Speech delivered by Mr. Winston A. Maxino during the SU Junior High School Dedication and Moving Up Ceremony at Luce Auditorium, Silliman University, Dumaguete City on March 31, 2017.

Silliman University President Ben S. Malayang III, Vice President for Academic Affairs Betsy Joy B. Tan, Vice President for Finance and Administration Fe Marie D. Tagle, Vice President for Development Jane Anette L. Belarmino, Reverend Mark B. Augusto, Dean of the College of Education Pablito A. Dela Rama, Junior High School Principal Brenda Boladola, Silliman High School Faculty and Staff, excited members of Junior High School Class of 2017, very proud Parents, friends of Silliman, Good afternoon.

After being hailed as the first Happiest Pinoy in 2010, it has become my advocacy to spread the message about happiness: that happiness is more than just a feeling; happiness is a conscious decision that we make regardless of the circumstances in our lives. In February last year, I was invited to be the speaker during Silliman University’s Honors Day Program. I was delighted to have shared with my fellow Sillimanians my humble insights about happiness that are rooted in our university motto “Via, Veritas, Vita.”  This motto has always been my guiding star.  It was my happiness seed, the spark of inspiration in a young boy’s mind then, that would later, develop into my happiness philosophy that I have today. “Via, Veritas, Vita” is the reason for my decision to be happy despite all the trials, pains and struggles that continue to plague me.

Thankfully, the theme for today’s ceremony is “Via, Veritas, Vita:  Now and Always.”  I feel happy that the topic I chose to speak about last year, is also the very theme this afternoon. It only shows how significant and how meaningful the Silliman motto is to our lives as Sillimanians.

In 1979, I stood on this very podium, of this very stage, to deliver the class message as the Class President of the Silliman High School graduating class of 1979. And, I feel so blessed to have come full circle. Whereas before I was a student encouraging my classmates to achieve our dreams, now I am back on this same stage, in this same auditorium, this time, like a father, and with a more profound message: I am encouraging you to achieve your dreams, with “Via, Veritas, Vita.”  This Latin phrase from John 14 verse 6 proclaims that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. Therefore, I am encouraging you to achieve your dreams in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. What does this mean? Allow me to expound on its meaning with a very personal story from long ago — “a tale as old as time, but true as it can be. “

As a little boy, I was very sickly due to my acute asthma. There were school years when I had more “Absent” days than “Present” days in my report cards. To my teachers and classmates, I must have been the greatest anomaly. I could still remember the time when I was 8 years old, I would walk to cross Hibbard Avenue to go to the Silliman Mission Hospital to get my injections.

I was always told that there were things I could not do because of my asthma. It was always heartbreaking for me every time I would be rejected or segregated because of my physical limitations. But what I had was a strong resolve to enjoy life to the fullest and to have as much fun as I could, just like any other child.  Despite my labored breathing, weak muscles and skinny body, I would volunteer to play games and participate in the school activities, even if I knew that the other kids did not want me in their teams because surely, I would just be a liability to them. I was that stubborn kid who refused to give up.

When I was 10, I wanted to become a Boy Scout. Unfortunately, the Scoutmaster refused to accept me saying I would not pass the physical requirements for hiking and camping. I begged my class adviser to help me convince the Scoutmaster, but she said she could not do anything.  But I did not want to take no for an answer. So, I prayed to God…  I was certain He could make it happen for me. And God’s seeming answer was “go ask your father to help you.”  My daddy, who fully supported my dream, wrote the Scoutmaster a very short letter of, what I gleaned, was probably only four sentences. The following day, I gave the letter to the Scoutmaster, and later that same day, the Scoutmaster informed me that I was already officially registered as a Boy Scout of Silliman University Elementary School!

This is Via —  Jesus is the way to God.  Jesus taught us the power of both faith and persistence, that we “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). The path to achieving your dreams will not always be smooth sailing, because you will encounter setbacks that would challenge you. Do not be defeated, find a way! When you do not know what to do, pray and seek help. Believe that your dreams are worth fighting for. Trust that God will make all things right because as Jesus declared, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Let me continue with my tale… “one bitter-sweet and strange, but finding things can change.…”  I hurdled the first challenge of getting in but many more challenges would soon follow.  During encampments, my parents would pick me up in the middle of the night because of my severe asthma attacks. Because of this, the other Boy Scouts would tease me for being a weakling. I knew that the physical rigors would be tough, so I did everything I could to excel in the other scouting activities. I won the knot-tying contest, the Semaphore contest, and the oratorical and extemporaneous speaking contests. The Scoutmaster eventually recognized my value to the organization.  He saw how hard I worked and how true I was to the Boy Scout Law: that a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, and a brother to all scouts. At the age of 15, I earned the highest Boy Scout rank, and I was the Senior Patrol Leader.

This is Veritas — Jesus is the truth. Jesus did not say, “I speak the truth,” but He said, “I am the truth.” Therefore, truth does not only mean honesty in speech, it meant Jesus was good in His whole being. Everything about Him was good: His thoughts, His words, His actions and His work were all good. He was the perfect person and He produced the perfect work. We are not perfect like Jesus but we are likewise called by God to be of upright character and to do superior work. Each of us have our own unique strengths. Know your strengths, hone them and use them to excel in your endeavors. Achieve your dreams with a character beyond reproach and with integrity beyond question.

But my tale is not yet finished… “ever just the same, ever a surprise, ever as before, ever just as sure, as the sun will rise….“  For all my efforts, I achieved what has never been done before in the history of Silliman High School. For 4 unprecedented straight years, I garnered the Jose Fermin Magbuana Memorial Most Outstanding Boy Scout of the Year. This award came with a scholarship that partly paid for my high school education. I repaid my father’s 4-sentence letter with 4 awards and 4 years of scholarship money.

I am sure these made my parents very happy. I remember my mother’s beautiful smile each time she went up the stage with my father, here in Luce Auditorium to witness my receiving the Jose Fermin Magbanua Memorial Most Outstanding Boy Scout awards each year, for 4 years. But more importantly, I was very happy to have achieved my dream and excelled as a Boy Scout, something I was told I could not be!

This is Vita — Jesus is the life.  Jesus suffered on the cross to save us from our sins. He died so that we may have life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). When we achieve our dreams in the footsteps of Jesus, our lives become fruitful. Worthy achievements are those that serve a noble purpose, have a positive impact on the lives of others and make other people happy. We are made for service to our fellowmen. When we achieve dreams that promote love, happiness, and goodness, God will reward us with an abundance of the same values that we promote. There are no limits to the goodness of God.  The love and happiness that we give to others return to us in far greater measure, even beyond what we can ever imagine.

After high school, I continued to live life to the fullest despite my health problems. In College here in Silliman, I worked while studying, and finished my four-year degree in less than four academic school years and still, with honors.  And, as if history would repeat itself, for 4 unprecedented straight years, I was awarded the Most Outstanding Freshman Student, Most Outstanding Sophomore Student, Most Outstanding Junior Student, and finally, Most Outstanding Sillimanian of the year. And, I remember my mother telling me: Do not forget to pray and thank God.

I occupied many leadership positions and received recognition for my leadership skills both in school and at work.  But, the trials kept on coming; life was not a bed of roses. In 2000, I faced my most devastating health crisis.  I was diagnosed with a rare, painful, incurable, debilitating and degenerative disease of the spine called Ankylosing Spondylitis. There is no cure and the doctors told me that my spine will eventually fuse, I will become paralyzed, and I may die early. I wake up every day with pain in my back, my shoulders, my neck, my feet and my hands. I will be in pain and I will need to take pain relievers, every day, for the rest of my life. As I speak to you now, I am in pain. I felt that I had been sentenced to a life of pain, agony and suffering. What will happen to my job? What will happen to my family? Is there hope for my future? I felt so confused and very depressed and I questioned God: “God, why are you punishing me? I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I don’t do drugs!

God does not abandon us. When we call out to Him, He will refresh our spirit for us to keep on fighting and never surrender to despair. I read and learned: “I do not tell God how big my problem is; I tell my problem how big my God is.” So, I decided to respond to the situation with the full force of “Via, Veritas, Vita.” First, because of Via, I held on to my faith and I did not give up even during the most trying times of my life, for it is written that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:13). Second, because of Veritas, I maintained my integrity and continued to produce excellent work, for it is right that we give glory to God with our thoughts, words, actions and work! To God be the Glory! Third, because of Vita, I made sure that my work served a good purpose that enriched not only my life, but also, and even more importantly, the lives of others, for it is true that God will bless us when we are a blessing to others.  And, for these blessings, we must give thanks! God’s blessings indeed came, because in 2002, I was promoted to the top position of the company. I am also the top corporate executive of 3 other companies. I achieved my dream of rising to the top of the corporate ladder.

Although I have been teaching you about achievement, I have not forgotten my advocacy to spread the message of happiness. Where does happiness fit in when we are pursuing our dreams? Some people think that they find happiness when they have successfully achieved their dreams — as if happiness is the end result or the destination. But I think differently… I believe happiness is in the journey and not in the destination. Happiness is not your reward for the future; happiness can be your reality right here and right now. I choose to be happy every day of my life, while I am pursuing my dreams, even when I am undergoing difficulties, even when I feel lost, even when I am in pain, even when I am struggling, and, even when I am failing. Because of Via, Veritas, Vita, the decision to be happy comes naturally. I am able to accept my circumstances with a cheerful face because I am secure that God will strengthen me to overcome the trials and travails. I am able to endure the pains with a joyful heart because I am at peace in the knowledge that I am working for God’s glory. I am able to rise above the crises and challenges with a jolly spirit because I am excited to receive the rewards and witness the happiness that they bring about to others. I believe in the saying, “Be happy, not because everything is good, but because you can see the good in everything.” I am happy because I choose to focus on my blessings, not on my burdens. I cast my burdens into God’s capable hands and I continue to do my best.

When I think of God’s blessings, I think of my 3 wonderful and accomplished daughters who are pursuing and achieving dreams of their own. My eldest daughter Alayne graduated with a degree in Legal Management from the Ateneo de Manila University. She was an active student leader in her student days, being President of their college organization. At 23 years old, she is already a Sales Manager of a multinational corporation, and is now happily assigned here in Negros Oriental. She is a very good dancer, too! My youngest daughter Carlin graduated in Grade 6 as First Honors among about 500 classmates. She is now 14 years old and in Grade 9. She is a very good swimmer and plays the violin very well. She has a wonderful singing voice and she has won singing contests. Carlin was awarded Top 1, nationwide, in Kumon Reading, having scored perfect in the completion test at first try, and completed Kumon Reading in less than 3 years. My second daughter Brina is a special child; she was born with Down Syndrome. When she was just 9 days old, a doctor said her condition was very bad and she might die early.  When she was 10 years old, a psychologist told us that it would be very difficult for Brina to even finish grade school. Today, Brina is very much alive and she is already 20 years old. She graduated from a regular Grade School at the age of 12, and at the appropriate age of 16, she graduated from a regular High School as Class Valedictorian. At the age of 17, she got her one-year Certificate in General Clerical Skills. At the age of 19, she acquired her two-year Diploma in Associate in Arts. Brina moved on while working part-time as a pre-school teacher assistant. And this month, at the appropriate age of 20, she finished her academic requirements for her four-year degree in Bachelor of Arts, major in History. She is just waiting for her graduation to be held on May 6, 2017. She is now a Special Olympics Global Youth Ambassador representing Asia-Pacific in youth summits around the world. In 2014, because of her stellar work in Special Olympics, she was invited to dinner at the White House by US President Barack Obama. She is an inspirational speaker invited by schools and organizations to advocate for respect, acceptance, and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.

My daughters inspire me with their achievements, whether great or small, for these are reflections and proof that my wife Alina, and I are teaching them the right things. I pray that they will be happy as they continue doing their best, develop the talents and strengths that God has given them, and achieve even more. Dear students, this is my same prayer for you. I pray that you will be happy while pursuing your dreams with Via — faith and persistence, with Veritas — upright character and excellent output, and with Vita — noble purpose and fruitful service! As you move upward in life, remember the lessons from “Via, Veritas, Vita” that you learned in Silliman. Remember them and be grateful for the Silliman spirit and values.  “Via, Veritas, Vita” is a timeless treasure map leading you to a happy and meaningful life that gives you happiness and gives honor and glory to God. So, may the power of “Via, Veritas, Vita” be with you… now, always … and forever!

Thank you very much, and congratulations to all our happy achievers!