Young Filipino lawyer will address Harvard law grads

(Editor’s note:  The article below appeared on the June 6, 2007 online edition of GMANews.TV.)

A young Filipino lawyer taking up his masteral studies in law at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been given the honor to deliver the school’s commencement address on Thursday, June 7.

It is a rare chance that easily came for Oscar Franklin Barcelona Tan, one of the 700 graduates of the prestigious law school’s Batch 2007.

To be hand picked to give the commencement address may be rare opportunity, but Tan’s admission at Harvard law school has been considered uncommon in the first place.

Harvard’s law school has a record of not accepting fresh law graduates for its master’s program. But Tan was immediately admitted after he graduated from the University of the Philippines (UP) Law in 2005.

Harvard’s LLM program is a much-coveted prospect among UP law professors. Some sources even said that it is possible that Oscar Tan could have “knocked out” some professors who also vied for this school years’ LLM program.

Academic records show that Tan is an uncommon stock. His thirst for knowledge seems unquenchable. His interest in various academic fields is apparently limitless, and his drive for excellence eludes any description.

Before taking up law, he had been through various academic disciplines, reaping medals and honors. He excelled in Management Engineering, Economics, the natural sciences such as Botany and Zoology Physics.

He had been cited for excellence in mathematics.

He had bagged awards in writing contests. He used to be editor-in-chief of various student publications.

He had been cited for various social and community involvements. He is founding editor-in-chief of Ateneo Celadon Chinoy (student Chinese culture magazine). He is the first Filipino delegate to the China Synergy Program for Outstanding Youth.

In his draft commencement address, Oscar Tan encourages his classmates at Harvard to break the narrow sense of nationalisms of individual nationalities and to affirm that everyone is a citizen of the world.

In the concluding lines of the draft speech he says, “My friends – and this includes our American classmates who will soon lead the world’s lone superpower – let us transcend our individual nationalities and affirm that we are citizens of the world.”

Family background

Tan’s family comes from Bacolod City and Escalante City, Negros Occidental. He grew up in Quezon City. The Franklin in his name was taken from outgoing Senator Franklin B. Drilon. Escalante City Mayor Santiago “Maymay” Barcelona, Jr is his uncle.

He is an associate at the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz (Accra) Law Offices, but he is on study leave.

His father, lawyer Edmundo L. Tan of the Tan Acut & Lopez Law firm, had no comment on his son’s selection to give the address, but said, “I will be there in Harvard on June 7 to congratulate my son personally and to share the moment with him.”His mother, Dr. Jesusa Barcelona Tan, is a dermatology consultant at the Hospital of the Infant Jesus in Sampaloc, head of the photo-dermatology unit, and former chair of the Department of Dermatology at the Jose T. Reyes Medical Center of the Department of Health.

Like Wine in the River, Like Citizens of the World
[Harvard Law School 2007 Student Commencement Address
Oscar Franklin Barcelona Tan of The Philippines]

Dean Kagan, Vice-Dean Alford, professors, classmates, families, and friends,

Let me first thank our tireless graduate program staff. They were the first friendly faces who greeted me, told me which functions offered free food, and what to do if you faint during your final exams. Assistant Dean Jeanne Tai, Nancy Pinn, Heather Wallick, Curtis Morrow, Jane Bestor, Chris Nepple, April Stockfleet: This year would not have been possible without you.

But this goes to everyone: Thank you all for truly making us feel part of this community. We LLMs became your fellow students after your Salsa Party, Chinese and Korean New Year, African Night, and our International Party. To honor you, we took Europe by storm, winning in the inaugural Negotiation Challenge, in the European Law Moot Court, and in the Willem Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Court. Of course, you truly become part of Harvard Law School when you’re featured in the Parody.

Not so long ago, Cambridge seemed a strange, unfriendly place especially when I first saw Gropius. I went to John Harvard’s with the British, who began chattering in an alien language. I later discovered it was actually English — the real English. I complained I was not used to cold, but a Saudi Arabian reminded me that you can fry eggs on a sidewalk in Riyadh. An Italian gave me tips on women because Italian men are the world’s greatest lovers, with the disclaimer that their style does not work on American women. A Malaysian was asked to explain the religious significance of the color of her hijab, or headscarf. She would answer: It had to match her blouse.

Soon, we found that great substance that keeps any law school together: alcohol. On New Year’s Eve, a Belarusian handed me a glass of vodka, but scolded me when I began to sip it. Sipping, he emphasized, was not the Slavic way. I shared a Frenchman’s champagne, a Peruvian’s pisco sour, a Costa Rican’s pina colada, a Brazilian’s caipirinha, a Mexican’s tequila, and a Japanese’s sake. And apologies to the Germans, but I learned how even weak American beer enlivens an evening when you drink it with the Irish.

We found greater common ground: The Swiss complained about American chocolate, the New Zealanders complained about American cheese, the Sri Lankans complained about American tea, the Indians complained about the lack of vegetarian food, and everyone complained that American food makes you fat. An Austrian made homemade apfelstrudel. A Nigerian made homemade fried plantains. The Pakistanis made a non-spicy version of keema, and I only needed eight glasses of water during the meal. All the Americans had was Three Aces pizza.

As for me, I come from the Philippines, a former American colony best known for Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection. I remember being a six-year old watching my parents walk out of our house to join the crowds gathering to depose the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and form human walls against tanks. I remember being a twenty-year old in a different crowd deposing a different but equally corrupt president.

It was liberating to hear how a Chilean danced with crowds in the streets when Pinochet was arrested. How the Chinese come to grips with Tiananmen Square, while convinced that one cannot transplant American-style government wholesale to Beijing. How life changed in the former Soviet Union; how it was like growing up in a fledgling Eastern European country. How a Pakistani discussed Musharraf’s assault on judicial independence with a South African worried about Mugabe’s own acts in Zimbabwe.

It was even more liberating to hear from a Korean prosecutor how his country sent two former presidents to jail. How the Swiss have preserved their tradition of independence and referendum. How Ghana threw off its colonial fetters and inspired a conscious African solidarity. How a Bhutanese wants to help shape her constitution after her king voluntarily gave up absolute power.

I cannot deny that our generation’s issues will be complex, but I can guarantee that they will never be abstract, not after having a classmate who was an Israeli army drill sergeant, not after having a Chinese classmate with a Taiwanese girlfriend, nor after having a classmate chased by gunmen out of Afghanistan. In fact, when George W. Bush’s speech writer visited, my Iranian classmate introduced himself, “Hi, I’m from an Axis of Evil country.”

Friends, my most uplifting thought this year has been that the more we learn about each other, the more we realize that we are all alike, and the more we inspire each other to realize our most heartfelt yearnings. My single most memorable moment here came when I met South African Justice Albie Sachs, left with only one arm after an assassination attempt during apartheid. My classmate stood up and said: “South Africa is the world’s second most unequal country. I come from Brazil, the world’s most unequal country, and I admire how the South African Constitutional Court has inspired the progress of human rights throughout the world.”

And this is how Harvard has changed us. We recall struggling with English to keep pace with the world’s most brilliant professors, especially with Elizabeth Warren’s Socratic blitzkriegs, and we thank Harvard for raising our thinking to a higher, broader level. But even the most powerful ideas demand passion to set them aflame. The passion we ignite today is fueled by a collage of vignettes that will remind us in this crucible of life that our peers in faraway lands face the same frustrations, the same nation building ordeals, the same sorrows, and ultimately, the same shared joys and triumphs.

How do a mere 700 change the world, even with overpriced Harvard diplomas?Before a great battle in China’s Spring and Autumn Period, the legendary King Gou Jian of Yue was presented with fine wine. He ordered his troops to stand beside a river, and poured the wine into it. He ordered them to drink from the river and share his gift. A bottle of wine cannot flavor a river, but the gesture so emboldened his army that they won a great victory. We of the Class of 2007 shall flavor this earth, whether we be vodka, wine, champagne, pisco sour, pina colada, caipirinha, tequila, sake, jagermeister, raki, Irish stout, Ugandan Warabi, or Philippine lambanog.

Thus, my friends –and this includes our American classmates who will soon lead the world’s lone superpower — let us transcend our individual nationalities and affirm that we are citizens of the world. Maraming salamat po, at mabuhay kayong lahat. Thank you and long live you all.

Author: Web Admin