What she said: Top Filipino women inspire 2023 graduates across the globe

What she said: Top Filipino women inspire 2023 graduates across the globe

Leading women in politics, media, and business share valuable pieces of advice to a generation of future leaders
/ 02:59 PM August 14, 2023

Written by: Annelle Tayao-Juego

As the past month saw eager graduates taking the stage to finally accept their diplomas and set a course for their future careers, notable Filipino women, from Vice President Sara Duterte to Senator Risa Hontiveros, to Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and GCash CEO Martha Sazon, took the opportunity to speak to the country’s next generation of leaders, inspiring them to take their place in the world.

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MYNT President & CEO Martha Sazon with Dean Gina Lizares, along with other Program Directors and members of the faculty during the commencement ceremonies of the UP Virata School of Business Batch 2023.

Vice President Sara Duterte, in her message to the country’s Class of 2023, asked the “future leaders and builders of our nation” to “become persistent, determined, and committed to the fight for peace, security and stability, the ending of poverty, the campaign to give Filipino children access to basic education, the protection of the environment, the promotion of health and nutrition, and many other challenges that we are facing today.”

Another prominent public figure, former Vice President Leni Robredo, addressed a batch of graduates this year in University of the Philippines Cebu, sharing with them her personal mantra as she continues her work as a private citizen: solidarity.

“Solidarity could mean very simply that none of us ever gets to where we want to be on our own. This is the truth we all know in your bones but can be obscured by the weight of our personal struggles, our individual hard work by all of the things that we did on our own,” Robredo said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, another strong woman leader in government, was also a distinguished guest at the 2023 graduation rites of University of the Philippines College of Social Work & Community Development, where she called on future social work and development professionals to “always remember our democracy.”

“Remember that the voice that speaks, even if it is singular, changes the frequency of the noise. Remember that the wind if it blows steadily on the water turns the ripple into a wave,” Hontiveros said.

In the international arena, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa delivered rousing speeches to graduates of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and Vanderbilt University. Ressa spoke at the SIPA ceremony about today’s fight for truth and integrity amid a world facing constant misinformation, and gave them three key tips on how to live their lives and work for a better future: one, to draw the line when it comes to their values; two, to embrace their fear; and, lastly, to “build a community, but beware the mob.”

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Here at home, the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate addressed graduates of the Ateneo de Manila University–where she received an honorary degree of Doctor of Sociology–and the University of the Philippines School of Economics.

A woman in the field of business likewise shared her best insights to graduates of the University of the Philippines Virata School of Business. GCash CEO Martha Sazon, who sat at the company’s helm in the middle of the pandemic in June 2020, grew the platform’s user base from 20 to over 80 million in just three years.

As a UP alumna, Sazon shared three key pieces of advice to this year’s business school graduates, which has also helped her in both her professional and personal endeavors:

#1: You don’t have to be the best. But always strive to be better, everyday. There’s a big difference between that and being the best all the time. Always find what you can improve on and how you can be better — learning from both your wins and your mistakes. You should understand that your most worthy competitor could only be yourself. Stop comparing yourself to others,embrace and be proud of your core strength, and bring that to the table. 

#2: Find your purpose, and live for and by it. Purpose is that one thing that lights you up the most and for which you will always have unlimited energy. To the Japanese, it is “ikigai”, which literally means “reason for being”, or “a reason to get up in the morning”, or “waking up to joy”. As you mature, your purpose may evolve as well. Through difficulties in my career, I learned that for me to have the energy to rally people and grow a company, it couldn’t just be about money, numbers and targets–it evolved into impacting communities–helping make opportunities available and uplift the people around me.

#3: Grit can get you further in life than just being smart. Being ahead doesn’t always guarantee success, but grit does. Grit is resolve and courage. It’s persevering and rising to the occasion despite the odds. There is no shame in starting at the bottom. Once you become a leader, you will keep going back to that experience to keep yourself grounded. As a woman with very strong convictions, I have been criticized as opinionated, even calculated, while men who act the same way may even be praised as strategic. There will be a lot of smart people in the companies you’ll be joining. But not everyone will have the same determination, passion and tenacity. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward

Finally, Sazon also reminded graduates of two things to carry with them as they leave the halls of their university: to always be grateful and kind to everyone they meet or encounter.

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“When we practice kindness and gratitude, we can build a stronger and more compassionate community. We create an atmosphere where support and understanding flourish, nurturing relationships and fostering growth. We can build a nation that thrives on empathy and appreciation. So as you move forward in your own unique paths, remember the power of kindness and gratitude,” Sazon said.


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