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Patience and Not Winning: Talk for the Tatak UP Awards Press Conference February 28, 2024 by Raymund L. Fernandez

Salutations: Chancellor Atty. Leo Malagar Deans of the UP Cebu Colleges The Committee for the Tatak UP Awards, 2024, especially Profs. Lelani Echavez Paredes, Sofia Aliño Logarta, Jeruel Roa, Gregg S. Lloren; Officers and Members of the UP Cebu Alumni Association; The UP Cebu Community and its constituencies; Members of the Press; Guests; Good Afternoon.

May I thank you for the honor of giving this talk. Congratulations to the Tatak UP Awards nominees this year.

May I start by giving you a guarantee these words are written by me without the aid of Artificial Intelligence. Unless you consider my computer’s spell-check AI. It took me 3 tries to get the spelling of intelligence right. I never was good at spelling as my former editors will tell you. Still, I know we have been changed and are being changed by the computer in ways we are now only beginning to understand. But definitely it is the future – an inevitable part of the landscape that we all must deal with from here on, like nuclear bombs, climate change, and our political leaders. They have changed us and our world, quite certainly. They could destroy us. And yet; we do persist and still pray to remain positive, and keep on doing well the work that we do, and as well as we can do it. Perhaps, that sense of fatalistic optimism may lie at the core of the UP brand – the Tatak UP – we valorize and idealize with these awards.

It has been almost five years since I retired from this campus. And so I will reminisce in an age-appropriate sort of way. And I do remember well, how lonely it can sometimes be to work here. Often, the most significant work that we do are unheralded, unrewarded, even unobserved by our peers. And yet we persist just simply because we know it is necessary and it is the right thing to do. It is therefore good and necessary that we have this “Tatak UP” Award and others. They are food for the ideals of the meritocracy we continually try to establish for ourselves. But never forget how inevitable it is that not all who deserve will be rewarded. And so I must speak now in behalf of those who do not mind not winning awards.

I cite here an anecdotal example: As far as I remember, one of the best students to have ever studied here was one, Roy “Roylu” Lumagbas. Some of you may still remember him. He is a smart multi-talented person who writes poetry, does experimental performance art, and plays piano and guitar. He never earned his degree inside the “super-senior” excessive number of years he was here. Yet he achieved quite a lot. More things than I can list here. He was one of the visionaries who began MindWorks. Quite surprisingly, he was never a Joya Awardee. And one should wonder, Why?

I have two conjectures for this: Most judges of previous Joya Awards envisioned art inside a dichotomy of Representational and Abstract Art. The contemporary experimental art that Roylu did struggled to fall into these categories. The second reason is even easier to understand. Roy and I worked with the Fine Arts Students Organization to organize events of which the Joya Awards was only one. We both had the lesser time to devote to doing our entries for the awards. We were rebellious activists of the old school. We did not mind.

It was the “ Age of Enlightenment” philosopher Immanuel Kant who coined the phrase – “purposeless purposiveness;” or stated another way “purposive purposelessness”- as the ideal of good art. This is a concept best understood by example. By Kant’s ideal, one should not do art for the purpose of convincing people to an idea. Such art would simply qualify as propaganda. Nor should one do art to entertain and decorate because that art can only be frivolous. Art is the search for purpose. But it is not the outcome but the process that counts – not what happens on the canvas but what happens to the person before the canvas and the painter that is essential. If the art changes only the canvas but not the person then it has done, essentially, nothing.

Perhaps we ought find a more universal example. It requires no effort to do nothing at all. Doing nothing at all is by many accounts the very definition of evil. I remember Roylu quoting Martin Luther to have said, “If one must sin then one must sin grandly!” It is possible I paraphrase. But if one decides to do good then one ought not do good in order to be rewarded or saved. Such a purpose can only enslave you to your concept of reward and salvation, which can never stem from anything other than greed and selfishness. One should only do good for no other purpose at all than to do good. And then that good act would be exactly good by Kant’s real measure.

This is not a biblically sourced measure but part of a modernistic secular morality that the conservative religious will find hard to wrap their souls around. But still I pray this idea might someday work its way into the criteria and rubrics used to assign the “Tatak UP” Awards. Though I do expect it might take a while for this to work its way into the value system as it applies in our UP Cebu community and the rest of the world. Notwithstanding that the Age of Enlightenment was almost Two Hundred years ago.

But still I dream.

I dream with the patience of a wood carver.

Wood carving is what I mostly do now since I retired from teaching close to five years ago. I say “mostly” because I also have more time now to spend with family and friends. Otherwise, I ride my bike and dive. Riding and diving are two things nicely done in Baclayon, Bohol, where I now spend roughly half of my time. But I digress.

I am now mostly working for a show that I will do in Bacolod on May 9 of this year, 2024. The title of this show is “Malipayong Kamatayon: A Happy Death.” This show is a contemplation of life and death not just from a theoretical perspective as a younger man might do. You might guess that I can speak now of these things at a very personal level – not life and death in theory and philosophy but my life, my death. How would I want this to be? I thought at first this would be a scary topic but soon I realized that this is all we can ever really aspire for: That we each would lead a good story of a single life and come eventually to its most meaningful end. I invite you to this show.

So now let me end as I began. I predict that wood carving would be the last thing Artificial Intelligence can ever be applied to do. I foresee no problem putting into code a concept of birth and death for a computer although these would translate merely into the flick of a switch. Indeed, a concept of purposeful suicide might be the only failsafe we have to protect us from Artificial Intelligence eventually going awry. But a machine designed to aspire to work as fast, as quickly, and as efficiently as it does, would find it difficult to form a concept of the patience required of a wood carver, a Chancellor of a campus, even a teacher of UP Cebu. Given the nature of our world, such as it is, patience is what we most require now to maintain even a modicum of optimism. Patience is a value we ought never forget. ###