Playing to learn – Miguel de Jesus ’09

The following speeches were delivered during the High School Reading of Honors last July 22. The first was by Blue Chongson of H4B, to introduce the guest speaker, Mr. Miguel De Jesus.

Introduction

by Blue Chongson, H4B

Our speaker for today’s Reading of Honors entered Xavier School in 1996, graduating in 2009 as an accomplished Magis awardee.

He began his extracurricular affairs in grade school, drawing editorial cartoons for [Hoofprint]. In high school, he joined the Songwriter’s Guild, Guitar Club, and Production Crew. He also played lead guitar for a band called Little Miss Muffet. He was also the first student emcee for a Xavier high school graduation.

He pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of the Philippines, Manila, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. He joined the UP Biochemistry Society, and during his final year in UP, he worked as a research intern at the National Institute of Health, UP Manila. He spent that time playing with DNA and antibodies.

Outside of the lab, our speaker played a brief stint as guitarist for the short-lived Peptide Band and served as a founding member of the UP Manila Capoeira organization.

Though serious about his commitments, our speaker also spent time living life as a typical university student—hanging out with his high school barkada or his girlfriend, reading manga, playing Skyrim, and watching the Yogacast on Youtube.

Don’t be mistaken however. Our speaker is anything but typical. He graduated this past May—summa cum laude—as the valedictorian of UP Manila Class of 2013.

Despite graduating from Xavier four years ago, our speaker may still sound very familiar to you. After all, he is still the voice of the telephone answering machine that you hear when you call Xavier School.

Teachers, administrators, guests, and fellow students, it is my honor to introduce Mr. Miguel de Jesus, Xavier class of 2009.

Speech

Fr. Ari Dy, Mrs. Jane Cacacho, administrators, teachers, parents, guests, and fellow students: Good morning.

As I walked through the high school canteen 2 weeks ago, I felt a longing in my heart. The aroma of saturated fat deep frying, being oxidized into Sloppy Joes for 40 pesos apiece was mysteriously absent—apparently, you guys don’t have Gladys anymore. What else? You guys have art and music in high school; you guys are required to go to China at least once in your Xavier lives; you guys don’t go to internet cafes anymore to play HoN or TF2; and, most shockingly, everybody has an iPad or Macbook Pro in hand! The Xavier that I experienced has become very different in just 4-5 years; in many ways, your Xavier has a lot more to offer, and most of the change has been good. However, it’s also nice to know that some things will probably never change. (Kahit na may iPad kayo diyan, bawal pa rin kayong magcellphone sa school.)

I went into college without a very specific plan in mind. I had wanted to become a doctor, but in High 4 suddenly found myself unsure; so, I signed up for a degree in Biochemistry, thinking that I would eventually make perfume or food. Also, I hoped that I would avoid any form of higher math or physics along the way. As you can expect, my years were instead filled with Math and Physics, at one point even a bit of Quantum Mechanics, before the actual Biochemistry. And, as I realized, biochemistry doesn’t quite translate to making food or perfumes. But hey, I enjoyed it anyway, and in time, I got pretty good at it.

Lesson #1: Have a dream, but be flexible. Don’t plan everything to the letter; let life surprise you.

I didn’t originally aim to become a summa cum laude, more so a valedictorian of UP. (Who plans that?) I just wanted to live a fairly regular student life, learning the things I wanted to learn, without too much regard for the numbers. However, when my report card for the first sem came in, I saw that I narrowly brushed the mark for honors standing, and was tempted to give it a go for another 4 years. In short, I’m not proud to admit that I played the numbers game—meaning, I sometimes questioned grades and fought for points during exams. It took one of my favorite professors to scold our class for bargaining for points in an organic chemistry exam to make me realize the problem: if I got honors by forcing my grades into the cut-off, I wouldn’t feel very accomplished. I then tried to change my reason for studying—I focused on the chemistry, not on the exams. In the end, you know what happened.

Lesson #2: Never, ever go into something and force your way to the honor. Treat honor and praise not as the reasons to be excellent, but as by-products of doing something excellently.

This begs the question, then: How do we be excellent? Perhaps, more importantly, how do we get better at the things we suck at?

To answer that, let me offer some advice to you all. This especially applies to the seniors going into college, also to the juniors becoming seniors, even to the sophomores and freshmen who are still just learning what high school is all about:

Be serious about what you do, but don’t be too serious while you do it.

I’ll give you an example of how this worked for me: I’ll share my college study habits.

Let’s say I have an exam in a few days. I get home, turn on my laptop, and waste about 45 minutes lounging around at home, having a snack or checking Facebook. Then, I put my notebook in front of me. I play some music or the Yogscast on YouTube, and start reading. Whenever I encounter something I don’t understand, I make it a point never to move on until I understand it completely. Most of the time, this means getting massively sidetracked on Wikipedia for 2-3 hours on a minute detail I know won’t be asked in the exam, but the satisfaction I get allows me turn the page—it allows me to sleep at night. Being curious about seemingly useless things made studying fun, and has always helped me do well in exams.

I discovered this on my own, but studies actually confirm that it works. In the BBC documentary “The Creative Brain: How Insight Works,” it was demonstrated that people who focus too much on certain tasks do worse than those who have a “healthy” dose of distraction. When our minds wander slightly, we allow insight and inspiration to flow in.

I worked for a while in a molecular biology lab at the National Institutes of Health. I didn’t ask to be introduced as having spent that time isolating and characterizing antibodies using this or that technique, or amplifying and having DNA segments sequenced using this or that technique. I asked the admin to say I spent that time playing with DNA and antibodies. Playing, not working. Playing, not dying of stress.

So, you guys get creative as well. When studying gets boring, when training burns you out, when you have artist’s block or writer’s block or any form of mental block, put a fun spin on it. Things usually work out nicely that way.

That all being said, my final lesson is: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Try to have fun doing what you do, and always keep honors in their proper place. After all, you are not your achievements; more than that, you are how you got them.

Congratulations again to the awardees, and I wish everybody in Xavier High School the best. Thank you for inviting me here today.

Miguel de Jesus '09 with the High School Principal and Assistant Principals.

Miguel de Jesus ’09 with the High School Principal and Assistant Principals.

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