A young Filipino lawyer taking up his masteral studies in law at the Harvard Law School in, has been given the honor to deliver the student address at the school's commencement ceremonies on Thursday, June 7.
It is a rare chance that easily came for Oscar Franklin Barcelona Tan, 27 years old, and 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.
Here's his speech:
Like Wine in the River, Like Citizens of the World
Harvard Law School 2007 Student Commencement Address
Oscar Franklin Barcelona Tan ( )
Delivered June 7, 2007, Langdell Hall
Dean Kagan, Vice-Dean Alford, professors, classmates, families, and friends. Let me first thank my family, who crossed twelve time zones to be with us. Let me thank my father, who was once a poor boy from our province of Negros Occidental in the . He lost his parents during his childhood, then moved to the capital and slept on my aunt's couch to study law at the University of the Philippines. I do not know if he dreamt then that he would one day watch his eldest son graduate from Harvard Law School, but I want him to know that I love him and hope he is proud of me. Let me thank my law dean, Raul Pangalangan, who was like a second father to me in the University of the Philippines, and is fortunately present here as a visiting professor. I learned all I know about integrity and principle from these two men.
Let me also thank our tireless graduate program staff. Assistant Dean Jeanne Tai, Nancy Pinn, Heather Wallick, April Stockfleet, Curtis Morrow, Jane Fair Bestor, Chris Nepple, Valentina Perez, Ashley Smith, and Sarine Der Kaloustian: This year would not have been possible without you. But let me thank all of you in the Harvard Law community for truly making us feel part of it. I know I am part of it; I was featured in the Parody.
Not so long ago, I went to John Harvard's for the first time with the British, who began chittering 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 . 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. And I learned more than I ever cared to about American culture: I spent a week in with Andy Knopp and Mike Pykosz.
Soon, we found that great substance that unites any law school: alcohol. On , a Belarusian handed me a glass of vodka, but scolded me when I began to sip it. Sipping, he emphasized, is not the Slavic way. I shared a Frenchman's champagne, a Peruvian's pisco sour, a Brazilian's caipirinha, a Mexican's tequila, and a Japanese's sake. And I learned how even weak American beer enlivens an evening when you drink it with the Irish.
As for me, I come from the , 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 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 a South Korean prosecutor proudly stated that his country has sent two former presidents to prison. How a Brazilian, when he was six years old, was taken by his father to see a million men clamor for direct elections in . How a Bhutanese wants to help shape her constitution after her king voluntarily gave up absolute power.
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: " is the world's second most unequal country. I come from , 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."
A hundred and ten years ago, it was said here that law is defined by the bad man, who cares solely about how to avoid being thrown in jail. Apologies to Justice ,* but our generation defines law by the good man. The German Constitution emphasizes human dignity, in a continuing repudiation of Nazism. The South African Constitution promises equality, in a continuing repudiation of apartheid. The Philippine Constitution, a continuing repudiation of the Marcos dictatorship, promises social justice and the Philippine ideal that "he who has less in life should have more in law." Even in the , the younger Fourteenth Amendment set the stage for the end of segregation.
Countless other developing countries in and Africa have constitutionalized a broad array of socioeconomic and environmental rights. We have thus outgrown the concept of law as passive restraint. Rather, law is now aspiration, law is now the catalyst that seeks to realize the full human potential of billions of good men brought low only by poverty, bigotry, oppression, and conflict.
The good man's primacy is felt just as strongly in international law. Modern instruments, even those lacking binding force, have bolstered our concepts of rights, from economic rights to indigenous people's rights to the rights of the child. The vigor seen in today's expansive constitutions must find its way into these international challenges. How can rights to biodiversity be asserted given an intellectual property regime that allows Indian basmati rice to be patented in a key export market? How can rights to environment become reality given developing countries with large populations and meager resources? How must the right to labor of migrant workers be protected given their vulnerability to countless abuses?
At the least, law must enable nations to dialogue on equal terms. At present, for example, the Filipino people are indignant that a Marine appealing his conviction for rape is detained not in a Philippine jail, but in the United States embassy. My people cannot reconcile this affront with the fact that even after our big white brother Douglas MacArthur retreated from the , ** my country exhibited the fiercest resistance in the Pacific War.
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 drill sergeant, nor after watching my Chinese and Taiwanese classmates celebrate the together, nor after having a classmate chased by gunmen out of . In fact, when 's speechwriter visited, my Iranian classmate introduced himself, "Hi, I'm from an Axis of Evil country." And when he was told that the speech made a distinction between the Iranian government and the Iranian people, he said thank you and replied, "When we call you the Great Satan, we also make a distinction between the American government and the American people."
This is how Harvard has changed us. We thank our beloved faculty 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 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, champagne, pisco sour, caipirinha, tequila, sake, Irish stout, 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 advance law as the law of the good man in the international order. In this, let us affirm that we are citizens of the world. Maraming salamat po, at mabuhay kayong lahat.*** Thank you and long live you all.
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* "The Path of the Law", , Volume 10, page 457, speech delivered in in 1897. "You can see very plainly that a bad man has as much reason as a good one for wishing to avoid an encounter with the public force, and therefore you can see the practical importance of the distinction between morality and law. A man who cares nothing for an ethical rule which is believed and practised by his neighbors is likely nevertheless to care a good deal to avoid being made to pay money, and will want to keep out of jail if he can."
** President William Howard Taft referred to Filipinos as Americans' "little brown brothers" when the was an American colony.
*** Traditional Filipino closing, literally, "Thank you, sirs, and long live you all."