Dreaming on an Airplane

By: Mitz Serofia

(This is an inspirational speech addressed to the senior high school graduates of St. Paul School Barotac Viejo,April 29, 2019)

Seated in a plane with crampy leg space, I began writing this piece out of an itch to put my racing thoughts into words after my brief sleep got interrupted by turbulence somewhere over the seas west of Bangkok. While I wished those thoughts were about a novel anti-cancer treatment that can save millions of lives and earn me enough money to give you all brand-new cars as graduation gift, they were rather simple echoes of something I already knew. We were told that if our dreams don’t scare us, they aren’t big enough. This has become my convenient piece of advice whenever some wide-eyed children ask me how to be me or in the common parlance, How To Be You Po? I thought the quote had lots of merit, easily justified by popular examples like Mark Zuckerberg, Nelson Mandela, Michael Jordan, and many others. These amazing people proved to the world that those who dreamed big, and risked big, conquered the world.

That line of thought, however, got me asking, if big dreams ought to be scary, are the less scary dreams small enough then? This is where it gets a little complicated. You would know then why it was difficult for me to get back to sleep despite desperately hoping to get enough energy for my UK trip in the days to come. That simple thought gave birth to more and more questions like: What’s a small or big dream anyway? Who or what dictates the parameters? What are the parameters? Is there a right or wrong way of dreaming? Is someone who aspires for the common good always better than someone who dreams of pulling himself out of his personal misery?

I honestly was at a loss for answers then. Up until now, I am still in search for the right words. But if anything, the wisdom there is that you cannot rush things, like achieving your goals or being able to create the best reply. The right moment—the perfect timing—just comes along. But here’s what I know now: All dreams, when honorable and sincere, are valid. You have all the right and the power to dream, no matter how big or small, no matter how lovely or scary they are, for as long as they are honorable and sincere.

Today, I am going to talk about two things: the power of dreams and the necessity of human connection.

Six years ago, I had the chance to do a mock interview for graduating 4Ps scholars enrolled in a public university in the City. The interview was meant to help prepare them and nail future work opportunities by improving their confidence and speaking ability. But while it was merely a “mock” interview as part of their subject requirements, the responses I got from these students were as genuinely personal as one can get, as if they were baring a part of them to me, an unsuspecting stranger. I listened to 34 of them. One by one. Five minutes each. One after another, they shared a common answer to a generic question on how they envision themselves 5-10 years from now.

If I was asked that same question then, I would have been the odd one out. My answer would have probably been reflective of my many ambitions in life, like getting up the peak of the institutional ladder or achieving a work-life balance, traveling the world while earning more than enough for myself and family. But that was me and my crazy, almost self-absorbed ideas of my future.  After all, I was a wide-eyed, high-achieving student-leader then who thought the world was on his fingertips, someone whose privilege abounds well beyond his peers. That was me then, and there was them. Their interview, their life story, their ambitions, their future.

Keenly, I listened to one who said that five years from now, she sees herself sending all her five other siblings to school; to one who envisions himself buying a motorcycle which he can use as a sidecar to drive his family and neighbors around; to one who wanted to provide security for her two young children and not suffer the same fate she did. Their idea of the future strangely seemed as if it was less of “myself” and more of “them”. Knowing their background, I did not mind their lack of eloquence in speaking and the air of insecurity and lack of self-esteem in their answers. I gave all of them a passing mark. After all, to speak with perfect grammar is one thing, but to communicate honesty, compassion, and empathy is another. That, I thought, should be rewarded, too. And by all means, those dreams—no matter how trivial and little they may seem, are valid.

In 2018, a 9-year study, conducted in54 provinces involving 614 Filipino teenagers, showed that a staggering 7 out of 10 Filipino teenagers don’t have a dream. It turns out, the survey revealed, that discouraging words from others was the most common reason behind the phenomenon, followed by the lack of self-esteem, lack of passion, lack of opportunity, and lastly poor family status.

Beloved graduates, the worst form of poverty is a poverty of dreams. You owe it to yourself, your family, your community, and your country to believe in a future better than yours now. When used with the right intentions, your dream is your magical key towards transforming your life and those around you. Take note of how Facebook changed the way the world communicates, how Jose Rizal ignited the revolution that brought us freedom, or how our parents worked hard to let us have a brighter future. This is our dreams’ ultimate power. But to wield such force requires a certain level of duty. There can only be power in your dreams if you diligently act on them.

With you graduating means you’ve began acting on those dreams, whatever they may be. Your present education also guarantees you that you are, perhaps, halfway through. And while I am proud of all of you for sticking to the fight, I can only wish that you don’t waste it. Never mind the discouraging remarksof people or your poverty. Focus on building your strengths, acknowledging your weaknesses, opening new opportunities, and leaving your own mark in this world. Dear parents, I ask you to support your child’s dreams whatever they may be. Comparison kills a dream just as negative criticisms put a crack on our self-esteem. Just because someone aspires to be this versus to be a doctor, for example, does not necessarily mean the other dream is less noble or less valid. Your words can make or break your child’s future.

Dear graduates, the process and the journey itself won’t be easy, I assure you. There will be bumps and sometimes stopovers. But you are your dreams and you hold the power. I sincerely hope that you won’t ever let the power of your dreams sadly turn into the horror of regret because you simply allowed it to.

Now, let’s talk about the necessity of human connection.

If you wish to enter Medicine and come out of it alive, you would need three Ps: pesos, perseverance, and people. Everybody knows that earning a medical degree requires a considerable sum of money. But even if you sleep on a bed of peso bills, no one ever gets it that easy. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, Medicine is not only for the brightest—it belongs more so to those who tirelessly work night and day, those who have the grit to make their dreams come true. But then again, money and ability do not simply make the cut. You would need a whole lot of support from as much people as you can get. That is the necessity of human connection.

When I was in college, I felt as if there was a constant need to prove myself in an environment that does not tolerate mediocrity. Being the competitive person that I was before, I strived year after year to get ahead of the pack. I was too focused on trying to improve myself and meet expectations. My apartment in the city was only one and a half hours away from home but I only get to be with my family three times a semester at most. I would reason that travel time is lost time for my limited study period. You can consider that compromise as a form of personal sacrifice for the dream at hand, but looking back, I would say it was not at all necessary. Now, I call it simply and regretfully for what it is: Lost family time.

Upon entering Medicine, I had resolved to forge more meaningful connections with family and friends. I was thankful because as I would later find out, no one can survive Medicine alone. I would have either quit or lost my sanity had it not for close friends who keep on cheering me up and motivating me to finish what I started. But of course, having supportive people like them is an investment. Having a lot of friends does not necessarily guarantee that we can count on them when the tides turn against us. We can have friends and family and still feel deprived and empty. My dear graduates, what is more important for you to do is to deepen and enrich your relationships by investing quality time and effort in people that matter to you and not letting technology or destiny do the trick. Your friends now can be your friends for a lifetime. Do not reduce your interactions to texts, emojis, and forwarded messages. Give them your time and let them know you care for them. Like any investment, the rewards can be surprising in the end.

You see, I have understood the necessity of human connection not only in school, but more fully in the hands of death. Being a doctor, I get to interact with dying patients who would usually spend most of their limited time wishing things were different. And the only thing I can do is listen. But deep inside, I would have wanted to help, because you know what’s more tragic than a painful death? It’s bearing the terrible ache of regret which no painkillers can ever alleviate.

In her book “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying”, Bronnie Ware says she found that nearly all her patients were more concerned with the relationships they had built with others and being truly happy than they were with money, fame, or success.“I wish I didn’t work so hard; I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends,” they would say.

My dear graduates, you’re young and you still got a long life ahead of you, and you’re probably wondering why am I telling you this. I’m telling you this precisely because you’re still young and still have many chances to undo your choices and create better ones. I’m telling you this because probably some of you here won’t ever hear or realize this until your deathbed. I’m telling you this because you deserve a happy, love-filled life ahead of you.

Needless to say, my first flight to UK was terrible. I was sleep-deprived and I smelled like I haven’t had a bath for a week. But the moment Emirates Boeing 777 glided to a stop and I felt the cold breeze of the English spring season, I sighed in relief. The flight was worth it—another dream off my bucket list. From afar, my sister, whom I have not seen for a year or so, waved in welcoming excitement. I painted a wide smile. Finally, I was making up for lost family time.

Dear graduates, may your dreams take you places and may you deepen your connection with one another as you build a better future together. Good luck and my warmest congratulations!


Dr. Mitz Serofia is a general physician in a district hospital in Aklan. He is part of the Global Shapers Community-Iloilo Hub and founder of Project KaleidosCOPE, a youth-based mental health program.