Atop Giants

Thursday, November 13, 2014



(this was my final speech for ToastMasters' Competent Communicator course, delivered last March)

Good evening, fellow toastmasters, guests. I stand before you here today for my final speech project, to deliver something inspiring. This is by far the most difficult topic for me. Most speakers would draw from their personal lives, and admirably so, would inspire with their experiences. I admittedly have none of that.
You see, I was born to a well-to-do family. I was never left wanting. I was never hungry. Or poor. Or alone. I studied and graduated in reputable schools. No honors. No vices. I studied a lot but I slacked off even more. I went to work doing what I did best. I worked hard and played harder. And now here I am. Boring you all.

Yes, I was born five meters from the finish line and all I needed was to take the final few steps and succeed. I thought there's absolutely nothing inspiring about that. Until I realized something. Inspiration is not always an experience. Sometimes it is a spectacle. So tonight, I'll just talk to you about WHY I was in fact born so close to success. 

My parents. 

My father and mother arguably had similar beginnings. My father, a fisherman in his youth, and my mother, a baker's daughter. They both worked their way towards their education and founded our family on nothing but the degrees on their back, the wits about their heads and the sweat of hard work and dedication.  I have always admired that. But what made me admire them more went beyond just being able to provide for our family. 

I'd like to share just one story. One that happened when I was five and we were still living in Saudi Arabia. A Filipino couple stayed in our house for a few weeks. I remember they were a charming couple. We later brought them to another city we never heard of them again.  No big deal right?

I later learned of the story more after I grew up. As it turns out, these couple were runaways. One night my dad was in a phone call center when the two approached him and asked him for shelter. Sheltering runaways was illegal, but my dad took them in anyway. Complete strangers. At the risk of endangering us. 

The couple ran away because they were being maltreated. And at the time the only way you could get safe passage back to the Philippines was to stay in the Philippine Embassy at the kingdom's capital - a good 400 km away. So we hid them for a week in our house. My parents fed, sheltered, and comforted them and when the opportunity came that would give my dad an official reason to travel to the far city so we had the right cover, we took them with us to Riyadh. 

Throughout the ordeal we kids were brought along. The police became less suspicious when kids were around. Less paperwork was checked. I remember there was a certain degree of foreboding and danger in my parents' faces throughout the trip. It was the fear of getting caught, apprehended, and have our entire family jailed for helping the couple escape.

As if by the work of God's hand, there were no checkpoints that day. There were a few close calls but we managed to bring them to the Embassy. Many tears were shed and hearts grew light and heavy at the same time. We had done it. And we had done it for nothing in return.

When I later asked why. Why the risk. Why the selflessness. Was it God? Was it instinct? What would drive my parents to risk it all for two strangers we've never met? To this my mother answered, and I will never forget it until today. "Because it is the right thing to do."

It's not enough that my parents had provided for all our needs despite starting from scratch. Through this story, through many other stories, they taught us values by example. They taught us that some things go beyond our basic instincts and comfort zones. Things like principles, morality. The reason why I became what I am today is because I had such great parents. Selfless, principled, and compassionate. I have a kid now. Possibly more one day. I will never have the awesome stories my father had as a fisherman, a dockworker, a construction worker, or an amazing crosscountry escape. But I shall try my best to become the paragon standing beside my children. 

Life never deals equal amounts of fairness.  My life so far was never designed to be inspiring and that's okay. I stand now before you, not as a testament to my own story but as a witness to the greatness of other people. Of my parents. And now that I am one myself, I realize that success is ultimately measured by the legacy that we leave behind. We are all born into this world standing on top of giants. It is therefore our duty, one day to grow up to become giants in our own right for the next generation. 

As the greatest human beings we can be. 

As parents. 

Good evening.

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