Speech (STEM-ICT, Ateneo de Zamboanga University- March 29, 2019- 3pm)
Dr. Gim C. Dimaguila
Theme: “Unity in Diversity: Quality
Education for All”
you very much Mr. Rey Reyes for that very kind introduction. To our beloved
president, our school principal, department heads, members of the faculty,
parents, of course our graduates, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon!
sure in the days leading up to this event- your graduation- there has been a
lot of anxiety and jitters. I bet a lot of you had questions ranging from the
mundane- “Man miss ba gaha kumigo di miyo classmates?” or di kaya “I wonder si
man mirahan pa kame del dimiyo crush na college?” to the Medyo serious “tama ba
iyo ste ya saka course?” and to the million-peso question of “Gradua ba iyo?”.
Well, since I see you all seated here, I think it is safe to say that that last
question has been joyfully answered. So before I begin my short talk- let me
first offer you a very warm congratulations. It is very much deserved.
19 years ago, I was seated in your place. Full of joy, optimism, excitement,
with a tinge of sadness and trepidation. I couldn’t remember the exact feeling
I had when I was in your place. I just knew it was a hodgepodge of all those I
mentioned with one thought looming above everything else- “The next step after
this is real life- college.” I knew that everything I did- the choices I made-
would define the rest of my life.
Notice two things in my previous statement:
1. College= real life and 2. Choices= defining the rest of life.
life and Choices Why did I say college is real life? Wasn’t high school real
life? Wasn’t grade school? Nevermind kindergarten, I’m pretty sure a lot of us
have vague memories about being toddlers. The only thing I remember when I was
in kindergarten is going back to fall in line again and again for snacks during
recess (we had free snacks in kinder school and I loved the masi and chocolait
the teachers gave out then). I say college is real life because college is a
microcosm of life. In grade school and highschool we had a set routine and our
teachers to guide us- 1 st and 2nd period, recess, 3rd and 4th period, lunch,
afternoon classes, and dismissal. We didn’t have a choice then. Once we
enrolled, that’s it- we go with the flow. Our job then was pretty much
straightforward- get good grades, don’t fail; break hearts every now and then-
you know the drill.
In college, everything changes. In college, we suddenly
have choices. What course to take, who to take it with, morning classes vs
afternoon classes, what orgs to join, and even how to avoid certain teachers!
It can be a bit overwhelming. That is why I say college somewhat mirrors real
life. We now have choices. And choices are what make us human.
Dumbledore says to Harry in the Chamber of Secrets “It is our choices that show
what we truly are, far more than our abilities”.
It is often
underestimated and denied. In the memes and comments section in Facebook we
often see people commenting and rationalizing that they didn’t have a choice.
No choice daw. What we should realize though, is that our ability to choose is
actually very powerful. It’s just that sometimes we get clouded by the events
and circumstance surrounding us. Yes, we sometimes cannot control the
situations we are in. What we can control though is how we react to these
circumstances. How we choose to respond to them.
This afternoon, I would like
to share with you four (4) lessons life taught me when making choices:
Choose to be grateful,
2. Choose to be kind,
3. Choose to appreciate the little
things in life, and
4. Choose to be a better person and a better human being.
Life Lesson # 1: Gratitude and the choice to be grateful
When I was in high
school I childishly took things for granted. Even when I was younger I had a
penchant for taking some things for granted. I am a product of a Jesuit
Education. My parents are Zamboanguenos but due to work, my dad moved the
family to Cebu. My pre-school and elementary years were spent in Sacred Heart
School for Boys in General Maxilom Avenue. That school has since moved to
Mandaue City and is now known as Ateneo de Cebu. At first I got good grades, my
first year or so there- thanks to my parents constantly reminding me how lucky
I am to be studying in a nice school. Then as the years came and went I started
taking things for granted. My grades started to slip and despite having a
private tutor for my Chinese subjects I still did not learn how to speak or
write Chinese other than my name and the phrase “Siansi, Guabe dimchui”- that’s
the phrase I use to excuse myself from class and go to the CR or wander the
school grounds with a classmate avoiding teachers and lost in daydreaming about
the uncanny X-men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
This trend continued until
my family moved back to Zamboanga, when I was in third year highschool and I
was transferred to our beloved Ateneo de Zamboanga. I am embarrassed to say that
my grades during my high school years here were not at all stellar. I barely
passed some subjects- thanks to Quake, Red Alert and Star Craft. There wasn’t
any DOTA then. I was a frequent visitor of Mr. Greg Sanchez, our then prefect.
I was always late to class. I was able to pass and graduate but my performance
was mediocre to say the least.
That all changed though.
The turning point of my
academic career and my young life was when I experienced adversity. Summer came
and went, the school year which was supposed to be my freshman year was
approaching when I was told that I wouldn’t be able to enroll for the first
semester. My family was experiencing a particularly difficult time- so
enrolling as a freshman was not an option. I was crushed, to say the least.
Imagine a young man around 16-17, like YOU- just graduated; on the verge of
starting a new life in college, brimming with possibilities… and being told NO,
you can’t go.
I wanted desperately to go back to school.
That desperation was
enhanced further as I saw my friends and classmates enroll and start their
freshman year. You could call it- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), or the stark
realization that if I didn’t get to go to college, I wouldn’t be able to attain
my dreams in life. I prayed hard for a miracle. I promised heaven and the
universe that if I got back to school I would work hard- seriously this time.
That I will not waste the opportunity given to me. However, classes started and
I found myself selling fried chicken in my family’s chicken stall by the road
along Don Toribio Street in front of ZAEC. I looked longingly at the students
starting their classes in ZAEC and wishing I was part of them. It didn’t help
that most of our clientele in the chicken shop were college students. Whenever
they came to buy chicken and I heard them talking about how difficult a certain
subject was or how they hated a certain teacher, I couldn’t help but feel
Hello! Nakakapag-aral kaya kayo! Ako nga hindi eh. They didn’t have a
right to complain. They were in school for crying out loud! I vowed that once I
got into school again I wouldn’t complain about our teachers or about how
difficult lessons will be. That was when I realized that my entire young life
there was one thing I did not have and that was gratitude. Taking things for
granted like I did when I was younger meant I wasn’t grateful for what I had. I
wasn’t grateful for the opportunity of having had a private education my whole
life. And now that I was officially an out-of-school-youth, I realized what I had
As Passenger puts it “Only need the light when its burning low, only miss
the sun when it starts to snow”. You know the rest of the song. Thankfully,
towards the second semester, I was granted a scholarship and was able to start
school. It was then I made a choice to do my best no matter what. I also made
another choice- to be always grateful. Grateful for the scholarship, grateful
to be in school, grateful for the little things. Especially so when I hit a
particularly rough patch or difficult time; even if it felt soooo difficult to
be grateful- I always try to find a reason to be. Believe me, being grateful
makes difficult moments very much bearable.
Even with a scholarship, my baon
was only eight (Php 8) pesos a day. Four pesos pamasahe for the jeep going to
school and four pesos going back. When I got hungry, buying saging from Robucks
worth four pesos meant I walked back home to Tetuan. Those walks home were
powered by gratitude. I could still eat after all and study at the same time.
And it has powered me through 4 years of college, another 4 years in medical
school, a year of internship, another year for my masters degree, through the
physician licensures exam, an additional 4 years of residency (or specialty
training) and a year for the specialty boards and through my current practice
as an Ear, Nose, Throat- Head and Neck Surgeon. At this point I think I have to
answer another million-peso question: How long did it take me from high school
to become a surgeon? Well, that’s 4 + 4 + 1 + 1 + 4 for a grand total of 14
years. I graduated a total of 7 times not counting my high school graduation.
And I guess we have another million-peso question: was it worth it?
of the sweat, tears, blood (mine ha! Not anyone elses’!) and countless sleepless
nights and puyat and being a zombie that it took to finally be called a
bonafide surgeon. For that is what I am- an ear, nose, throat-head and neck
surgeon. I usually deal with the very minor removing of ear wax to delicate
microscopic ear surgeries and creation of new ear drums using a graft and
endoscopic sinus surgeries and even removing tumors the size of another head.
Nothing can compare to the rush of placing a knife against the patients skin
and saying “cutting!” for the very first time. So a big YES.
It was all worth
it. It wasn’t easy. But it is possible.
Life Lesson # 2: Choose to be Kind
”Words are Wind” Jon Snow famously says in GRRM’s A Dance with Dragons when
gossip about his leadership and intention start to spread. But are they really
just wind? As we are exposed to the struggles and stresses of daily life, it so
tempting to be snarky, sarcastic or grumpy especially when things don’t go our
When I was a junior resident and training to be a specialist, I was in
charge of the post-operative care of patients who were just operated on. On one
of my dawn rounds, I found out that the clerk (a 4th year medical student) in
charge of a particular patient committed several minor but very important
errors. You see, most hospitals have a very rigid hierarchy. It is necessary,
mind you, because of the lives we are dealing with. The students are usually at
the bottom, followed by the interns a little bit higher up, then you have the
junior residents (like myself at this time), and then the senior residents and
supervising them all the chief resident.
My instinct was to berate her and give
her a mountain of demerits for her error since she as the rotating clerk was
directly under my supervision. But when I saw her sincerely distraught and
hastily trying to make amends I felt for this student. I was once in her place
after all. I knew what it was like. So instead of scolding her, I asked her
“Kumain ka na ba? Nag Dinner ka na?” remember this was already almost 5 in the
morning. “Kung hindi pa, kumain ka muna, pahinga ka bago mag endorsement
rounds.” I added.
Hearing this, she broke down, tearfully said no and
gratefully took a break. I finished my rounds and corrected the mistakes. A few
weeks later, driving home from the hospital I got flagged down for getting
caught in a junction box. I handed my license to the traffic enforcer while
apologizing and hoping I would be given a pass. He took one look at my license
then at my scrub suit with my name on the upper left pocket and asked “sa
Ospital ng Maynila ho kayo? Dr. Dimaguila?” on nodding yes he said, “yung anak
ko nagrotate sa inyo. Nabanggit nya kayo na halip sa pagalitan sya naintindihan
mo dinadaanan nya.”
Turns out his daughter was the student who rotated in our
department a few weeks back. Needless to say, I didn’t get a ticket that day.
Choose to be kind.
Even when it is hard not to be. Even when the temptation to
be snarky, sarcastic is real. This page I take from my wife’s life playbook. I
always hear her say to me “Be kind”. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Be
kind to animals. Be especially kind to those who are currently going through a
difficult time and those who currently have less. I don’t agree with Jon Snow-
words are NOT wind. They can hurt, even when uttered in jest. Kind words often go
a long way in making this world a better place. And Jon Snow? Well, he got
stabbed and died a few pages after those words- because of words.
Life Lesson #
3: Mindfulness and Appreciating the Little Things
Life is a journey, not a
destination. We often hear this a lot. Most of the time it is bandied around,
floating on quotes for the day, or used as a caption in the latest Instapost.
It is easy to get lost chasing our goals and dreams. Sometimes we focus too
much on where we want to go and how to get there that we forget to appreciate
I’ve had several close calls in my life. The closest and scariest was
when I stared down the barrel of a gun pointed at my face by someone who thought
I was someone else a year after graduating from medicine. The predominant
thought that ran through my head at the time was “10 years of freaking studying
and I’m going to end up another statistic”. You see, I was so focused on being
a doctor that I forgot that life was more than that. Sure I had to work and
read and burn the midnight oil. What I forgot to do was live.
The very next day
I drove out to the beach at Golf, sat on the shore, let the waves wash over my
feet and smelled the salt air. I made a conscious effort to be mindful of
everything- the sun, the smell of the sea, the feel of the water. I still do
that 9 years later whenever I get the opportunity to be near the water again.
Even in my daily routine amidst the busy-ness of the day I make a conscious
effort to stop and appreciate the sun streaming in or the setting light; feel
the rhythm of my breathing and thank God for another day.
Appreciate the little
Life Lesson # 4: Choosing to be a better human being or How Can I Be
Better than I was Yesterday
This life lesson is lifted right out of my wife’s
playbook. You see, there are many little struggles that I go through everyday.
What do I mean? Like crossing the street when the pedestrian light is red and
there are no cars around. Or Counter-flowing through the last 10 meters to that
left turn. Or dropping that itty tiny bitty bit piece of crumpled resibo and
know that no one will notice. I am pretty sure a lot of you will be saying now-
of course Ill wait till the pedestrian light is green. Or of course I wont
counterflow, Ill wait till I get to that corner. Or of course I’m not going to
litter I’m going to stuff that tiny piece of paper down my pocket and wait for
the trash can.
If you really are going to do these- then keep it up. For me
those these are my daily struggles. The little things. Thankfully, I have my
wife. At the end of each day we have this habit of asking each other about our
day, talking about the problems we encounter, stuff like that. And always
always she talks about how to become a better person than the day before. So
when I’m faced with those seemingly mundane decisions some of the time I choose
to be better. I say some because a lot of the times I fail in these struggles.
I fail in keeping my emotions in check, I fail in being patient with my
patients, I fail in treating others kindly, I fail in trying to connect with
people, I fail by ignoring people and letting my fear and apathy get the better
of me. I fail in a lot of things.
But do you guys know what the beauty of life
is? It is that as long as you are alive and breathing, there’s always a chance
to be better. The key is to never stop trying to be better. They say that for
us doctors, learning never stops. And that is true. Not only for us doctors,
but for everyone. We have to constantly strive to learn so that we can become
better. And when we are better we are able to give more.
You guys are all in
the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics- Information and
Communication Technology (STEMICT) tract. Our future doctors and engineers. My
future colleagues. I guess you guys all know this already but the advancement
of science and medicine is all built on research. Decades and decades of it. I
kid you not when I say that some studies take more than 40 years to finish.
Amazing, huh. As the section chief for research at the Ospital ng Maynila ENT
department, I always remind my residents of the importance of publishing a
A colleague always says “Publish or Perish”. And it is true. Sift
through your ideas. See the possibilities. Me and my friends when we go out for
drinks we banter about wild, out of this world ideas. And sometimes, those
ideas make it into print and then eventually into a paper. So, the next time
you guys go out for a couple of drinks- don’t be shy about throwing wild ideas
at each other. Who knows, you might discover the next Vibranium.
There you go, my dear graduates. Four life lessons that I hope can inspire you
as you make your way to a different level, a different chapter in your young
careers- 1. Gratitude, 2. Kindness, 3. Mindfulness and 4. Magis. The choice is
yours. It is a powerful thing given to us- choice. Use it wisely.
As Tony Stark
says (and I’m paraphrasing) “heroes are made by the choice they make and not
the abilities they have.” And as Batman says “It’s not who you are underneath but
what you do that defines you.” So in closing, live life. Enjoy life.
Congratulations once again and have a good evening.