Testimonial Speech for 2020/21 Bar Passers by Dean Nilo T. Divina

Testimonial Speech for 2020/21 Bar Passers by Dean Nilo T. Divina

May 3, 2022

Pay it forward: a call to service, kindness and transformation for the young Tomasian lawyers

It is my great privilege to congratulate our proud new Tomasian lawyers in tonight’s testimonial dinner. On behalf of the administration, faculty, staff and other stakeholders of The UST Faculty of Civil Law, may I call on our new lawyers to please stand as we applaud and show them our appreciation.

We are truly proud of you. You deserve all the acknowledgement and good things coming your way fruits of your dedication and hard work. You did it! Welcome to the profession, my companeros y companeras.

A changing world, but the same recipe for success

As I had told the graduating batch of 2021 last year, the world you will be lawyering in today may not be the same world you had envisioned when you first set your sights to law school.  You will be integrated into a new normal, a new world, that is in some ways unrecognizable. The so-called “secret sauce” to succeeding in the profession, is not far from the recipe that got you through law school and the bar examinations.

Many of the challenges confronting law schools today are well-known.  Although it seems interest in law has soared during the pandemic, with the availability of online classes that has enabled more working people to pursue their passion for the law, the study of law has remained as daunting as ever.

 While we have produced more lawyers this year than in any past 2 years combined, and while the job market for law school graduates has improved over the last few years, the world is still opening up and slowly recovering from the economic and financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This  has resulted in fundamental structural and market changes to more than just our financial system.  There have been lasting changes to the legal job market that may, in the long-run, affect the educational choices of college graduates and the economic models of many of our law schools.

Getting to take the bar examination alone was a daunting challenge because of the pandemic. How you managed the stress, anxiety, pressures and the grueling review for almost 2 years to get to where you are now is truly commendable.

“PAY-IT-FORWARD lawyers”

You are not mere SURVIVORS. You have ACCOMPLISHED what you have set to achieve.  The UST Faculty of Civil Law could not have wished for a more determined, grittier, tenacious and brilliant batch of bar takers. This batch is truly extraordinary. I tout you “PL” – not pandemic lawyers, although that is quite accurate as well.

“PL” stands for “PAY-IT-FORWARD lawyers.”

Why pay-it-forward lawyers? Because those who have been through adversity develop a better sense of what it is to need help. Those who have been subjected to feats of darkness and daunting hopelessness – as most have probably experienced during the pandemic – are uniquely able and willing understand others’ need for light and hope.

Just like this bunch, emerging from the abyss of the pandemic to the light and glory of becoming full-fledged lawyers –  those who succeeded despite overwhelming obstacles understand that we all need help sometimes. That success is not a one-way street and a one-man operation. Most times, it takes an entire school, an entire family, if not a village, an entire group of people invested in one’s dreams, to usher that person into the finish line. For that person to claim and say, “I did it. I have conquered.”

That is my challenge to you today even as we celebrate. What better way to start your legal journey than by plotting your course to a life of service, all the while holding a glass of champagne, or two?

The first call: SERVICE

Paying it forward is a call we have all heard one too many times, from graduation speeches to even electoral rallies from campaigning politicians. I submit to you, our dear young lawyers, that “paying it forward” in the concrete sense is simply each of you doing your role to make this world a better place. With a goal of making the next generation looking up to you, as optimistic about the future.

It is firstly about “service.”  It has been said that service “is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part or time of ourselves. We simply heed the call of that caring impulse within and follow where it leads.” (Ram Dass and Paul Gorman)

As new lawyers, you are uniquely positioned to provide not just random acts of service, but world-changing, life-changing, view-shaping service.

Cliché as it may seem, you truly have the capacity to change the world. Whether you decide to go to private practice, government service, to put up a business or whatever your heart leads you too, your Tomasian law degree and bar license are not just pieces of documents you will hang in your wall or boast with to others.

These are credentials that you can wield as your sword to fight against injustice. To fight for what is right and for those who cannot fend for their own rights. These are shields that you can raise up to protect the innocent. To uphold the rule of law. To put into practice the ethical and moral obligations of a Christian lawyer that our school has imbibed in you since day one.

The role the lawyer has in upholding justice and rule of law

The world you enter when you cross the midway today holds tremendous challenges. Whether in public service or wherever you decide to apply your talents, you will be called upon to confront hard questions. You will have the opportunity—and the responsibility—to navigate those questions while following practices that can make a difference between merely advising on what is allowed and doing what is wise. In the not-too-distant future, there will be questions that the law does not directly answer, or called to advise on difficult matters that not even the Supreme Court as finally settled.

You will be called upon to advise on matters that to you might seem routine, or part of daily grind, but will actually change the course of your client’s life, his/her future, and that of his/her family. You will be called upon to apply discretion and wisdom, to act with utter professionalism and courtesy,  mindful that your legal advice, your professional actions, and even your inaction, affect the very lives of those who rely on you. Treat your clients always with professionalism and courtesy, and I tell you, success will chase you without your doing the chasing.

Perseverance in service, grit in character

As you already know firsthand by now, successful lawyers are nothing without bullish perseverance. We are in one of the toughest professions out there. It is not for the faint of heart, those afraid of hard work, and most of all, those afraid to fail.

Make no mistake about it. You will commit errors. You might fail once or twice. There is no red carpet to success laid out, but  you need only look in yourself and all the obstacles you have conquered to get here to see and believe that YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE IT.  The practice of law may be difficult, but it sure is worth it.  Indeed, what sets successful attorneys apart from ordinary attorneys is that they know how to persevere through the challenging times to get to the rewarding and meaningful moments that make it all worth it.

When passion for service overrides your legal work, every day in the profession becomes a labor of love. So don’t tire of paying it forward.

The second call: KINDNESS

The second call in paying it forward is KINDNESS.

My heart is gladdened when I hear news about delivery recipients leaving cold bottles of water and snacks for delivery riders making trips to their homes and businesses. Or those ordering from food delivery services and making sure that the delivery rider has also eaten, sometimes even ordering extra food for them.

There are those who kindly pay for the medicine of those behind them in drugstores if it appears the latter do not have enough to purchase the medicine/s need. Or those pay for others’ medical bills of the lesser privileged. All these acts done out of kindness and benevolence, without gain or benefit for the doer except the joy of giving back.

My heart is glad because this speaks well of humanity. But I am also sad because such acts are so rare. So rare in fact that what are supposed to be common recurring acts of silent kindness become viral when caught on video. Simply because it is now rare for one to think of others ahead of himself or herself.

My dear lawyers, my expectation of each and every one of you is to become the best lawyers you can be and to live a life of service.

But that is not enough. I expect you to live life as a Tomasian lawyer, as a God-fearing person who is marked with unmistakable kindness. Let us not allow negativism and challenges of life to get in the way of living a life of selflessness, courtesy, and generosity.

The third call: TRANSFORMATION

Paying it forward is not just about others. It also involves changing, reinvigorating, upgrading and transforming oneself.  Service and kindness begins in yourself. So upgrade. Be kind to yourself also by asking – where do I need to go and how do I go about it? What do I need to change and transform in myself to be the kind of lawyer and person I want to be?

It has been said, “Being undone is the way we unfold. Certainly we resist this re-framing in a thousand ways. Comfort is seductive. The desire for the usual, the expected, and the anticipated soon becomes a prison of our own making.”  (Saki Santorelli) Do not become imprisoned in your comforts. Do not rest on your laurels.

If there is only one piece of advice I can tell to a young lawyer, it will be this: make a vision for yourself of where you want to be if given only a chance to live for a few more days. Work backwards from that and make every effort to become THAT PERSON.

The day you become a lawyer is not the end of a journey but indeed just the start of a life-long journey of pursuing your dreams, our passions, and chasing that best version of yourself that has the capacity and desire to spark change in the lives of others.

As you start your journey as the youngest members of this esteemed profession, I challenge you my dear young lawyers – be the best version of yourself. Be the best lawyer you can be, but also outdo each other in service, in kindness and in transforming for the better.

Giving back to the alma mater

And just as it was in UST where our character and dreams were built, we hope you are ignited in your passion in continuing to support our alma matter.   The call is unique to us Tomasian lawyers in whom UST has instilled the value of placing others above self. Our alma matter has long prepared us for a life and vocation of service.

Let the resilience you have developed to enable you to get here be the strength of the weak. Let the knowledge and wisdom you have as some of the best legal minds in the country be the fear of oppressors.

Let your passion for kindness and service be the rescue of those who need hope and help the most. Just as this institution takes pride in each one of you, may tonight help strengthen your desire to give back

Allow me to close with this:

Let tonight be a celebration of your victory. Let tonight also be your commitment to paying it forward – for God, for UST, and for the country.”

Congratulations, and enjoy the rest of this celebration.