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Graduation Speech During Pandemic: ‘To Forgive and Be for Giving’

Graduation Speech During Pandemic: ‘To Forgive and Be for Giving’

April 22, 2021

A good graduation speech should have two objectives: be memorable, and leave your audience with two or three takeaways.  At the April 2021 ICMS graduation ceremony Dyan Suaco’s speech did just that. The petite Filipino graduate stood before the Class of 2021, Board Members and Faculty – as well as over 7000 online viewers – and made them laugh – then cry – as she shared her moving and deeply personal story.

Not only was it a memorable speech but Dyan gave the audience an “important insight into the resilience of international students and the sacrifices that achieving one’s goals can sometimes demand,” according to ICMS CEO Rowan Courtney O’Connor.

Beginning her ICMS journey in 2018, Dyan made the move from her home country of the Philippines to the ‘Castle on the Hill’ in Manly. She has notched up an extensive list of successes during her time at ICMS, including receiving a Postgraduate Innovation Scholarship, becoming the 2018 Student Representative Council (SRC) Vice President, and working as a volunteer Student Experience Associate.

She has made such a good impression at ICMS that in February 2021, she was offered a staff member position in the City Campus as a Student Engagement and Administration Officer.

Dyan’s graduation speech titled ‘To forgive and be for giving – a graduation amidst the global pandemic’ has touched the hearts of fellow graduates, community and staff members here at ICMS. In the speech, Dyan explained her transfer from the Philippines to Australia, her adjustments during COVID-19 as well as the struggles she faced whilst studying, including those of the passing of her mother.

Three takeaways from Dyan’s Graduation Speech: ‘To Forgive and Be for Giving’

  • When life is tough, it is important to forgive yourself if your path to achieving your goals is not a straight one. 
  • Sacrifices may need to be made. Forgive yourself for making difficult decisions.
  • Sometimes the best way to ‘give back’ is to keep working towards your goal.

We are extremely proud of Dyan and wish her all the best in her future endeavours.

Please Watch and Read Dyan’s Graduation Speech Below:

‘To forgive and be for giving a graduation amidst the global pandemic’

by Dyan Suaco

“I would like to begin by recognising our parents, families, and loved ones, especially my mum and dad, who, may not be physically present with us, but who are, as always, cheering us on from the screens of the Great Hall or on their devices; our lecturers for imparting their wisdom – who have recently acquired the number 1 spot in the recent QILT survey across NSW; all faculty and staff whom I have witnessed first-hand display their resilience amidst these unprecedented times; Ann Whitelock Courtney O’Connor for spearheading the various scholarship opportunities; Rowan Courtney O’ Connor our CEO, and Daryl Courtney O’Connor our founder and chairman who have been ever-present in three graduation sessions throughout the day.

On behalf of the Graduates of 2021, thank you all for being our foundation and support system. And of course, to my fellow graduates, congratulations! We have finally reached the culmination of our postgraduate journey. The past months have certainly been tough and unforgiving but if there’s two things I can take away from everything, it is to forgive myself and be for giving towards others.

3 years ago, I was in this same chapel. Sitting and watching in awe for my orientation in what would be an extended stay in the International College of Management, Sydney. You see, I didn’t start my degree with this cohort. My first term was in February 2018, so I was expected to complete by November 2019. But as we’ve all experienced, nothing can ever be set in stone – heck, even Keeping up with the Kardashians reached a series finale.

My mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just before my 2nd term in ICMS. This began the gruelling episodes of doctor’s appointments, surgeries, pharmacy runs etc. etc. It was in this time that I was most thankful for the college which allowed me to take numerous leave of absences and eventually also submit my assessments offshore.

During the day, I would tend to my mum’s medical visits – taking down notes from the doctors and assisting with her chemo. After 9PM, I would work on my reports. And by 4AM, I would get ready for bed to then start the day again at around 7 or 8 in the morning. You see, the Philippines doesn’t have the best medical facilities or benefits in the world. That is one of the main reasons I decided to come here to Australia – that one day I can enjoy the advantages of a first world country. Funny enough, I got into a castle on a hill – like finally becoming a royal. I guess this is what Meghan Markle felt when she married Prince Harry.

As an international student, much like almost everyone in this room, we live within limited capacity. As much as we want to work and fund our education ourselves, we are constricted by legalities. Some have thus resorted to cash only jobs. While others have ultimately been extorted by their employers. We would do anything to make ends meet. I don’t know about you. But I distinctly remember picking up my first microwave from the streets here at Manly.

As an international student, I had to be away from my family to pursue my dreams. I had to leave my ill mum to finish my education. I had to persistently apply for a scholarship for me not be a financial burden. As an international student, I felt how unfortunate my country was. As an international student, I had to remain in this country.

Yet remaining in this country is the safe option. It has been a haven from the conditions around the world. Every day, thousands of cases of COVID-19 are in the headlines of the US, Brazil, India, France, Russia, South Africa, the Philippines. During my mum’s medical journey, I have witnessed how many Filipinos have had to wait in line just to get in a private room – some of whom have been on a wheelchair outside the hospital for 48 hours. Treatment was and still is not a right but a privilege.

Our experience with COVID was far different from this. I still remember that final day just before the shift to online classes at the halls of the City Campus. There were ongoing questions of, “how will this work?”, “will I be able to focus?”, and “are we getting a refund?” We’ve gone from classrooms to bedrooms, corporate clothes to pyjamas, and excursions to breakout rooms. There were times we would wake up 5 minutes before class, cook lunch while the lectures were ongoing, or here that faint sound, “this train is stopping at Strathfield” in the background of our Zoom classes.

We were in lockdown. Locked down from social events and work. Locked down from what could have been boundless opportunities. Locked down from the benefits of being a citizen of a country we live in. And a good number of us, chose to leave and return to our home countries.

We are graduating in the midst of a global pandemic.

As international student, now an international representative, I have a binary if not a multitude of perspectives of the situation around us.

My mum passed away just before the pandemic even began. There has not been a day that I have not forgotten saying goodbye at the airport or sitting by her bedside on the final days of her life. But I stand before all of you today because I try to remind myself that while the universe can be unforgiving, I have to learn to forgive myself. Because the ongoing trauma in my mind has moulded the desire for me to empathise with those who are still suffering, wailing, and hoping for change. Because as someone who had the privilege of earning a second degree through the immense support of this international college, I hope for the chance to change the globally divided system.

I am leaving this chapel with a new batch of ICMS graduates. We shall now officially step down from the hill towards a world far different to how we once perceived it. You and I have persisted amidst our own personal journeys and towards the greater and more perplex communal journey among us.

To the graduates of 2021 here before me and behind the screens, I have shared with you my story, our story, and the current conditions that span the world. May we all continue to conquer our battles be it within us and among us. And if the world has been and would certainly be unforgiving, may we all remember to forgive and be for giving.

Maraming Salamat po. Thank you very much”.