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Mayap a abak pu keko ngan. Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat. Good morning to you all.

This is my second week as your university president, and I very much appreciate the warm welcome and hospitality that you and your colleagues have extended to my wife Gem and me. Your generosity has given us the feeling that we are simply coming home.

Because this is my first meeting with you, I would like to share with you five things. The first is my family history – the so-called back of my business card – and my affinity to Holy Angel University. The second is my view of university education. The third is my best sense thus far of the strategic priorities that we should collectively pursue. The fourth are my core values of leadership. The last but not the least is my challenge to each of you.

I was born in Quezon City sixty years minus two days ago. My parents, both devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, named me after Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, and I am the eldest of six siblings who consist of five boys and one girl – the youngest. My mother is a so-called G.I. (Genuine Ilocano) from San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, which is a suburb of Vigan. She studied chemical engineering at Mapua, graduated cum laude, placed number eight in the board exam, but died in 1967 at age 40 when I was only 12 years old. My father is half-Kapampangan, half-Tagalog. He was born in Barangay Pulungmasle in Guagua, studied civil engineering at Mapua where he met my mother, never remarried, and died two years ago at age 87.

My paternal grandfather migrated from Pasig, Rizal and Paete, Laguna to Guagua during the 1920s, met and married my grandmother, and established the Calingo clan in Pampanga. My paternal grandmother’s side is the longest branch of my family tree, for which I have traced six generations, which include the Bacani, Enriquez, Roman, Suarez, and Tiongco families. Don Macario Bacani was a first cousin of my paternal great grandmother.

I migrated to the United States in 1980 and have been married to my high school sweetheart for 34 years now. At this time, I would like to introduce my wife and my BFF Gem. We have been blessed with three daughters whose ages range from 23 to 32 and who are in various stages of their careers. Our family of five lives in four different countries and in three different time zones; thanks to technology, we have our family gathering every Sunday evening. I look forward to the time when I would introduce the rest of my family to you. The rest of my background you have already heard from Vice President Cortez or you may read from my profile page on our university website.

I first heard of Holy Angel during my late high school and early college years at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Noong panahon na iyon, isa ako sa mga kasapi ng Kabataang Makabayan at kabilang sa mga idolo ko sina Nilo Tayag at Bernabe Buscayno, pawang mga alumni ng Holy Angel. Education has enabled me to cultivate my God-given gifts, but it was through the generosity of others that I have been educated. My parents lived a simple, frugal life to enable my siblings and me to attend Catholic grade school until my mother’s untimely demise. My late cousin Manong Jun fulfilled his promise to his former nanny – my late mother – by paying for my tuition and my books at U.P. High School. The people of the Philippines, through government scholarships and grants, enabled me to finish not only my industrial engineering degree but also the first two of my three graduate degrees. I was an iskolar ng bayan and one who decided to go to America to pursue his further education, start his academic career, and live the good life. Three years ago, I became the second Filipino-American to pierce the bamboo ceiling in academia and become a university president. Since then, there have been four of us, minus one as of last week.

At around the time of supertyphoon Yolanda, I had begun a serious process of discernment about my future vis-à-vis the Philippines. When the call from Holy Angel came last December, it was hard to resist as it represented a significant opportunity for me to pay back to my country of birth in a meaningful way. To me, Holy Angel is not only a Catholic university with a good academic reputation but also a destination school of students with a social conscience. The university’s mission of providing access to quality education to students from socioeconomically disadvantaged groups – the marginalized – was particularly attractive to me. The opportunity to lead and to serve Holy Angel was the best gift that I received during the past holiday season, and I am grateful to your Ma’am Gem – who has lived in America for 42 years – for enabling me to accept that gift.

Let me now address my second topic – my views on university education. I believe that the core purpose of higher education is to produce graduates with highly valued degrees. Society values these degrees to the extent that their holders are competent, productive individuals who are also ethically and personally responsible citizens of a democratic society. My views on university education are based on the classic The Idea of a University, which Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote in 1852. Consistent with this view, I strongly believe that the so-called dichotomy between liberal education and professional preparation is an artificial one. Liberal arts-based professional education should be at the core of what we do here at Holy Angel.

Let me state in both philosophical and practical terms how you can embed this core purpose in your interaction with your students. As you may know, the world is divided into two types of people: those who divide the world into two types of people and those who do not. I am one of those dividers. Dividers see dualities everywhere. The best version of our individual duality comes from a great Jewish Rabbi named Joseph Soloveitchik who wrote The Lonely Man of Faith in 1965.

Rabbi Soloveitchik said we have two sides to our nature, which he called Adam I and Adam II. Adam I is majestic Adam. Adam I wants to build, create, produce, and subdue the world. Adam I wants to have a great career and win victories.

Adam II is humble Adam. Adam II wants to be surrounded by love and security. Adam II wants to feel and radiate joy. Adam II wants to live a life of virtue, not to do good but to be good, to have an inner soul that honors his God, creation, and one’s own possibilities.

Adam II is not interested in impressing society. He wants to relish the smell of a familiar meal with family. He wants to not only to behave well, but to behave well for the right internal reasons. He wants to practice virtue and be the sort of person who experiences a deep, strong, and unshakeable happiness.

Rabbi Soloveitchik said we are great individual dualities because we live in the contradiction between these two Adams. They are not reconcilable. We are forever caught in self-confrontation. The tension between the majestic Adam and the humble Adam tortures us but propels us sometimes to greatness.

These days we happen to live in a culture that nurtures Adam I, the external career Adam, and neglects Adam II, the internal joyful one. We prepare our students for a meritocratic society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career, how to win the admiration of our peers, how to build and create and discover, how to be a good friend and neighbor, how to increase our friends on Facebook, or how to expand our followers on Twitter. But if you are only Adam I, you turn into a cunning, self-preserving person who is adept at playing the game and who turns everything into a game. People who live with this disease focus exclusively on the material world, on technology, and on strategies for career advancement. Every day becomes a strategy session as they chart their course to success.

If that is all you have, you lose the ability to speak in a sophisticated moral language. You lose the experience of inner joy, without which life becomes unsupportable.

If all you have is Adam I, you lose the experience of inner joy, without which life becomes unbearable. I have noticed this phenomenon — and have fallen into this trap — myself. We often refer to this as the midlife crisis. Between 40 and 60, people’s careers may be fine, but many of them have broken marriages, families, or relationships. They may have met their career goals but they have lost their spiritual energy and intellectual sparkle. The worst examples are those of past candidates for political office whose apparent illusion of invulnerability had led them to misbehaviors that resulted in their withdrawal of candidacy.

They devoted everything to Adam I and, in middle age, they realize they are joyless and alone. Their Adam II may not be completely dead, but like a garden, they left it untended. Everything inside is chaos. They cannot experience the composure to experience completion and joy.

So this is the real thing to worry about as our students further their education and go on with the rest of their lives: Will our students develop Adam II every day? Will our students live the permanent self-confrontation between worldly majesty and moral humility?

What is interesting about this self-confrontation is that Adams I and II live by entirely different logics. Adam I — the building, creating, producing Adam — lives by a straightforward logic. It is the logic of business and economics: practice makes perfect, input leads to output, and effort leads to reward. By contrast, Adam II lives by an opposite moral logic. You have to give in order to receive. You have to be lost in order to be saved. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.

Just as students take courses to learn the logic of Adam I, they also need to consult certain timeless texts to understand the logic of Adam II. Many people acquire this understanding in the Scriptures, the Qur’an, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, and the like. I confess that a few of these books are part of my permanent library collection, which has moved with me. They have helped keep the logic of Adam II in front of me, although understanding the logic of Adam II is a lifetime’s work in itself.

Now that I have articulated my philosophy of university education, please allow me to share with you my best sense thus far of the strategic priorities that we should collectively pursue. My presidency will be characterized by its key theme: honoring the past and embracing the future. Based on my assessment of Holy Angel’s strategic decisions over time, I am proposing that we collectively pursue four strategic priorities.

The first strategic priority is the pursuit of academic quality and organizational excellence. Through our collective efforts, Holy Angel University will become a leading educational institution in the ASEAN region as a result of superior academic programs, memorable student experience, and operational excellence. We will strive for international accreditation of more programs, we will strengthen linkages with business and industry to provide our students with opportunities for engaged and experiential learning, and we will pursue process improvements that will enable us to make Holy Angel education more affordable.

The second priority is for Holy Angel University to become an authentic instrument for countryside development. Through our collective efforts, Holy Angel will help alleviate poverty by providing access to quality education by students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Our Founders established this university precisely for the poor and the disadvantaged – a student segment that is increasingly shifting to the state colleges and universities. A harvest cycle that is not aligned with the school calendar, the lack of pocket money, and not having enough cash to commute to school – these should not be a barrier to graduation by our students. We need to increase our ability to serve students with extreme financial need. This is a cause that, I believe, will be attractive to our alumni who we need to engage to give back to the university that has proverbially taught them “how to fish.”

The third priority is for Holy Angel University to be a great college to work for. Through our collective efforts, Holy Angel will become an employer of choice in Central Luzon and a benchmark for Philippine educational institutions, especially in how we navigated the rough waters of K-12 educational reform. I have lived, studied, and worked in the United States for 35 years. For 23 of those years, I had been either a professor or an administrator in a state university system that had about a dozen collective bargaining units. My last campus was the largest in the state university system and, as its business dean, I have had productive working relationships with the stewards of four employee unions. We are all about students – that shared purpose alone should motivate us to ensure that the university functions as one unified community.

The fourth priority is for Holy Angel University to be a recognized leader, both here and abroad, in faithful Catholic education. Through our collective efforts, we will accomplish the above strategic priorities while maintaining fidelity to the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and visible commitment to Catholic social teaching, engaging ourselves in issues concerning social justice, human life, and the needs of the poor. We will demonstrate that faith and reason can coexist. We will strive to be included in lists of recommended Catholic colleges and to be worthy of that recognition.

Simultaneously pursuing these four strategic priorities will be our Mount Everest. I challenge you to join me in this climb to Mount Everest. And I promise you that, as your leader, I will be with you in that expedition and I will try my best to serve as your sherpa. The idea of being a sherpa on our climb follows the axiom of author and leadership expert Max De Pree, who suggested that “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader must become a servant [to the mission of the organization] and a debtor [to all those around him].” The leader, therefore, reduces the gap between what is reality and what is possible.

I would now like to take this opportunity to reiterate my core values as an academic leader. My first core value is community—working together, embracing our diversity, recognizing our mutual dependence, being accountable to each other, and appreciating our unique gifts and roles that each of us have in this entire body that we call Holy Angel University. My second core value is honesty—integrity, truthfulness, openness, transparency, achieving goals through honest means, honoring commitments, and being worthy of the trust of others. My third core value is excellence—the quest to continually improve and the commitment to deliver an “unblemished, well-polished, professional product that is produced with the best possible human competence,” reinforced by my long association with the Philippine Quality Award, the country’s highest award for quality and performance excellence. My fourth core value is stewardship—responsible use of the resources and competencies, such as the ability to lead, that have been entrusted to us. My fifth core value is abundance—the belief that sustainable progress results when everyone works together to achieve “win-win” solutions that make the pie larger. I firmly believe that one can accomplish many great things if you do not mind who gets the credit.

Before we conclude, I want to share the following story:

There once was a traveler who journeyed all over the globe in search of wisdom and enlightenment. In the midst of one village, he came upon a great deal of noise, dust, and commotion. He came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, ra-ther curtly, “I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can't wait ‘til 5 when I can go home.”

A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, “Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It's not bad work, but I'll sure be glad when it’s done.”

A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and, with a broad smile and a gleam in his eye, proudly proclaimed, “Can’t you see? building a cathedral.”

Such is the story of the building of the Cathedral of Milan, which took more than 500 years to build. Imagine the depth of the vision that the builders must have had to create this magnificent structure, especially knowing that they would not live to see the finished cathedral themselves.

As we begin a new school year, let us remember what has drawn us together—a desire to make a difference in the lives of others and the world. That is our cathedral.

So I ask you to continue our work on our cathedral, and I pledge to do my part helping preserve and strengthen this university with the best possible human competence. I am aware that this is both a privilege and an obligation. The obligation extends back in time to June 3, 1933 when our Founders opened the country’s first Catholic coeducational high school at the old parish house of Pisambang Maragul. The obligation extends forward in time to future generations who will come here to learn. I am grateful for the privilege of serving, and I will work hard to meet the demands of the obligation. Let us journey together on a path that fulfills our ambitions and creates a shared legacy we will all be very proud of. Laus Deo semper! Maraming salamat po!

Date Posted: 06-30-2015