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Like Wine in the River, Like Citizens of the World

18 July 2008 3 CommentsEmail This Post Email This Post

A FILIPINO lawyer finished his master’s degree in law at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and delivered the school’s commencement address in June 7, 2007.

Oscar Franklin Barcelona Tan, a graduate of UP Law Class 2005 addressed about 700 graduates that day.

His father is lawyer Edmundo L. Tan of the Tan Acut & Lopez Law firm. His mother, Dr. Jesusa Barcelona Tan, is a dermatology consultant at the Hospital of the Infant Jesus in Sampaloc, head of the photo-dermatology unit, and former chair of the Department of Dermatology at the Jose R.
Reyes Medical Center of the Department of Health.

In his draft speech, Oscar urges his 700 fellow graduates to transcend narrow nationalism. “My friends – and this includes our American classmates who will soon lead the world’s lone superpower – let us transcend our individual nationalities and affirm that we are citizens of the world,” he says.

Like Wine in the River, Like Citizens of the World
Harvard Law School 2007 Student Commencement Address
Oscar Franklin Barcelona Tan ( Philippines )

Dean Kagan, Vice-Dean Alford, professors, classmates, families, and
friends. Let me first thank our tireless graduate program staff. They
were the first friendly faces who greeted me, told me which functions
offered free food, and what to do if you faint during your final
exams. Assistant Dean Jeanne Tai, Nancy Pinn, Heather Wallick, Curtis
Morrow, Jane Bestor, Chris Nepple, April Stockfleet: This year would
not have been possible without you.

But this goes to everyone: Thank you all for truly making us feel part
of this community. We LLMs became your fellow students after your
Salsa Party, Chinese and Korean New Year, African Night, and our
International Party. To honor you, we took Europe by storm, winning in the inaugural Negotiation Challenge, in the European Law Moot Court, and in the Willem Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court .
Of course, you truly become part of Harvard Law School when you’re
featured in the Parody.

Not so long ago, Cambridge seemed a strange, unfriendly place
especially when I first saw Gropius. I went to John Harvard’s with the
British, who began chittering in an alien language. I later discovered
it was actually English the real English. I complained I was not
used to cold, but a Saudi Arabian reminded me that you can fry eggs on
a sidewalk in Riyadh . An Italian gave me tips on women because Italian
men are the world’s greatest lovers, with the disclaimer that their
style does not work on American women. A Malaysian was asked to
explain the religious significance of the color of her hijab, or
headscarf. She would answer: It had to match her blouse.

Soon, we found that great substance that keeps any law school
together: alcohol. On New Year’s Eve, a Belarusian handed me a glass
of vodka, but scolded me when I began to sip it. Sipping, he
emphasized, was not the Slavic way. I shared a Frenchman’s champagne,
a Peruvian’s pisco sour, a Costa Rican’s pina colada, a Brazilian’s
caipirinha, a Mexican’s tequila, and a Japanese’s sake. And apologies
to the Germans, but I learned how even weak American beer enlivens an
evening when you drink it with the Irish.

We found greater common ground: The Swiss complained about American
chocolate, the New Zealanders complained about American cheese, the
Sri Lankans complained about American tea, the Indians complained
about the lack of vegetarian food, and everyone complained that
American food makes you fat. An Austrian made homemade apfelstrudel. A
Nigerian made homemade fried plantains. The Pakistanis made a
non-spicy version of keema, and I only needed eight glasses of water
during the meal. All the Americans had was Three Aces pizza.

As for me, I come from the Philippines , a former American colony best
known for Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection. I remember being a six-year
old watching my parents walk out of our house to join the crowds
gathering to depose the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and form human walls
against tanks. I remember being a twenty-year old in a different crowd
deposing a different but equally corrupt president.

It was liberating to hear how a Chilean danced with crowds in the
streets when Pinochet was arrested. How the Chinese come to grips with
Tiananmen Square , while convinced that one cannot transplant
American-style government wholesale to Beijing . How life changed in
the former Soviet Union ; how it was like growing up in a fledgling
Eastern European country. How a Pakistani discussed Musharraf’s
assault on judicial independence with a South African worried about
Mugabe’s own acts in Zimbabwe .

It was even more liberating to hear from a Korean prosecutor how his
country sent two former presidents to jail. How the Swiss have
preserved their tradition of independence and referendum. How Ghana
threw off its colonial fetters and inspired a conscious African
solidarity. How a Bhutanese wants to help shape her constitution after
her king voluntarily gave up absolute power.

I cannot deny that our generation’s issues will be complex, but I can
guarantee that they will never be abstract, not after having a
classmate who was an Israeli army drill sergeant, not after having a
Chinese classmate with a Taiwanese girlfriend, nor after having a
classmate chased by gunmen out of Afghanistan . In fact, when George W.
Bush’s speechwriter visited, my Iranian classmate introduced himself,
“Hi, I’m from an Axis of Evil country.”

Friends, my most uplifting thought this year has been that the more we
learn about each other, the more we realize that we are all alike, and
the more we inspire each other to realize our most heartfelt
yearnings. My single most memorable moment here came when I met South
African Justice Albie Sachs, left with only one arm after an
assassination attempt during apartheid. My classmate stood up and
said: ” South Africa is the world’s second most unequal country. I come
from Brazil , the world’s most unequal country, and I admire how the
South African Constitutional Court has inspired the progress of human
rights throughout the world.”

And this is how Harvard has changed us. We recall struggling with
English to keep pace with the world’s most brilliant professors,
especially with Elizabeth Warren’s Socratic blitzkriegs, and we thank
Harvard for raising our thinking to a higher, broader level. But even
the most powerful ideas demand passion to set them aflame. The passion
we ignite today is fueled by a collage of vignettes that will remind
us in this crucible of life that our peers in faraway lands face the
same frustrations, the same nation building ordeals, the same sorrows,
and ultimately, the same shared joys and triumphs.

How do a mere 700 change the world, even with overpriced Harvard
diplomas? Before a great battle in China ‘s Spring and Autumn Period,
the legendary King Gou Jian of Yue was presented with fine wine. He
ordered his troops to stand beside a river, and poured the wine into
it. He ordered them to drink from the river and share his gift. A
bottle of wine cannot flavor a river, but the gesture so emboldened
his army that they won a great victory. We of the Class of 2007 shall
flavor this earth, whether we be vodka, wine, champagne, pisco sour,
pina colada, caipirinha, tequila, sake, jagermeister, raki, Irish
stout, Ugandan Warabi, or Philippine lambanog.

Thus, my friends – and this includes our American classmates who will
soon lead the world’s lone superpower,let us transcend our
individual nationalities and affirm that we are citizens of the world.
Maraming salamat po, at mabuhay kayong lahat.* Thank you and long live
you all.

* Traditional Filipino closing, literally, “Thank you, sirs, and long
live you all.”

Note: The photos that appear herein are that of THE Harvard University Gates, which the author took herself visiting Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One picture has a quote that says: “Open Ye The Gates that the righteous nation which keepth the truth may enter in.” It is lifted from the bible, Isaiah 26:2.

These are copyrighted photos owned by tataypepes.com.


  • talksmart said:

    Hi. This blog is nominated for the Filipino Blog of the Week award (week 118). Please visit the site and vote. Good luck!

  • dmeemai (author) said:

    We’re pleasantly surprised! Thank you talksmart. This is amazing news and boost for our site!! 🙂

  • peterahon said:

    mabuhay GLOBAL Netizens!

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