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Graduation Reflection Speech by Kristine Denise Corvera Delos Reyes, MD, MBA

Our Commencement Speaker, Hon. Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV,
Mr. Ernesto Tanmantiong, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ateneo de Manila University
Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, President of the Ateneo,
Dr. John Paul Vergara, Vice-President for the Loyola Schools,
Dean Rodolfo Ang of the Graduate School of Business,
Dean Manuel Dayrit of the School of Medicine and Public Health
Mr. Joaquin Julian Agtarap, Registrar of the Professional Schools,
Members of the Board of Trustees, Deans of the other Professional Schools,
AGSB Faculty and Staff, honored guests, fellow graduates;
Magandang hapon po sa inyong lahat.

I am the accidental MBA student. I have always wanted to be an Atenean, but with a Master in Theological Studies. Business was surely not on my radar. I was happily practicing my profession as an Internist and Endocrinologist and was raising my 2-year old son. But my husband, who is a Cardiologist, coaxed me to enroll at the AGSB with him. Somehow that sparked in me a desire to pursue higher learning, and so I embarked on this journey with him.

Before the Ateneo School of Medicine pioneered the MD-MBA program in the country, the study of Medicine was never juxtaposed with that of Business in our medical schools. Patient care and monetary gain were traditionally considered an unpalatable mix. At the UP-Philippine General Hospital where I studied and trained for 13 years, talk of profit even sounded profane, as we grappled each day with the abject poverty of the patients we served. We idealized altruism as the noblest way to serve the nation, and chose our heroes only among those doctors who shunned financial gain. But now I realize that our constricted viewpoint as idealistic medical graduates comes from a minimal and fallacious understanding of business.

The MBA Health Program has enriched and empowered health professionals like me in several ways. First, AGSB has shown me that Medicine has many faces: It has the face of the health care provider, of the policy maker, of the administrator and manager, and even of the financier. These faces are not and should not be mutually exclusive. Our medical training provided us with the microscopic lens that we needed /to heal individual patients; while the AGSB equipped us with panoramic bifocals to smoothly and swiftly transition from evaluating individual patients to entire health systems.

Second, AGSB has rectified misconceptions about toplines, bottomlines, and all things business that have made us uncomfortable. Profitable health institutions are not necessarily instruments of oppression for the poor. A just profit can fuel sustainable growth, and sound business management practices can rehabilitate the nation’s ailing healthcare system.

Truly, the MBA Health Program expanded my worldview and provided me with new paradigms and fresh lenses.

As with all worthwhile journeys, mine at the AGSB winded through peaks and valleys. The enduring nerd in me was utterly fascinated by new discoveries each Saturday, but I still found myself stunned by the demands of the course. Our PriMan professor warned us early on, saying, “you will never write as much in your life as you will do in these next 7 terms.” That prophecy did come to pass with each subsequent term, culminating with STRAMA, that “Big One”, as its epicenter. The hurdles of a Health program graduate were not that different from those of other programs, but our current life stage gave these hurdles a unique color.

From last week’s graduation rehearsal, we in the Health Program noticed that we seemed to be the most senior among the graduates. We’ve been out of school for decades, and to revert to student life and all that it entails proved to be most challenging.

We are also at that stage of juggling too many hats — those of the business owner, top-level manager, educator, spouse, parent, son or daughter caring for elders, AND THEN, student. I’m a busy working mother of hyper-energetic toddler, while my husband, who is my classmate, was juggling his own clinical practice and business pursuits. Balancing family, professional, and student life was a trapeze act for both of us. I needed to frequently step back from my clinical practice to make room to study or simply to breathe. Some of us even succumbed to stress-induced illnesses, particularly during the Strama term; or as we called it, “STRAUMA”. Amidst the physical and mental exhaustion, we often asked ourselves, “is it really worth all the trouble?”

Yes, it is. Our professors made sure. Long after we had completed their courses, they continued to generously share their time with us, whether for serious consultation sessions or for camaraderie over heaping plates of food. Our professors became our mentors, and then they became our friends. To them I am most grateful.

Our classmates also made sure it was worth the trouble. Arguably the most delightful surprises of my AGSB adventure are my classmates in MBA-Health section 11-A. Our bond is held tightly by excessive amounts of salt, sugar, and caffeine, by booming laughter and ceaseless banter, by crashing laptops and spiking blood pressures, by overnight meetings and working holidays, and then by mutual respect and solidarity, all these ingredients for meaningful lifelong friendships. My classmates surely made what could have been a vertiginous voyage into an exhilarating roller coaster ride. To them I am deeply grateful.

Our families and friends likewise made it worth our while by their patient understanding and unwavering support. To you, our loved ones, we graduates are immensely grateful.

And then the Ateneo made sure it was well worth our trouble by enriching both our mind and spirit. One of my favorite courses was Leadership. What I thought was an instructional course on how to ascend the corporate ladder quickly was in fact a weekly mini-retreat. It compelled us to take a quick timeout in order to introspect and refocus, in a manner analogous to the Examen of St. Ignatius. The goal, I believe, was to help us reconnect with our authentic selves, to come to an acceptance of our gifts and frailties, to articulate our vision, to revisit our passion, and to ultimately awaken the heroic leader in each of us: that man or woman for others.

Throughout the course, elements of the Ignatian Way were gently introduced to us. One of the Four Pillars that made a salient impression on me was the Jesuit concept of leadership. I’ve always harbored the traditional view of a leader as this Great Person who was endowed with exceptional charisma, ability, and drive; or the accidental leader who stepped up during a crisis. I’ve been a leader at many points in my student and professional life, including volunteering to be the President of my MBA-Health class. And I have also avoided or refused leadership positions at other times, when I would prefer to work quietly rather than to speak from a podium. But St. Ignatius Loyola redefined leadership completely, as former Jesuit Chris Lowney writes: “Everyone is a leader, and everyone is leading all the time; sometimes in dramatic ways, but more often in subtle, hard-to-measure ways, but leading nonetheless.” For each of us here to be called a “leader” is at once a validation and a challenge. It affirms that each one of us is gifted and capable, and each one of us is , whether we prefer to speak from a podium or work quietly behind the scenes.

St. Ignatius raises the bar further, and inspires us to a different brand of leadership: HEROIC LEADERSHIP. Lowney writes, “Most people wonder about their capacity to act heroically should a momentous opportunity present itself. But Loyola compelled his followers to consider instead the capacity for heroism on a daily basis. Jesuit heroism is judged not by the scale of the opportunity but by the quality of one’s response to it.” In essence, Loyola urges each one of us to become everyday heroes, regardless of how important or mundane our occupations may be.

The response that imbues heroism even on the most mundane actions is Magis, that restless desire to aspire for something greater in every opportunity, to never settle for half-baked in any endeavor. Hindi uubra ang “pwede na yan” mentality. But, Magis-driven heroism is not an insatiable ambition; rather, it is a selfless giving of one’s best effort, and a constant seeking of ways to give even more, for a cause greater than oneself, a vision, or another person.

When we speak of heroism, the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo easily comes to mind. But equally heroic are students who spend weekends packing relief goods, as are children who walk barefoot in the mud each day just to get an education to secure a better future for their families. Bayani ang kawal sa Scarborough Shoal na handang magbuwis ng buhay para ating kasarinlan, at bayani rin ang janitor sa Rockwell campus na puspusang nililinis ang mga basang corridor, upang siguruhing hindi tayo madudulas at masasaktan. The Ignatian Way has taught me that no career or vocation is more heroic than another. It’s not the task that’s heroic, but it’s the spirit of Magis that I bring to the task, approaching each task as if it were “the greatest enterprise in the world”.

I’ve also learned that I can only be driven by Magis if I see the higher purpose for my being and doing, if I become self-aware. SELF-AWARENESS is the foundation of all leadership, heroism, and success: Knowing who I am, what I stand for, what I value; knowing that I am gifted, because I have been gifted, and now I am called to action by the Giver of these gifts.

I was an accidental MBA student who took that bend on the road because I aspired for something greater. I’ve always aimed high and have worked painstakingly hard to excel at my craft, because in the medical profession, lives can be lost by ineptitude and mediocrity.

Now, I no longer see my AGSB stint as an accident, because in life there are neither accidents nor coincidences; only Providence and a higher purpose. Yes, I was led to this place by a desire for knowledge, and knowledge I did gain. But above all else, I now realize that my time at the AGSB was purposed primarily for character building: To comprehend my personal call to self-leadership, heroism, and magis.

Fellow graduates, we have arrived at this stage because we all aimed for something greater. As we walk out of this theater beaming with pride as distinguished graduates of the Ateneo Graduate School of Business, let us ponder and keep to heart what was once written about Ignatius Loyola and his companions: “The measure of their personal greatness is less about what they found at journey’s end, and more about the depth of human character that carried them along the way.”

I am deeply honored and humbled by this privilege to address you today. Para sa karangalang ito at sa inyong pakikinig, ako po ay taos-pusong nagpapasalamat.




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