Let me tell you about a quote from the letter of Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo. This is a question that has never left my mind, most especially when I have an important decision to make. The question was “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” We are now in one of those moments— a moment right before a life-altering decision where we ask ourselves questions that are supposed to help us decide even if, most of the time, we do not have the answers.

UPOU, distance eLearning, multimedia studies— honestly, these terms were unfamiliar to me until I heard about them from my previous adviser in UP Los Baños. I was wondering why I had not encountered anything about UP Open University before, even though it was near UPLB. I was a lost and an unhappy Forestry student at that time. It was during those times that I was indecisive and afraid of making a choice, yet it was also the time when I had to get a grip. On top of it all, I was frightened of making the wrong choice because I know it would change my life. Eventually, I realized I was wrong. There are no right or wrong choices. What I needed was courage to make one. If that goes well, good for me. If not, I would learn from the experience, get back up and move forward. UP taught me that being passionate about something is not enough. You must work hard to succeed in what you are passionate about. Nothing comes easy. And so I decided to transfer to UPOU to follow my passion and do just that — work for it.

Explaining what UPOU is and how it works to other people is not an easy task. My relatives and friends have asked me tons of questions about the university and I gladly answered all of them every time because I am proud that a university is offering a diverse group of people a chance to study full-time or part-time, regardless of their current situation in life. After all, education is, according to American politician and lawyer Christine Gregoire, “the foundation upon which we build our future.” Of course, there is that one question we all dread to hear in family gatherings— kailan ka gagraduate?

Before I get too sidetracked, let us now talk about the theme for this year’s commencement exercises which is “Leading in Open Distance eLearning (ODeL): Towards Education 4.0” We are now in the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. It means that from production of goods and services using water and steam engines to mass production using electrical power to the automation of production through combined IT and electronics to the fourth industrial revolution where man and the internet (a network of computers) are used. Communicating across borders is now possible. Society has already adapted by being more social, knowledgeable, and innovating ways that are fit to the world we currently live in. Industry 4.0 has made local businesses become global enterprises. It has made talking to friends and relatives across the world easier, and of course, people can now earn degrees online. The response of education to the needs of the Industry 4.0 is that education is now flexible, accessible, has personalized teaching and it also establishes a blueprint for a lifelong learning. After all, we do not stop learning new things every day.

I can attest to the fact that UPOU is the leading institution in Open Distance eLearning. UPOU has a new vision for learning. UPOU has taught us to know why we need a skill or knowledge, where to find it and play our strengths instead of feeding our brains with every information we could find. The learning designs are open, inclusive, universal and people-centered. There is also a convergence of virtual and physical learning spaces in the form of Learning Commons which also fosters peer-to-peer learning. Through all these factors, we can enable new possibilities that will help us, our country, and its people.

Let me enumerate some lessons I learned while studying in UPOU. It has taught me to manage my time wisely, self-discipline, cooperation in group projects and to double check instructions and deadlines. The flexible schedule has given us—students—the opportunity to dive into other activities while studying. We were also able to study anywhere which is an advantage for students who are in the workforce, students who are unable to go to a regular school and for stay-at-home moms as well. Furthermore, I have been able to converse with people from different walks of life. I have met working moms who juggle caring for their children and studying four subjects, working students, and people who are ill but has been given the chance to go back to school to earn a degree because of UPOU. Upon entering UP, I was amazed at how students and teachers can talk about anything and everything. We have become exposed to the harsh realities of life. I can tell you about some of it, but I am afraid that it will take us more than a day to cover it. Kidding aside, having an open mind is important nowadays. The willingness to understand another’s point of view even if it is against yours is important. UP has taught us lessons that cannot be found in books but only in experiences in real life.

UP has given us a lot more than what we deserve. Our UP education entails us to stand for our country. Iskolar ng Bayan para sa Bayan, hindi ba? From here on out, it is up to us to live up to that title. We are among the few chosen ones who were lucky enough to study in this prestigious university. Therefore, we should not waste this opportunity given to us for what good is a UP diploma if we are afraid to attempt anything, question everything, build rock-solid foundations, adapt to changes brought about by society and technology.

Life is too short for all the things we need and want to do. My fellow graduates of UPOU Class of 2018, we are at a crossroads. A decision must be made. Are we going to turn a blind eye on what is happening to our country today or are we going to fight for our country and its people for what good is a UP diploma if we become the generation of scholars who are ignorant of the social injustices that are screaming at our faces?

To my fellow graduates, congratulations to us, and may we all keep fighting for our country.