The challenge I face is that of every Atenean: When it is so easy to keep to myself, will I choose to take part in a bigger world? Will I be a woman for others?

Filming my graduation speech in my bedroom

A Personal Graduation

By Yumi L. Briones, Class of 2020 Valedictorian

Since the news of my award came out in May, I found myself going through a series of momentous events in a very personal manner. Finding out I was valedictorian. Delivering my speech. Graduating. I associated these things with crowds of people, fanfare, and applause. Instead, I got a much more subdued reality. I received the news over video call, and I had only my family to scream to when I hung up.

Despite the way things turned out, I never felt alone. When I was having trouble writing my speech, my friends gave me inspiration. They told me their stories—the ones they always wished they could tell the world. Those stories made my final draft possible. And on the day of the recording, my friends lent me lighting equipment, a camera, and a microphone. My family spent hours helping me set up. So when I finally delivered the line, “I’m giving the biggest speech of my life in front of a green screen in my bedroom,” I felt a sense of gratitude to everyone who helped make it possible.

A regular graduation would have been public, festive, and nerve-wracking. Mine was personal, intimate, and relaxed. During the opening shot down the aisle of our graduation hall, I got up and marched right in my living room. Then, I watched my own speech from my couch with three people beside me: my mom, my dad, and my brother. The roll call afterwards triggered flurries of memories—some with my closest friends, others with people I’d met only once or twice. My heart was warmed by Father Jett [Villarin]’s closing remark to the batch: “Magkikita tayo muli.” [“We’ll see each other again.”] A powerful promise—especially knowing it was his last year as university president. Finally, when “A Song for Mary” played over the beautiful shots of our campus, I could barely hold back tears. After it was over, I knew that even if I had gotten a normal graduation, I wouldn’t have been happier than I was that day on my couch with my family beside me. In the spirit of magis, the Loyola Schools had truly outdone itself in giving its students the best graduation possible.

Today, my diploma lies rolled up in a drawer until I find a good frame to display it in. It feels strange—Ateneo has prepared me to face a large world, and yet I find myself confined to my own home in the midst of a pandemic. The challenge I face is that of every Atenean: When it is so easy to keep to myself, will I choose to take part in a bigger world? Will I be a woman for others? I’ve realized that I will keep asking myself these questions every day for the rest of my life—because as I’ve said in my speech, the choice to love is not a one-time thing. We have to choose it every day. So every day, I make a personal choice to love, to study, and to work for a better world. I hope that somehow, I have helped Batch 2020 choose to do the same.

Watch Yumi Briones’ Talumpati ng Pamamaalam [Farewell Speech] below.