Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Ramblings : About stars and surviving

Some of the first words of motivation that I received when I first entered university went something like:

“Physics has a high mortality rate. Every year, only twenty percent will survive.”

Not exactly the most encouraging words to say to a BS Physics/Applied Physics freshman, I imagine, but they do make their mark quite well. Now, I’m not sure how accurate those words would be if you applied them. Let’s make a simple computation:

There were three and a half Physics/Applied Physics blocks (M13, M14, M15, and G22). Let’s say there are twenty-five students per block.

25 x 3.5 = 87.5

87.5 x 0.2 x 0.2 x 0.2 x 0.2 x 0.2 = 0.028

Okay... that’s closer to zero than to one. I’m assuming that the statement was a gross exaggeration, seeing as NIP does have its share of graduates and students. Well, I actually knew that it was just an odd hyperbole used to tell us that we weren’t going down easy street; I’m just debunking the myth (the twenty percent rule applies more accurately to the number of people passing one of Dr. So-and-So’s exams).

Anyway, there were about 30 BS Physics and BS Applied Physics graduates last April 23rd. I had the great pleasure of watching their final march as undergraduates. I couldn’t help the giddiness inside, despite my outward reaction of playful bitterness. Seeing my friends and classmates, in their white dresses or barongs and elegant sablays, I realized what the twenty percent myth should have meant to me. Graduating from BS Physics or BS Applied Physics is not impossible, though it’s as difficult as passing through a needle’s eye or putting a needle through your eye (whichever you prefer). This is coming from someone who has the perfect credentials to make such a claim.

It’s alright to hear the speeches of the fortunate ones who were gifted with innate talent in their chosen field and the vision, sense of responsibility and industry to match. The class valedictorian, the most outstanding student, and the commencement speaker, there is little doubt about how much they deserve to speak in front of the graduating class as honored men and women. Their greatness should inspire others to move mountains as they had, right?

Excellence is excellence; I have no problem with displaying that.

But, even though the stars inspire many of us to look up at the night sky, the fact is there are very few who will be inspired to find a way to climb up and shine among them. Some will be satisfied with dreaming and watching the twinkling constellations from the ground. Others will reach up, but once they realize that the stars are beyond the length of their arms, they will give up and perhaps settle for a dream. Still, others will not even attempt at the dream, seeing the impossibility and foolishness of the matter.

There is really no point in addressing those who are already with the stars and those who have been inspired to find a way to climb up and shine among them. I will not try to talk the others to be like them, either. Free will gives us the right to choose our path while the laws of nature make it blatantly clear that it is not possible that everyone succeed the way these people do. Just as students can excel in a small unknown college with very little facilities and funding, students can also fail in a university as large and prestigious as UP.

This is the reality of life.

Because, fact is, the people who become stars are, more often than not, already closer to the sky than others. Whether the advantage is monetary, intellectual, physical, or emotional, it is often there. Find your personal advantage, a self-help book would probably say. The concept of comparative advantage tells us that we should develop what we are good at. That’s logical. I don’t contest that. It’s a relatively fair battlefield; we should all have some form of advantage. In my opinion, though, success should not be complicated by norms and society imposed standards. It should be as simple as overcoming a personal goal. This said personal goal should be reasonable and just within or on the limit of possibility.

“Every year, only twenty percent will survive.”

Yes, only the fittest will survive. So the best question to ask right now is, “What are you fit to be?”

Can’t reach the sky? Be like a firefly, twinkling like fairy dust near the earth. Can’t produce your own light? Reflect it like the water or the glassy grains of sand. You can even capture its creators like the trees that attract fireflies or hold the light itself like a well-cut diamond’s glimmering embrace.

Stars are not the only things that glitter and the surviving twenty percent are not the only people who can shine.

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