13th Graduation Keynote Speech

Happy 15th anniversary to the Self Enhancement for Life Foundation! Once again I am delighted to witness another graduation program of SELF and most privileged to be asked to deliver a message on this occasion.

The 17 men and lone woman we honor today for completing the program conducted by this facility are about to embark on their most significant journey yet, one that leads them back fulltime into the bigger world beyond as they regain their rightful place in our society. They deserve our respect for the courage and perseverance they have shown in their personal struggle for sobriety. More than this, they need our constant support — that we too will be with them in their new lives.

Their parents, families and loved ones, especially those who are here today, deserve our deepest appreciation for they too have labored long and hard to provide the understanding and devotion needed by our graduates to weather the challenges they faced in rediscovering their values and self-worth. The love that only those who are nearest and dearest to them can best provide fueled their determination to make it back, and will undoubtedly sustain their passion to remain on the right path.

While our graduates take center stage today with their loved ones alongside them, there is yet another group of people we must acknowledge who have tirelessly helped them until the enlightenment they sought was achieved. They are, of course, the men and women of SELF who likewise deserve our sincerest admiration for the work they do wherein day in and day out they give themselves willingly and endure countless personal sacrifices for the sake of reaching out to those in need.

As a former member of the SELF Board I cannot help but be very proud of all of them, and I deeply treasure their friendship. At this point may I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, to give them a well-deserved round of applause?

Thank you.

SELF’s founder, Martin Infante, and I were classmates a long time ago. Inevitably our paths took different turns. I went on to carve a corporate career not knowing that Martin’s encounter with drugs, which we were all exposed to back then in high school, would continue to possess him for nearly two decades.

By the time we reunited and rekindled our friendship 25 years after high school, it was only then that I learned from him his remarkable struggle back to sobriety, which not only succeeded in exorcising this evil he had lived with for so long, but, more importantly, directed Martin to what is now his life’s mission — to help others as he had been helped, to use his newfound and hard-earned wisdom to coach them back to sobriety.

While nothing could be more noble, still I sought to understand as well as to discover the source of his unwavering drive and strength to pursue this endeavor. After all, many others had also found their way out of addiction, were content to keep it at that, and did not feel compelled to help other dependents move from the darkness into the light.

Moreover, Martin’s decision to devote his life to this cause attracted a number of other supporters, past and present, who comprise SELF’s program and facility staff, as well as the members of SELF’s Board.

Why do they devote themselves to this difficult and often thankless undertaking? Why do they sacrifice personal comfort and more lucrative opportunities to pursue the work they do in SELF?

These thoughts haunted me until one day I came across a story that I believe finally answered these questions for me. Let me share this story now with you.

The setting was rural America, in a typical small town of a few thousand inhabitants, where life revolved around the church and the local courthouse. It was an idyllic setting for living a boring life where only occasionally something happens to make the entire town buzz with excitement.

One such incident was a fire that broke out in the house of a long-time resident. As the townspeople congregated to watch the flames swiftly devour the wooden structure, they were horrified to hear the screams of the owner from inside the house. He was a widower who had lost his wife years ago, and whose children had long left the town to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

No one among the townspeople dared do anything for the fire was already far too large and certain death awaited anyone who would attempt to rescue the desperate old man. They heard his fervent pleas for help but could only stand helplessly and watch.

Suddenly a huge black man burst forth from the crowd and marched determinedly to the burning house. Unmindful of the searing heat of the fire, he lowered his massive shoulder to the front door and used it as a battering ram to crash the door open, whereupon a huge tongue of flame immediately greeted him. Still he would not be stopped. Pausing only to suck in precious air, he unhesitatingly entered the house to the shock of the onlookers.

Minutes later, which seemed like hours, he emerged from the doorway, his clothes burned and blackened, his hair singed, but in his arms was the old man who he had miraculously snatched from the jaws of death.
There was one more thing everyone noticed in this man who risked his own life in that inferno. His eyes were blazing with an intensity they had never seen in anyone. Without a word this giant then laid the old man down on the grass so the local firefighters could attend to him, and, just as suddenly as he appeared, he turned and vanished.

The old man survived, thanks to the heroism of this stranger. The townspeople talked about what they witnessed for many weeks, but no one could identify that man. He was definitely not from the town, so the conclusion was he was merely someone who happened to be passing by.

Determined to uncover the identity of this mystery man, the town’s only reporter went on to track him down, and after several more weeks, his inquisitiveness paid off and he finally located the huge black man living alone in a weather-beaten shack high in the mountains surrounding the town. It was undoubtedly him, the silent hero who never even gave his name.

The reporter found him to be shy and timid, contrary to the heroic personality he displayed during the fire. In fact, that man did not even want to talk about what he did, shrugging his shoulders and only giving curt responses to the reporter’s questions. But when the reporter asked him to explain why his eyes were literally burning with what seemed like rage when he re-emerged from that burning house, the black man paused in reflection, and finally said to him, “A man don’t know what he can do until another man is hurting.”

“A man don’t know what he can do until another man is hurting.” Ladies and gentlemen, it finally dawned on me that this is the reason for SELF’s existence. The men and women of SELF decided a long time ago that they could not be mere witnesses to the hurt of others. Indeed, they themselves did not know what their capabilities were until others started crying for help and they responded.

I believe there is this brave and mysterious giant in all of us that can come to the rescue of those whose fervent pleas for assistance awaken us into action. Such is the spirit that has brought all of us together in this place today, and may it continue to endure for the sake of many, many others. May you, the families and loved ones of our graduates today, go on being their steadfast heroes for if there is one lesson I have personally learned here, it is this — the road to sobriety is a lifelong journey. Therefore the work is far from over.

Let me now address you, our dear graduates. Thank you for crying out for help. Because of that you have brought out the very best virtues in all those who have and will continue to take pride in you. Never forget that the first and most difficult step taken in your journey to this special day was made entirely by you when you finally decided you had to take responsibility for your recovery.

What you underwent here in this facility was not about external healing more than it was about internal self-discovery. To paraphrase inspirational writer Khalil Gibran, the seeds for your sobriety were never planted in you; they were already in you all along and just needed to grow. Please remember that, and as you nurture your new lives with responsibility and courage to stick to the straight path, you will undoubtedly be confronted many times with obstacles.

It will not be easy, and therefore your lifeline must be the newfound confidence and worth you have in yourselves, that you have what it takes, with the understanding, love and support of those who care for you, and with the blessing of God who looks after all His children, to overcome any temptation and adversity.

My professional life is in risk management. Permit me to share with you a few of the important principles I have learned in my career.

First, life is uncertain. The best way, however, to face the uncertainties in our lives is not to deny their existence so we can then do something about them. You will be surprised how many people I have met who do not realize this. They run their lives seemingly to avoid discomfort when in reality they actually create more uncertainties for themselves.

Second, in my organization we have this saying, “The greatest risk is not taking any.” When you step out of this place tonight which has, in a way, become your sanctuary for a while, insulating you from many of the harsher realities of this world, be aware that you are taking your first risk in your new lives and do not ever run away from it. Risks are problems only if you do not quickly resolve them.

Dr. Robert Shuller, author of the book, Tough Times Never Last But Tough People Do, has a unique perspective on problems we can all benefit from. He says that people do not have problems; they merely have decisions to make.

Make the proper decisions, therefore, whenever you are faced with risks or problems, and they will no longer be there to bother you for long. In taking such actions other problems may emerge, and that is all part of the cycle. Therefore, be neither apprehensive nor afraid.

Third, have a vision for your life. All of us have one, and that is the sum total of our aspirations and dreams for the future. Knowing and keeping it foremost in our minds provides us a mental map of where we want to go and why. It is an indispensable companion to our journey.

Above all, trust in the goodness of life. Despite the undeniable reality of evil in our midst, there is also a corresponding and overwhelming force for good all around us. We just have to believe it is there and reach out for it.

One of my closest acquaintances in my work, a gentleman of wisdom and humility, would always tell me, “Lahat ng bagay may katotohanan.” His philosophy in life is that the truth behind all things is inherently good, that nothing happens without a meaningful purpose, especially setbacks that seem to down us. Another one of my agents put it this way, “Fall seven times; rise eight times.”

This is another important principle I would like to leave with you. In my profession I have learned to accept the probability of things going wrong, such as that inevitable car accident I will have one day given all the years I have been driving. I may not be able to avoid it but I can and should prepare as best as I can to make sure that when it happens it will only be a minor one and I can recover from it.

Anticipation, preparation, and conscious action to minimize the odds of facing the most serious consequences have enabled me and many others to remain safe and secure. You too can ensure that, despite human frailties and imperfections, you will never have to relapse into your former drug habit ways. If you must, choose to be a different kind of addict. Become addicted to being a lifesaving positive influence to others. Kuya Martin is doing it. So can you.

Let me also leave you with these words from an anonymous writer, which I hope you will live and be fortified by, and it goes like this:
“My life shall touch a dozen hands before this day is done,
“Leave countless marks for ill or good ere set the evening sun.
“This is the wish I always wish, the prayer I always pray:
“Lord, may my life touch other lives it meets along the way.”

Dear graduates, we wish you nothing but the best. Go out and reclaim your rightful place in our society. Welcome back. We are so very proud of you!

Jesus G. Hofileña
Board Member, SELF
November 2007