The Class of 2024: Aaron Benjamin R. Alcuitas — Summa Cum Laude, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

Cebu, Philippines
University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R)

Top graduate says real battle is against own doubts

“May we never become the leaders that we abhor, instead, we become agents of reform and positive contributors to society, in our own rights.”
Graduate’s Message by Aaron Benjmin R. Alcuitas — Summa Cum Laude, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science [FULL TRANSCRIPTION]
”If you’re watching this right now, it means you are with me and we have made it this far. I extend my warmest congratulations, not only to my fellow graduates but to their proud parents; and if you’re wondering why I somehow have a graduation from a home setup, you are 50% right. I’m actually in Taiwan where I’m having my internship. I’ve completed the required units, but the program requires me to be here until June, so I couldn’t be there today.

Braving the distance and internet speeds, the school still gave me the chance to speak, and so I want to take this moment to thank those who have made today possible. To USJ-R, thank you for delivering the quality Christian community-oriented education promised to us in our years of stay here. To all our teachers, past and present, thank you for seeing our potential and for tirelessly improving us. To our parents and family, thank you for supporting our education and being our biggest fans. To our classmates and friends, thank you for sharing [this journey] with us. Most of all, I thank the Lord for blessing us with this significant experience. His plans for us are, indeed, good; it was through His ways that we are here today.

”When I was told I would be speaking today, I was too stunned to speak. I never expected to receive this honor, but then I remembered a wise man who once said, ’With great power comes great responsibility.’ Today, please bear with me as I take you to a time machine, as there’s only one question I want to answer: Aren’t we just resilient?
”As one of the first batches to enter senior high school, we were denied our fairytale high school ending by a little something called a global pandemic. It didn’t end there, because aside from weakening our bodies and exhausting our minds and those around us, it moved us to continue our education online. Even as the privileged few with our computers and laptops, we weren’t spared from sudden power and internet outages, the challenges of learning online; and of course, the isolation that made the bedroom feel like a windowless jail cell. Typhoons struck us, the heat tried to burn us, and the prices increasingly haunted us, but later it got a bit better for us. We finally experienced face-to-face classes and met our classmates and teachers physically. Still, it paved the way for more challenges, and countless sleepless nights, presentations, major exams, school events, thesis-making, and internship days, until suddenly, we found ourselves here, looking forward to more problems in life. Whether we believe we’ve succeeded or could’ve done more, the fact that we’re here despite everything that we’ve been through makes us winners. We all have our struggles, some have more than others, so it wouldn’t be fair to compare. The real battle, that all of us have won, is the battle against our doubts about ever graduating from college. Like that version of me that got myself unli-chicken after doing poorly on an exam, you now get to pat yourselves on the back and say, ’We deserve this.’
”Given all those we’ve been through as a batch, my answer to the question ’aren’t we just resilient?’ is a resounding ’no.’ We are not just resilient, we are the just resilient. We are a batch that continually suffers, but never in silence. We fight for justice in our places, the same way we fight for fair grades, because we worked hard for them. We immerse ourselves in the local and national elections in a meticulous manner as we do in our student government. We show compassion to our neighbors in times of need, the same way we did to our schoolmates during the pandemic. We may not realize it, but our college life in USJ-R has molded us to be the competent workforce of the future, the pioneers in our respective areas, and the just and resilient role models. We used to only wish for it, but now we have the power to change what we want to see. All we need to do after this academic struggle is stay strong and connected, soar high yet keep our feet on the ground. May we never become the leaders that we abhor, instead, we become agents of reform and positive contributors to society, in our own rights.
”With great power comes great responsibility, and perhaps just like you, I also feel the pressure of my future responsibilities mounted on me. We have to stand on our own two feet now and walk [on] a dark foggy road. Some of us may already be contented with the jobs we have, but some may still be working towards getting one they desire. Some of us may continue pursuing graduate studies, knowing it’ll be a tougher battle. Some of us might be at a crossroads, choosing whether to pursue our passion or the thing we are best at. For some, finding the self they’ve lost in this journey could be of their utmost priority. No matter what your decision for the future will be, just know that we are praying for you, and we hope for the best for you. May each of us get the world of our dreams, with each other in it. For those who are still doubting their capabilities, I want to tell you that you’re smart, you’re loyal, you’re great, you’re appreciated, and you’re loved by the people who have been with you in all those trying years.
Proud parents
Proud parents, Angelito ‘Tata’ Alcuitas and Rona. (Photo provided)
”USJ-R, thank you for these four years of college. You have not only made us ready for the real world, but instilled in us the spirit of Caritas et Scientia, and we pledge to use our knowledge out of love for others and God. Thank you to all my teachers, past and present, for seeing the potential in me when I first didn’t believe in myself, and for teaching me some of the most invaluable life lessons. Thank you to my parents, Papa Tata and Mama Rona, for providing me with the living conditions so that I was able to work hard for school. I have been greatly privileged to have my laptop to work on and a bed to sleep on. Thank you for putting a roof above my head and food on my table. Thank you for supporting me even when I sleep at 3 a.m., sometimes for video games, but mostly for thesis. Thank you, Lord, for you have always blessed me with victories I don’t even think I deserve. You have always been with me when I was most helpless, and when there was nothing else to hold on to. To everyone in batch 2023-2024 of the second semester, I congratulate you on this graduation day and I am extremely happy for you. Now, it is our turn to give back. There are more problems to come, but we will face them like always.
We are not just resilient; we are the just resilient, and we will keep marching forward. Adelante!”

‘Welcome to the Battlefield’: Maria Ressa Talks Tech, Fascism in Harvard Commencement Address

Journalist Maria A. Ressa delivers the featured address at Harvard’s 2024 Commencement ceremonies. By Addison Y. Liu
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalist Maria A. Ressa warned Harvard graduates of impending fascism due to Big Tech in her Commencement address Thursday, imploring them to “choose their best self” in response.

“These times will hopefully teach you the same lesson I learned,” Ressa said, referring to her life as a journalist in the Philippines. “You don’t know who you are until you’re tested, until you fight for what you believe in, because that defines who you are.”

“But you are Harvard,” she added. “You better get your facts right because now you are being tested.”

During her speech, she said that after she was named Harvard’s Commencement speaker in March, she faced allegations of antisemitism. The allegations followed a Washington Free Beacon article accusing an editorial in Rappler, a Philippines-based news site Ressa co-founded, of comparing the state of Israel to Hitler.

“Because I accepted your invitation to be here today, I was attacked online and called antisemitic by power and money because they want power and money,” Ressa said.

After her speech concluded, Harvard Chabad Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi rose from his seat onstage and confronted Ressa about her remark as Pusey Chaplain Matthew Ichihashi Potts delivered the benediction.

Zarchi said he asked Ressa to publicly clarify what she meant, but could not make out her response as Potts addressed the crowd. Zarchi said he left the stage minutes before the ceremony ended when he felt it was clear she would not clarify her remarks.

Ressa did not respond to a request for comment on the remarks. A University spokesperson also did not comment.

In a direct message over X to Avraham Berkowitz, a rabbi who posted his own call for Ressa to clarify her words, Ressa wrote that “power and money referred to Big Tech and the attacks by politicians and business because they want money and power.” She later wrote in a separate post on X that she had clarified directly to Zarchi but that she was “not sure he heard.”

Ressa began her speech by thanking former Harvard President Claudine Gay, who Ressa said first invited her to speak. The audience laughed as Ressa acknowledged the “mysterious Harvard Corporation” in addition to graduates, faculty, and guests in attendance.

Ressa said the thousands of graduates assembled in Harvard Yard were “battle-tested” and prepared to face challenges like misinformation, surveillance, and facism.

She zeroed in on the use of technology to deepen divisions between groups of people as the “accelerant to conflict and violence.”

“It turned what once used to be our civilized Harvard, thinking slow, public discussions – into what’s become a gladiator’s battle to the death,” Ressa said.

Ressa also addressed the campus protests “testing everyone in America” and said she was “shocked at the fear and anger, the paranoia splitting open the major fracture lines of society, the inability to listen.”

“Protests are healthy; they shouldn’t be violent. Protests give voice; they shouldn’t be silenced,” she said, seemingly referencing the Harvard College Administrative Board’s decision to discipline more than 25 students for their involvement in a 20-day pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard.

Ressa also praised the student speeches that preceded hers, which included two speeches that went off-script to reference the 13 seniors denied diplomas by the Harvard Corporation after being disciplined for their involvement in the encampment.

Ressa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for what the Nobel Committee described as her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.” She shared the award with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, the former editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta.

She received the recognition after a career in investigative journalism spanning almost four decades. Ressa worked at CNN in Manila and Jakarta and led multimedia news operations at ABS-CBN, the largest news organization in the Philippines, before co-founding Rappler in 2012.

Ressa faced legal challenges in the Philippines, such as libel and tax fraud charges, while reporting on the Duterte administration — challenges she said were motivated by a desire to crackdown on press freedom.

She told the audience she had to request permission to come to Harvard by the Philippine Supreme Court and had repeatedly faced political persecution.

“Anyone else out here on bail?” Ressa asked. “Just me?”

Ressa told graduates to be “clear about your values” and to be “vulnerable” with each other in order to build relationships, instead of creating further division.

“We’re standing on the rubble of the world that was. And we, you, must have the courage, the foresight, to imagine and create the world as it should be – more compassionate, more equal, more sustainable,” she said.

“Our world on fire needs you. So, Class of 2024, welcome to the battlefield,” Ressa added. “Join us.”

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