Monday, May 26, 2008

The joys of 53 peso gas, Econ 11 with Robina Gokongwei, grad speeches

Drivers like me have noticed something in the last few weeks. Ever since coming back from a spate of field work in April and May, I have noticed that there are fewer cars on Manila's main streets even on weekdays.

It was possible for me to go to Manila Ocean Park in Luneta from Diliman in 30 minutes on a weekday! On weekends even on a Saturday (the worst day according to motorists) when number coding is not in effect, there is less traffic nowadays.

The crisis has taken a big bite. The first sign of a recession is less cars on the road. Fewer people will go to the malls, such as the one owned by the Gokongweis.

And speaking of the Gokongweis, the Kwentong Peyups of the Philippine Star last Sunday (25 May) had Robina Gokongwei's commencement speech to the centennial graduates of the UP School of Economics. You can download a pdf file of her speech at the UP Econ website.

Robina is famous for having been kidnapped in the early 80s when she was an Econ senior. Thus she was sent overseas and didn't get a UP degree. Anyway her speech I believe ranks as one of the best commencement speeches I have ever read. Throughout my life I have heard many commencement speeches (I am a prof and this is the torture I have to go through every year!) most of which are so boring. In my high school graduation, the commencement speech was given by a top minister of the Marcos regime. The only thing I remember from the speech was this economics fact "The Philippines is the 5th largest producer of sweet potatoes (kamote)". The grad rites were saved by the memorable valedictory of class egghead Bunny Pena (a daughter of Marcos environment minister Teddy Pena) when she challenged us to "give more since we have been given more". Nothing should challenge a UP high grad such as that. Well not to disappoint Bunny, I am trying to give my most to this day!

I don't even recall the grad speeches when I got by BSc and MSc but when I got my PhD the grad speech was given by a top rate Aussie zoologist from Melbourne Uni who challenged us to "first get a dog" before we embark on an academic career. Wise advice. Dogs will die for you but not your department chair!

Nonetheless Robina's speech was a quick backtrack on Economics 11. I was lucky to have Winnie Monsod as my econ 11 prof. It was a good refresher. But I liked it when Robina said she did not wear a midriff when she was kidnapped. She said she had not and never will have the body to wear such a thing. Best of all she explained once more the theory of diminishing returns. Nothing demonstrates what a PhD can give you as that theory. How I wish they would pay us senior manager's salary. Hey waitaminit, the UP Charter is now law. That should raise our pay. Her advice to the new grads? Stick to your jobs. The Desiderata counsels the same.

And for her kakambal na ahas? What has that to do with Economics. Well she tells the whole story in her speech. It has something to do with market competition.

Now that we are in a bad economic time, Robina's speech is a whiff of a breeze!

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