ASCOT Commencement Speech by Dr. Rafe Brown

The Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT) held its 13th Commencement Exercises last April 9. The Guest of Honor and Commencement Speaker was Dr. Rafe M. Brown, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Assistant Curator of Herpetology at the University of Kansas, USA. Dr. Brown has been working on different environmental researches in the country in collaboration with the National Museum. This is his second time in Aurora.

Here’s the transcript of his Commencement Address:

Greetings friends,

It is a pleasure to be here on this beautiful day and a great honor for me to be invited to speak at this important event.

Today, you are graduating and leaving behind an extremely important period of your life and your personal development. When I think of the importance of higher education and the great significance of a student’s college career, my first thought is that the last four years have, in many ways, been some of the most important years of your life. You have learned to work hard, to take your required class assignments seriously, and you have hopefully come to appreciate what others in your society will expect of you as adults. As an adult you have learned that aside from the great fun and pleasure you can derive from life and its distractions, you also have great responsibility.

As a graduating senior, you are now part of something much bigger than yourself. The many institutions of college – your clubs, your fraternities, your graduating class, and now your association as an alumnus – all make you part of something. When I look this graduating class, it occurs to me that you are now all members of society in a way that you were not before today.

So what does this mean? Well, membership has its privileges…and membership has its responsibilities. Spider-Man once said that “with great power, comes great responsibility.” I’m sure you know exactly what I mean, and I’m sure that you agree. But, wait; do you know what I mean?

Well, what I mean is that you are now a card-carrying member of Filipino culture and society. You are among the privileged academic and intellectual elite of the true gem of global biodiversity. The Philippines is a global superpower of biodiversity! As an evolutionary biologist who studies biodiversity and the processes that produce it, my colleagues and I consider the Philippines to be among the very pinnacles of all nations on the globe in terms of diversity of life. There are more species per unit of land area in the Philippines than anywhere on earth! Think of that. Take a moment and contemplate this awesome truth. Many of you come from the provinces or have family who live in places like Kalinga, Quezon, Nueva Viscaya, Ilocos, or even Aurora. When scientists count the numbers of species that come from your home provinces, and they divide this number by the combined size of the islands of the Philippines, they invariably arrive at a simple mathematical conclusion. This is that more species exist, more forms of life, more evolutionary unique entities per unit area right here…than anywhere else on earth.

But of course, you already knew that. You already knew that biodiversity specialists all over the world consider your hometown to be an exotic far-away dreamland of biodiversity, where a field biologist can travel to the forest and can see more species of bird in a day than most other places on earth. You already knew that marine biologists consider the reefs of the Philippines to be the epicenter of Pacific diversity, literally the cradle of creation of oceanic life. Just like you know that Jose Rizal is one of the most famous martyrs in the world, that Aguinaldo was one of the world’s greatest revolutionary leaders that Ninoy Aquino gave his life for your freedom, and that his wife Corazon Aquino then lead one of the most spectacular peaceful revolutions in the history of humanity. You know that the Philippines is one of the most biodiversity-rich countries in the world, just like you know that Manny Pacquiao is the greatest boxer, or that Sharon Cuneta has the sweetest voice of all women in the world, or that Efren “Bata” Reyes is the world’s best pool players. You know this already because you are Filipinos.

But wait, did you really know this? In considering yourself Filipino, did you also consider yourself who comes from the country that boasts of world’s greatest concentration of biodiversity? Take a moment and think about this. When you think of yourself as a citizen of the Philippines, do you think of yourself as having a vested interest in the promotion of biodiversity science? As a Filipino, it is important to you to promote public awareness of your greatest national treasure, and to fiercely protect it? When you meet a new acquaintance on the streets of Paris – or even San Francisco – and you say “I am from the Philippines” don’t really mean to say “I am a steward of the greatest concentration of life on earth; where I come from, God and the process of evolution has made more single acts of creation per unit area than anywhere else in the world?” If your answer to all of the above questions is “yes,” then you have passed and you are free to graduate today.

So why is all of this important? Well it’s important because biodiversity provides us with services. These services are some of the most important things in the world, but for some crazy reason we often take them for granted. We all appreciate things like clean water and good weather, relief from the heat of the dry season, wood to build homes, modern medicine, fresh food, the ability to fight disease, and protection from floods and landslides…but we all forget that these things come from our environment. Let’s be perfectly clear about this: environmental health means mature, intact, healthy forest. Environmental quality means trees. It is as simple as that! The forest right here in the Sierra Madre of Aurora province are some of the most spectacular forests in the world and when biologists come from all over the world to study them, their response is always academic amazement combined with a deeply appreciative reverence, like the feeling a devout Catholic feels when entering the Cathedral in Manila.

Who is going to lead the way in global appreciation of this biological creation? For some reason our governments have slipped off track and lost sight of the goal of sustainable appreciation of life on earth. Our neglect of the environment has now set in place a potential disaster of extinction, climate change, new emerging infectious disease, and the loss of biodiversity. The task of preventing this disaster is the greatest challenge for humanity. The stakes are so high because, it turns out, our planet is quite small, has limited resources, and there are so many of us now.

It’s natural that the superpowers lead the planet in the study and management of the earth’s great resources. With great power, comes great responsibility. Who else has the knowledge, resources, technology, and history to take on this task? Well, one of those superpowers is the Philippines. So, again, who is going to lead the way in global appreciation of this biological creation? You are! There can be no other way.

I am convinced that when you are old and playing with your grandchildren, that you – the members of this graduating class – will look back at exactly this time in the history of civilization and think of it as the time when people collectively realized the need to take responsibility for the protection of the environment. I am quite sure that right now, today in fact, will be remembered as the point at which humanity woke up, turned its attention to the biodiversity-rich countries, and decided to do whatever it takes to ensure the continued existence of life on earth via protection of the environment.

Tomorrow will be your first full day as a product of higher education from the Megadiverse, Global Biodiversity Conservation Hotspot of the Philippines. Many of you will eventually move to Manila, other cities, other provinces, maybe even California. Along the way, just as you take pride in being from the Philippines, I urge you to make environment awareness a part of your daily lives. Again, because of your status as a biodiversity-rich nation, the rest of the world will look to you to find ways to preserve and protect biodiversity. If they see you littering, or driving inefficient gas guzzling cars, or allowing illegal or legal loggers to cut down your forest, they will do the same. But if they see you marveling in the wonders of biological creation, celebrating biodiversity, and taking responsibility for the protection of the environment, they will all aspire to be just like you. Remember what Spider-Man said: “with great power comes great responsibility.”

I pray that you will use your power for good, use it well, and have fun along the way as you take pride in your achievements and your natural heritage. Ma-suerte kayo!

Maraming Salamat Po!

2 thoughts on “ASCOT Commencement Speech by Dr. Rafe Brown”

  1. Earth Day ngayon, dumarami baga ang mga tree hugger sa Aurora? Kumusta ang carbon footprint ng mga taga Baler? May nakulung na baga sa mga illegal loggers at magpapaputuk lalu na sa Agwang at Kinalapan?

  2. Any graduate who had the pleasure of listening to this commencement speech should feel a rebirth of pride in his or her heritage. Dr. Brown paints a very compelling picture of the importnce of the Phillipines as a tremendously rich source for the study of biodiversity. Even a layman, such as myself, can appreciate what an awesome opportunity you have to have a positive influence on the way we view and treat the world in which we live.

    Great presentation!

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