luz Vilches, Vice President for the Loyola Schools
Dean Rodolfo Ang of the Graduate School of Business
Dean Ronald Mendoza of the School of Government
Mr. Joaquin Julian Agtarap, Registrar of the Ateneo Professional Schools
Members of the Board of Trustees, AGSB Administrators, Faculty and Staff, honored guests, my fellow graduates :

Good afternoon.

I have a confession to make.  To tell you the truth, before I started MBA at Ateneo, I was the absolute worst kind of student possible – I was a skeptical one.  In the beginning, I honestly did not believe in an MBA degree.   Yes, I know – that is probably the worst thing anybody can say in an MBA graduation.  But before you take out your pitchforks and burn me in the parking lot, please allow me to finish my reflection.

Why did I not believe in an MBA degree?  Not because I thought that an MBA or an Ateneo education was unworthy or without value.  As a matter of fact, I held them both in high regard.  Ever since the age of six, I had been drinking the Ateneo Kool-Aid.  I spent my grade school and high school years at Loyola.  The Ateneo had given me the basic foundation to navigate the challenges of the world.  But the world has changed since I was six years old.  Anyone can now learn business subjects online on sites such as Coursera, without ever having to set foot in a classroom.  We now live in an era where a person can become insanely successful and wealthy without ever needing an MBA degree.  Of the ten richest people in the world, only one of them has an MBA – and he’s number 10.  And among the commencement speakers of AGSB in the last three years, none of them had MBAs.  Now you understand my skepticism.

So why did I take MBA at all?  My wife and I work as administrators of a small hospital, and the Department of Health now requires hospital administrators to complete at least 18 units of business subjects.   My wife and I are both doctors, so we thought that we may as well do the whole nine yards and enroll in a full-fledged MBA program.  We were choosing between UP Diliman and Ateneo Rockwell, which were virtually tied, despite the fact that UP was just 5 minutes away from our house, while Rockwell was 90 minutes farther.  If only there was an MBA at Loyola, for sure we would have immediately applied there, even if it meant an additional excruciating 3 minutes of traffic from UP.  As luck would have it, we missed the deadline for application at Diliman.  So, for whatever reason, whether it was because of a requirement of the DOH, or a thirst for knowledge, or love for my wife, there I was studying at the Ateneo again.  There I was, but still skeptical of MBA.

So what happened in two years to change my perspective?  At the Ateneo, I met teachers from whom I learned three important lessons that I never would have learned just by reading a book, or surfing an online course, or enrolling in another MBA school.  Don’t get me wrong — I was very fortunate to study under some of the best teachers at Ateneo.  All of my teachers were brilliant, but I cannot possibly mention them all, much less narrate all the lessons they taught me.  So for this afternoon, allow me to honor and pay tribute to these three teachers and recount the lessons that I learned from them.

The first teacher on my list is also, coincidentally, the first teacher I ever met at Ateneo.  He is our mace bearer for this afternoon, Professor Ralph Ante, my teacher in Quantitative Methods, or “Quanti” for short.  Quanti is one of the most difficult subjects I ever studied not just in MBA, but in my whole life.  There were times when I wanted to quit, and many of those times were just during the first hour of class.  The one thing that I would always remember about Prof Ante is his favorite line when making his students solve a Quanti problem.  He would always say : “madali lang yan.”  Little did we know, when Prof Ante says “madali lang yan”, for us his students, it actually meant “mahirap yan”.  Of course, when he gives a problem and says “mahirap yan”…maniwala ka na.  Under Prof Ante, I appreciated the value of hard work and determination.  I would say those very same words “madali lang yan” in my mind during Quanti exams when faced with a seemingly impossible problem to solve.  And, when I would successfully arrive at the correct solution, I would realize that, “oo nga, madali lang yan.”  “Madali lang yan” kung pinaghirapan at pinag-ukulan ng pansin.  Since then, the words “madali lang yan” would take on a whole new meaning for me.   They would remind me that nothing of real value ever comes easy; that if you try, yes you might fail, but if you don’t try, then you’ve already failed.  That you do not have to fear failure, because no matter how many times you get something wrong, you only have to be right once.

The second teacher I would like to mention is a certified (quote unquote) “terror” in school.  She is none other than Professor Mila Bulan.  In Prof Bulan’s Economics class, I learned the meaning of words like “demand curve”, “elasticity”, and “comparative advantage”.  I also learned the meaning of the word “fear”.  Yes, I was scared, and that was even before I enrolled in her class.  Despite this reputation, she is highly sought after as a teacher and mentor.  As I got to know her better in the weeks that followed, I discovered that beneath that tough exterior is the heart of a most caring teacher.  She pushes her students to study not just because she cares about them, but, as I would later surmise, because she cares about our country, and she would like you to do the same.  As scary as Prof Mila was at first, what would be more terrifying is an MBA graduate leading an organization, but lacking the competence or heart required of the job.  From Prof Mila, I realized that one must have genuine love of country and genuine love for our countrymen.  Compassion limited only to those we care about, or those we grew up with, or those we agree with, does not make us compassionate.  It merely makes us tribal.  We may be Ateneans or La Sallians or mga Skolar ng Bayan.  We may be Manilenos, or Cebuanos, or Ilonggos.  We may be Christians or Muslims or Buddhists.    But we are not just the labels that divide us.  We are, all of us, Filipinos.  To truly build a better country, we must think not just of our own children, but of all children.  To even begin to love our country, we must think if what we are doing reflects who we truly are and what we want to become.  We must think about what makes us truly Filipino.

Under this next teacher, I took a class which was unique to the Ateneo MBA.  In the Leadership class of Professor Mars Balgos, I was given insight on the true nature of leadership.  As I expected, it was not like any other leadership program.  At times, the class made me uncomfortable, as I am sure it was designed to do.  There was a lot of laughter and some crying, but there was no discussion of what leaders actually did.  Instead, we talked about how leaders lived and who they are.    I was introduced to the four leadership principles practiced by the Jesuits for hundreds of years – self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism.  Prof Mars helped me and my classmates clarify what the Japanese call ikigai, or one’s reason for being, one’s reason for waking up each day.  Ikigai is the intersection of that which you love, that which the world needs, that which you can be paid for, and that which you are good at.  The key to happiness is finding your ikigai.  Because of these ideas, I consider the Leadership class to be the cornerstone of my MBA education.  Although the lectures had to come to a close, Leadership is the one class that we can never fully complete, because the work of leadership never really ends.  It is the one subject that will follow us for the rest of our lives.

Finally, this list would not be complete without honoring my very first teacher – my mother.    Just like most of you, your mothers (or fathers) were also your very first teacher.  My mother finished salutatorian in her high school class, and was the only one of her siblings to have the opportunity to go to college.  Mama worked as a humble grade school teacher until she retired.  From her, I learned that we should always look after one another no matter what.  In her later years, she would develop a rare disease, which would rob her of her strength and her balance, but not her beauty nor her spirit.  She passed away earlier this year, and all of this is as much a tribute to her, as it is for my teachers in Ateneo.  Thank you for everything, Mama.  Thank you for everything, to my wife (who is also graduating today), our children, my brother and sisters who took care of our mother, and my professors who took care of me.  All of this is also because of you.

The value of hard work and determination, the importance of love of country, the true nature of leadership – all of these I learned at the Ateneo.  Without these, everything else I studied would have been in vain.  Once we step out and start our lives as Ateneo MBA graduates, we may not be called upon to cure a rare disease, or to stop global warming, or to eradicate inequality.  Not immediately, anyway.  But make no mistake – much is being asked of us, because much has been given, whether our task may be big or small.  And there are times when our task will be incredibly immense.  The problems we faced in our books pale in comparison to the ones that await us when we leave this room.  Our world and our country are divided like never before.  Children are dying in Marawi and in the streets.  6 out of 10 Filipinos live their entire lives without ever seeing a doctor.  The problems are timeless and seem endless.

How do we even begin to solve these seemingly impossible problems?  To borrow the words of one of my teachers, “madali lang yan.”

It has been a great honor and privilege to speak before you today.  God bless you all, God bless the Ateneo, and may God bless our country.

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