Thursday, September 13, 2007

After a storm, only the trees with the deepest roots remain standing.

The following was a speech delivered to the Mount Carmel School graduating class of 2007.

I remember my high school graduation. Unlike my classmates, I couldn’t wait to get out of here. I just wanted to get off this rock and set off for a new life. And unlike my classmates, I couldn’t stand the idea of following a clique to the same college. I wanted to be on my own. So that’s what I did. I enrolled at a college where I was the only one from the Marianas. People had no idea where Saipan was, which is exactly what I wanted.

But when it came time for my college graduation, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay in college.

And I had every reason to stay. I had just been nominated for both the Rhodes and Marshall fellowships, two of the most prestigious fellowships in the world that would have allowed me to study at Cambridge or Oxford in England.

I had professors who paved my way into graduate school at the University of Washington. On top of guaranteed admission, free tuition, and a paid stipend, I was going to publish a book with one of my professors. Had I taken those opportunities, I probably would be a professor right now with my college roommate and good buddy, Dr. Kevin Price, teaching in the University of Washington’s Politics and Government program.

Instead, here I am where I swore I’d never return, back on this rock, back at Mount Carmel School. And I’ve been here now for eleven years.

What happened? What went wrong? Well, nothing really went wrong. In fact, things went very, very right.

At first, I returned because my mom was in tears, begging me to come back home.
And trust me, when I got back home, I hated it. I complained about everything, even the pizza on island. But in my first year back, I had one of those once in a lifetime opportunities to fix things with my dad. You see, I grew up hating my father. He was an alcoholic who played poker, was very abusive to my mom, and didn’t seem to care at all about me. But, when I returned, he was a different man. Or, perhaps he finally revealed his real self.

He and I ended up having some simple yet important talks. Nothing serious. We would just sit in the garage and talk about the orchids he grew or about family. But those talks brought us closer. And I got to see the real man behind the alcohol, behind the gambling, behind the abuse.
I got to know him as a man who regretted the mistakes he had made, and only wanted to make things rights.

At the same time, I also learned from my mom how proud my dad was of me. He never said anything to me, but he would always brag to his friends about everything I was doing. And it was at that time that I also learned that he was not, in fact, my biological father. Despite that, he still treated me like his own son.

When I finally realized all of this about my dad, I built up the courage to tell him some of the hardest words any man can tell his father.

I told him that I loved him.

A few weeks later, he passed away.

While his passing away was sad, I was happy that I had the chance to mend things with him before it was too late. I was happy that I came home to do that. Had I gone on to graduate school to do all those important things I was supposed to do, I would have missed my chance to do something even more important.

So, the sacrifice was well worth it.

And since then, I’ve had the opportunity to do many great things, from teaching to drama to meeting my beautiful wife and starting a wonderful family.

I tell you this story for two reasons.

First, never miss an opportunity to show your love and appreciation for other people. You, yourselves, have learned that lesson all too well this year. Remember at the beginning of the school year when I asked you how you would treat someone if you knew that person were going to die tomorrow? Can you imagine how different this world would be if we all treated each other that way? It would be a very different world. It would be a better world.

Second, I tell you the story of my homecoming because just as my mom asked me to come home many years ago, I ask that you, one day, come home too.

I know this seems strange, at a graduation, to ask this. should be telling you to fly off to the horizon of your future.

But, to be quite honest, I am tired of seeing people leave, especially when we need them the most. Too many people from our islands have left for “the states” for a better life, rather than making life better here. And we so desperately need life to be better here. For that, we need your help.

Sure, go off and get your education, get some experience, but then bring it back here to help us.
God knows we need it.

I’ll admit, coming home won’t be easy. It wasn’t for me. But, I promise you, it will be meaningful. It will be worth it.

If you don’t believe me, let me share one more story with you.

In 2004, I was pursuing my passion to make movies and was all ready to head off to film school.
But, just as I was receiving acceptance letters, Bishop Tomas Camacho asked me to apply for the principal position here. I didn’t answer Bishop right away, but I promised him that I would think about it and pray on it.

And so I did.

And one of my favorite times to pray is while running in the mornings. Well, it so happened that one morning right after Typhoon Paka, I was running along the beach pathway, thinking about it. When I stopped to catch my breath for a bit, I noticed that there were a lot of trees that were blown down, but a few remained standing. I stood up and just stared for a long while trying to figure out how those few trees withstood the typhoon’s 100-plus mile-per-hour winds, heavy rains, crashing waves, and massive flooding and erosion.

How did those trees do it? Well, as I looked closer, my eyes moved down towards the ground.
It was then that I realized that the only trees that remained standing were those with the deepest roots.

And that’s when it hit me.

My roots are here.

And only by digging deeper roots will I remain standing, no matter what typhoons come my way.

So, that’s why I gave up film school to come back to Mount Carmel.
I came back to dig deeper roots.

Now, I urge you to remember your roots. Remember where you came from. And one day, come home. We’ll be here, ready to welcome you back with open arms and open hearts.
Until then, know that we will miss you—I will miss you—and we’ll do our best to hold down the fort, eagerly waiting for your return.

Thank you and congratulations.


The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

great speech

Anonymous said...

This is one of the days I regret coming back to Saipan and trying to make a better life. Thank you for allowing me to read that. It's nourished me enormously.

Boni said...

I thought that was an amazing speech Galvin. Thank you for allowing us to see your vulnerable side.

TRUBLU said...

I lived a life of commitment to public service, such words as duty and honor are words i try to live by... but the passion of your speech is moving... thank you for your commitment and sacrifice to our Commonwealth.

Galvin Deleon Guerrero said...

Thank you and everyone else who manifest that same commitment and sacrifice.

saipanboonieman said...

galvin, your words make my heart feel ashamed for wanting to give-up and leave myself. thank you for reminding me that all is not lost, and that there is that very, very important reason to stay: giving our children a place to find their roots.

kilili said...

...and the orchids still bloom to this day. thank you galvin.

CNMI Blogger said...

I was there when you gave this speech and I still love it having just read it now on your blog. You're the best! Keep on inspiring others.

Jeff said...

Damn Good. G

Peter Bae said...

I never knew...

You continue to inspire me.

Lucia said...

Great inspirational speech; wish I was there to have heard it. Love the sincerity and simplicity. "Have wings, will travel; have roots, will always come back home." Looking forward to seeing more of your wisdom, and collaborative spirit towards making a positive impact on our community.

DATALIG said...

Galvin, that was a beautiful speech and I related so much to your story. We have more things in common than I thought. Good luck in your way to becoming part of the Board of Education.

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Anonymous said...

This is my first visit here, but I will be back soon, because I really like the way you are writing, it is so simple and honest