Inspirational Talk of Dr. James Lee (’02), HS Reading of Honors

Photos by Jacob Dee, Gerome Chua, Adriel Alicpala, Christian Haw, Jeff Corpuz, XS Media Team

Last Monday, July 17, 2017, the High School Annual Reading of Honors for the academic year of 2016 – 2017 was held at the high school gymnasium. Last school year’s G7 to G11 awardees were honored for their excellent performance in academics, sports, and various school representations.

The guest speaker for the occasion was Dr. James Abraham B. Lee, XS alumnus from batch 2002. Upon graduation, Dr. Lee was conferred the Magis Award, Horacio Dela Costa Leadership Award, and Xavier Award.

Dr. Lee graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology (Magna Cum Laude) at the University of the Philippines, Diliman in 2006. He went on to study at the College of Medicine, University of the Philippines, Manila where he earned his medical degree in 2011. He pursued specialization in the field of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus at the Sentro Oftalmologico Jose Rizal, Philippine General Hospital, University of the Philippines, Manila.

His most recent training was as a Clinical and Surgical Fellow at the Department of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, Het Oogziekenhuis Rotterdam (The Rotterdam Eye Hospital), Rotterdam, The Netherlands, from January 01, 2017 – March 31, 2017.

Currently, Dr. Lee is a Consultant of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus at the American Eye Center in Shangri-la Plaza, Mandaluyong City and Greenbelt 5, Makati City.

Below is the inspirational speech that Dr. Lee delivered to the student body at the High School Annual Reading of Honors:

“Fr. Ari Dy, School President, Ms. Aimee Apolinario, High School Principal, administrators, faculty and staff, parents, and students, good morning.

As much as I would like to say that getting good grades is important, despite the very nice introduction about me, many times in my life, my grades didn’t matter as much.

Just like some of the awardees today, I had my share of going up the stage to receive recognition for the hard work that I put into my studies. But also just like most of you here, I spent more time sitting down and clapping for my batch mates and friends who received their awards. It wasn’t until the latter part of my 3rd year in high school that I decided to study more diligently. I was such a mediocre student that I remember a former teacher of mine saying jokingly, “Aba James, honor student ka na ngayon. Dati pasang-awa ka lang ah.”

It all started when I asked advice from the late Fr. Rafael Cortina whether I should become a doctor or a priest. Why I wanted to become a priest during that time, I honestly do not remember. He told me that priests and doctors do not differ much from each other. Priests heal the soul, while doctors heal the body, and both will entail a great deal of study. But, it was in his unforgettable Spanish accent and with emphasis that he said he thinks I was better off as a doctor. And so, after that conversation, I became quite decided to pursue my dream of becoming a physician. I studied as hard as I could, and at the same time tried to dabble in extracurricular activities. By the time that I was about to leave Xavier, I really thought I was ready for the challenges that lie ahead. There I was, a Xavier Awardee, and I graduated with First Honors. How much more ready could I be to go to college and medical school?

But then I decided to enter UP. When I entered UP, all of these awards really didn’t matter. Almost all of my classmates graduated from high school at the top of their class. Nobody cared whether I graduated with honors (nobody even knew what a Xavier Award was) and to them, I was just their classmate who came from a private school who neither flunked nor topped the exams in class (although they kind of expected me to be good in math because I came from Xavier, and my math teachers here can attest that nothing can be farther from the truth). And when I realized that my efforts in Xavier were not enough for me to excel in college, I increased it for me to at least catch up with my classmates to get a better shot in getting into the UP College of Medicine.

I remember one time in my chemistry class, when a younger classmate of mine from a science high school went up to me and, out of the blue, told me condescendingly, “matalino ka pala” after finding out that I was a university scholar for that semester (or the equivalent of a Dean’s Lister). I did not know how to answer that, and I was quite sure she was not expecting an answer. But by some twist of fate, she is currently a first year Ophthalmology resident in PGH and is under me. A few months later when it was time for me to graduate, and my final average showed I was going to graduate with honors, one of my professors called me to her office and told me, “James, matalino ka pala. Akala ko dati cute ka lang eh.” And all I could say was, “Ma’am, sorry, hindi lang talaga halata.”

However during the end of my senior year in college, I was not so sure whether I still liked to pursue medicine. You see college life can change you. It can make you rethink your priorities, and even your ambitions. It can make you realize that there are other options and roads that you didn’t know existed or wanted to take previously. It made me realize that getting good grades didn’t exactly mean you were on the right track.

During that time, I was considering going back here to become a teacher. My parents, however, were all set in having their eldest child become a doctor. At that time, it felt like I had to make a choice to either make my parents happy or to make myself happy. Though looking back, my parents would have supported me either way. It was one of the most difficult decisions that I had to make in my life. And just like in all difficult decisions I have had to make, I prayed. I prayed that if I was really meant to become a doctor, that I get accepted in UP College of Medicine, and that I was going to see it as a sign, even though I was really undecided. I got in. I felt happy and sad at the same time: happy because my parents were very pleased, and because it felt good to get a slot that was sought after by so many; sad because despite graduating with honors, I am in a place of uncertainty. I did not know if I really wanted to become a doctor, or at least be happy while studying to become one. But I decided to go with it anyway, having faith that God has good plans for me.

Medical school was exactly what I expected it to be: hard, physically and emotionally draining, and I honestly didn’t like it. Every year I would always tell my parents and classmates that I wanted to quit, but I never did. I would always think how happy I would have been if I had become a teacher like my batch mate KOG (although I’m not so sure if he will agree with me 100 percent). There were times when I would see my classmates have what medical students call a “brief reactive psychosis” or simply put a burnout, and I just waited for it to happen to me because if it happens to the best of my classmates then I was so sure that sooner or later I will be next. But it never did. At the rare times that I would see my high school classmates, I would get a little bit envious seeing what they were doing after college, earning their own money, while there I was, still worried for an upcoming exam just like when I was in high school.

My relationship with the Philippine General Hospital is a love-hate one. It pushed me to my limits, to try to provide the best care in a not-so-ideal setting. It taught me how to sleep in different positions I never thought possible: sitting, standing, even while assisting a surgery. It opened me to the realities of poverty, ignorance, and death. But more than that, I valued how it opened my eyes to the resiliency of the Filipino spirit. It was there that I saw patients laughing even if they were on their deathbeds. It was there that I encountered patients who would give me a Jollibee meal even though I knew they couldn’t afford to buy it for themselves. It was where I made a dying patient’s wish come true by having a picture with her because, in her final hours, she thought the medical intern (me) was Ding Dong Dantes. And it is where patients go out of their way to thank me just because I was nice to them, something that apparently is so difficult and rare to see in the busy hospital.

In my 10 years of dealing with patients from medical school to specialty training here and abroad, I have yet to encounter a patient who will ask me what my grades were, whether I graduated with honors, or someone who will thank me because I studied hard. Because believe it or not, patients will thank you for treating them as a person instead of focusing only on their disease. They will thank you more for listening to them than for examining them. And they will thank you as much for your compassion as they will thank you for your competence.

During the times when I thought I could no longer go on, I always prayed that if I was in this position in my life, then this is where God exactly wants me to be. Whatever I am feeling, be it sadness, joy, or exhaustion, it is what God wants me to feel at that moment, and it will serve a purpose in my life. I may not understand the bigger picture, but it was this faith that made me go on (and still makes me go on), knowing that I will understand God’s plans for my life sooner or later.

Our Xavier education prepares us for the academic rigors after we leave this campus, but you will realize that it prepares us more for the problems of the real world, beyond math, science, English, and even medicine. Your education here will be the foundation of your competence in whatever field you choose to be in. Many times you will find yourself in situations where people look to you for answers. But more than knowing the answers, people will admire you more for your character, because aside from knowing your strengths, you acknowledge and accept your limits. You will find yourself being able to influence other people, because they see you as a capable and credible leader. And when it is easy for other people to bend their values for whatever reason, you will be one of the few who will stand your ground because you know what is morally right, even if it is difficult and unpopular.

15 years after graduating from Xavier, I can finally say I found my purpose. And as I was preparing for this talk, I could not help but feel immense gratitude for being blessed with the grace of a Xavier education. I may not be the person I thought I would be back when I was in high school, but as one of less than 50 pediatric ophthalmologists in the country, I am happy that I’m doing something that I enjoy while making a difference in other people’s lives. I look back at the people who have inspired me in my life, and I realized that they were not necessarily the smartest or the richest, but they are the ones who have remained humble despite their achievements. And even though we live in times where everything is expected to be instantaneous, I advice you to not rush in finding your purpose. Everyone will have his own timeline. And in times of uncertainty and even impatience, be confident that the values that your Xavier education is instilling in you right now: conscience, character, community, competence, culture, and compassion, will lead you into the right direction. Luceat Lux: Let your light shine. I pray that it will be both a motto and the story of your life.

Again, I congratulate all of you today: the students, for receiving the grace of a Xavier education, but most especially the faculty and staff, for making it possible for all of us to receive this grace. Thank you very much and good morning.”

The XS community thanks Dr. James Abraham B. Lee for gracing us with his presence and precious words on this special occasion. May he continue to let his light shine in inspiring and serving others.

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