Message to Graduates and New Professionals

A few days ago, I addressed the graduating class of Kingfisher School of Business and Finance in Dagupan City. Kingfisher has a weighted average passing rate of 97% in all the CPA Board Examinations it sent candidates to during its young history. In nine of those thirteen occasions, it had a 100% passing rate. All accountancy graduates who ever went to Kingfisher are now CPAs. It is now the biggest producer of new CPAs and the best performing school in Region One, second only to UP nationwide in number of passers among schools with 100% passing rate. The school was founded by a former colleague in the profession, and four of its graduates joined our Firm in recent years.

I am sharing with you my commencement address to the graduates, hoping that the thoughts will find relevance and meaning for all of us.

The Board of Trustees of Kingfisher School of Business and Finance, President Bobot Lambino, the Kingfisher academic community, graduates, parents, ladies and gentlemen good afternoon.

Speaking before graduates is an enriching experience for me, and I must thank my former colleague, Bobot Lambino for this gracious invitation. Being a graduate of a school in Cebu, I feel closeness and kinship with you, graduates of a provincial school that is performing extremely well, leaving most Metro Manila schools in its wake. My own alma mater has been on a tear lately, producing top-notchers in the CPA, Bar, and every other professional examination. I have never been prouder to say that I am a provinciano from a provincial school. And here is Kingfisher, and I am prouder still.

Excluding those schools that sent five or less candidates to the CPA board examination, your accomplishment puts you in the rarified company of top performing schools, perhaps in the top two percent of all schools. In the last thirteen CPA board examination since May 2011 up to the latest results this week, Kingfisher had a weighted average passing rate of 97% for first-time takers. In nine of those thirteen examinations, you had a 100% passing rate. This performance is nothing short of phenomenal.

To put your performance in perspective, let me share with you some statistics. During the same eight-year period, 654 schools sent 73,000 first-time takers to the CPA examinations. Forty-one percent, or 30,200 passed. It is sad to note that 60% of the candidates failed. That is only part of a greater tragedy. Of the 654 schools, 344 or 53% did not produce a single CPA during the eight-year period from May 2011.

Only a third of the schools was able to achieve a 40% passing rate at least once during the entire eight years, which means that probably less than a hundred schools are consistently producing the CPAs we need. Your school is one of them, and the nation is grateful for this contribution.

Glossing through these numbers, I worry that there is something wrong with accounting education. For somebody in public accounting and professional services, I am concerned about the gloomy prospect of talent shortage. However, I am confident of the brighter side when schools like Kingfisher take up the challenge and do a fantastic job of producing competent graduates. You must be doing something right and extremely well. The credit goes equally to your administration, faculty and staff, and to the students. Whatever it is you are doing, keep it up and improve on it some more. You deserve congratulations.

Graduates and students, I assure you of a warm welcome should you decide to explore possibilities in our Firm.

I know the last four years have been a grind. The pressures of school work, the demands of friends and family, of the need for rest and leisure, and the occasional boyfriend or girlfriend are often difficult to manage. In some instances, it may have been worsened by the shortage of resources when money is not in time for tuition and other school obligations. But you were able to pull through, thanks, I am sure to the love and support of your parents and guardians, your own fortitude, and a supportive school administration.

Four years do not make a lifetime and I am sure you will look back to these school years hopefully with fondness and with pleasant memories. There is a whole lifetime ahead of you and what you will be, the reputation you will earn, and the heights you will reach will depend on what lie ahead in the years to come. Say forty years from now, your school years will have accounted for only a tenth or less of your professional life. Savor this day and understand why this is truly called a commencement exercise, for today is only the beginning of a long journey, with challenges and hardship along the way.

It is quite late in the day for me to admonish you to be good students. I am not even sure if you still need pointers on how to pass the CPA examination. Your accomplishment indicates that you are well covered in that area. If you have a trade secret, I would like to know.

The perspective I wish you would take in relation to your school is one of appreciation. A school’s objective is in its process, not the product. A school that aims to produce top quality graduates is missing the point for no criteria exists in the short term to define a top-quality graduate, or when to apply such criteria.

Great schools have produced patriots, leaders, heroes, even saints. But the same schools also have their share of scoundrels, scalawags, traitors, criminals, and deviants. What does that say then about top-quality graduate? Is it fair for a school to claim credit for achievement, and deny responsibility for dysfunctional behavior? The obvious answer is that the school has nothing to do with it, or at least is not totally responsible, for as soon as you step into the world outside, there are more powerful and lasting influences that could negate whatever good the school has done for you.

What is the school’s role then? The school has the responsibility to put the right processes in place, on the premise that the right processes will result in a good product. Quality control permeates the process. This translates to faculty and instruction, having honest, competent, and dedicated faculty, adopting effective instructional methods, and teaching only what is relevant. It is sad to note that this aspect has been lost on some schools, whose quality control is concentrated at the gate, comfortable in the fact that it has the luxury of choice of the best students who can still learn despite a lousy process.

I am confident in the thought that your school has ensured that that the right processes are in place and functioning effectively.

Your school is probably one of the very few who understand its mission. For that you have everything to be thankful for. You need not wait until middle age or for some earth-shaking accomplishment to pay tribute to your school. Thank your school now, your administrators, and your teachers, for you may not get the chance again. Do not thank them for what you will be but thank them for preparing you for whatever will be. If you stay the course and be the professional and human being the school prepared you for, you will honor this institution immensely. But for now, the school has delivered on its promise and solemn responsibility to you, your parents, and society.

Your school has been home for the greater part of your adolescent life. Here you met friends and unfriended some. Do not underestimate these bonds of friendship for they will endure. Some of you may even eventually end up together and raise a family. Your shared experiences will be memories to relish. Some classmates now will become future business associates, trusted confidants, family friends, or god parents to your children. When you attend future alumni homecomings, you will feel nostalgic and wish that you befriended all and made enemies of none.

Before you go your separate ways, make amends, apologize if you need to, and accept apologies when offered one. Go out in friendship with a light heart and wish everybody well sincerely. This goodwill will radiate to everyone you will henceforth meet.

In the next few months, you will be joining the workforce. You chose accounting and finance as your preferred profession. I assure you it is an exciting environment with endless possibilities for a rewarding and enriching career. I must also honestly warn you that it is a competitive, unforgiving environment, Darwinian in nature, and kind only to the fittest and the strongest. The school has done its share to prepare you for this ecosystem, and now it is your time to do the heavy lifting.

Whether you graduated with Latin honors, consistently topped your class, or even topped the board examination, I suggest you savor it for a while, frame your parchment and put it in a place of honor if you may, then forget about it. The advantage is fleeting, and performance is no longer measured in grades, but by other standards.

I have seen may promising talents wasted within the first year of employment, some of whom were brilliant students who were not able to move on from the adulation of teachers and classmates and comfort zone of the classroom. They suddenly found themselves among peers who outperformed them in many aspects of the job, and they never adapted. Others were paralyzed by their brilliance, fearful of committing mistakes, having been so used to perfection. And they were scared. I have no such worries with you, for you were molded in the courage of the kingfisher, not without fear but willing to confront it. Like the kingfisher, do not be afraid to spread your wings, flap them, even if you might fall at first.

I encourage you to envision your future and what career path you wish to take. The kingfisher’s overwhelming advantage is its focused vision. You should have the same clarity. It is in visioning that you are able to map your personal development agenda, and the realistic steps necessary to achieve your goals.

While the workplace can be demanding, there is still an abundance of fairness and equity in many work environments, with the most competent and deserving given all the opportunities to realize their full potential. That is the mantra in our Firm. You must understand that knowledge and skills are not enough, for anybody with the resources and interest can have them. Organizations are looking for much more, and the quality in the shortest supply is leadership. The world is awash with managers and technocrats, but sorely looking for leaders. To this day I am still a student of leadership, its principles, and manifestations.

I take special interest in leadership, for it is a recognition reserved only for the greatest of men who have demonstrated a whole constellation of virtues and traits through their decisions and actions. There is an endless list of these virtues, but if we have just even a slew of them, this world will be a better place than when we found it. Do not think for a moment that leadership is something reserved for a later date. You can be a leader now. The principles are the same, whether you are leading a small team or a huge conglomerate.

Your school recognizes excellence, an essential attribute of leadership. Excellence must be measured in relation to an established standard, not by the performance of others. Outperforming others is merely indicative of superiority, not necessarily excellence. There is no question that we must all strive for excellence, but we must know by what measure. Any misconception can lead to arrogance and insensitivity, which are anathemas to leadership. This reminds me of Max Ehrmann’s phrase in Desiderata that says, “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” Steve Jobs also has a thought-provoking insight related to excellence when he says, “You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently.” To do things differently requires courage, which is why McArthur, Lincoln, Gandhi, Steve Jobs himself, and many others are considered great leaders. My message to you then is: Pursue excellence but temper it with humility and compassion and have the courage to act on it.

Excellence cannot be sustained with existing, limited knowledge. It requires continuous pursuit of knowledge. Be lifelong learners and reinvent yourself as often as you can and be a whole person. That just might be your competitive advantage. Accountants and finance people often suffer the caricature of someone bald with thick eyeglasses, portrayed as dull, humorless individuals who should be hidden in the back room. As a baby boomer I resent this portrait, for I enjoyed my early professional life to the sound of the Beatles and the throbbing world of the discotheque. We knew how to have fun. Millennials like you will surely object too for you grew up in an entirely new world of communication and social interaction.

Nevertheless, be aware that this is a bigger world than accounting and numbers. Expand your horizons with the study of humanities, philosophy, poetry, literature, and history. Have a genuine appreciation for the wonders of nature, embrace the arts, and make music a part of you. Or just be simply interested in the world around you, and you will enrich your soul and be a total person, adaptable to the ways of the world and of men.

When you start your professional career, you might feel restricted by your organization’s rules and codes of conduct. Do not despise these rules for they serve a purpose, designed to bring order and efficiency. Certainly, being a millennial is not a worthy reason for non-conformity. Observe and follow the rules of discipline, for it is in being a good follower where you will learn to appreciate the challenges of a future leadership role. Great leaders were all good followers. They respected authority and tradition when these served a greater purpose than the comfort or convenience of any one individual. Be a good corporate citizen. It is an early manifestation of your capacity for patriotism, should there be a greater call for it.

Another quality that will set you apart is your passion in what you do. Passion is more than just a passing fancy for a job or a position. It is a deep affection for everything that the job means to the company, its clients, and its people. Being passionate about the job requires intimate knowledge of what is required to do it well, and the willingness to learn and perform these to best of one’s ability without any other motivation except that it must be done. Less talented individuals with more passion will always be better than someone with more talent but with less passion.

You shall also belong to a community of human beings, not machines. How you handle your interpersonal relationships will make or break you. Human society is full of contradictions, and human behavior is both complex and simple. Some people never even attempt to understand the intricacies of human nature, and some are just callous to human emotions and interaction. Do not be like these robots. Make the effort to understand people. Whether you like it or not, you will deal with them as subordinates, peers, superiors, clients, friends, or lovers. As complex as human nature is, some people just have enormous reserves of empathy that for them relating to people is as easy as a smile or a warm hello. Be this kind of person and you will be excellent, happy, and fulfilled.

As you will recall in your studies, useful financial information has both fundamental and enhancing characteristics. Without the fundamental characteristics, even if all enhancing characteristics are present, the information is still useless.

That fundamental quality I refer to is integrity, the most powerful and enduring test of character that unifies all values. Integrity is a test of man’s honesty and resolve to be truthful to himself. The temptations of power and fortune will always be lurking, and when they start to cast doubt on your capacity to resist and threaten every moral fiber of your character, integrity is your last and strongest refuge. Integrity never fails. It will always brighten up your days and lead you to the right path. Choosing the righteous path can be difficult and unpopular and requires tremendous courage. You could lose fortune, friends, and possessions, but you will never lose your soul.

Unfortunately, integrity is not something we can keep stock of. It is not susceptible to any accounting measurement standard or disclosure principle. Either one has it or does not. Integrity too has a bad habit of coming to consciousness at the most difficult time.

However, we will never be helpless if we acknowledge the greater power of a Supreme Being. Together with integrity, an unfailing belief and trust in Divine Providence will give us strength, fortitude, and gladness of spirit to do what is right. We should never be timid in seeking God’s help, especially if we have done everything asked of us. Graduates, you will soon be put to the test and you will be equally busy studying and praying. Do both, but do not pray if you do not study.

During the American Civil War, opposing generals from both sides prayed to the same God, sang the same hymns, and said the same prayers. Each claimed that God was with them, but one general said that it cannot be, because one army will win, while the other will lose. True enough that was the case. Did God abandon one and favored the other? What it only means is that He works in mysterious ways, beyond our means to comprehend. As far as I know, the greatest members of humanity all acknowledged a Supreme Being from whom everything emanates. You should too.

At this point let me digress to a final point. I have talked about courage, leadership, excellence, lifelong learning, discipline, passion, interpersonal relationships, integrity, and faith in God. In addition, I wish for every Filipino starting with students in school to have a sense of patriotism and love of country. We do not fight wars of liberation anymore, and the opportunity to display courage in the battlefield is a remote possibility for many of us. It does not mean that patriotism can no longer be manifested in little acts of civic consciousness, of loving everything about the Philippines and its people. Falling in line, paying respect to institutions, resisting the temptation to get ahead at the expense of others, and little acts of kindness that is good for the next person beside you are no less courageous. These small things will build up and their cumulative effect can only mean a better Philippines. I am afraid my generation has failed in this, and I hope yours will not.

I know you are all ready and aching for a celebration because today is a special day. Before you let yourself loose, pause a moment to reflect on how life has been good, and how much there is to thank for. Offer a prayer of gratitude for everything and for everybody. Never forget your parents and family. No degree of estrangement should deny them your gratitude, for they shall always be family. A grateful person will always be blessed with serenity, humility, and goodwill. He will equally be gracious and willing to share his talents, abilities, and resources with others. He gives as much as he receives.

Finally, let me now offer my heartfelt congratulations to all of you, the graduates, the parents and guardians, the school administration, faculty, and staff. You all deserve our sincerest appreciation and highest respect. May today be the first of many joyous days ahead.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk you. May God Bless Us All.

Good afternoon and enjoy the rest of the day!

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One Comment

  1. Great speech, covers practically all relevant matters for a graduation piece! This not only inspires these new graduates, it also serves as a good come-on for RT&Co.’s recruitment program.

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