FIND YOUR ARC REACTOR by Mark Joaquin Ruiz

March 31, 2016
Mark Joaquin Ruiz

by Mark Joaquin Ruiz

(Delivered at the Ateneo Junior High School Grade 10 Closing Ceremony on March 30, 2016)

Reverend Fr. Jett Villarin, S.J. President of the Ateneo de Manila University; Dr. Carmela Oracion, Principal, Ateneo de Manila High School. Fr. Anthony C. Pabayo, SJ, VP for Basic Ed; Mrs. Jennifer Concepcion, Associate Principal for Academic Affairs; Mr. Ronan Capinding, Associate Principal for Student Affairs; Fr. Jessel Gerard Gonzales, Associate Principal for Formation; Administrators, Faculty Members and Staff, Parents, and most especially to our Junior High School completing batch. A happy and prosperous good afternoon to all of you.

It really feels great to come back home here in the Ateneo. It’s a wild and crazy world out there, and the moment i set foot again in this wonderful campus of ours, I felt as if I had magically stepped back into Hogwarts, into sanctuary.

It’s now been more than twenty years since i was a student walking these very halls. Yes, twenty years. Sana hindi naman halata.

Earlier, I passed through my first year classroom and took a peek inside. Everything feels so much smaller now. I remember everything seeming so much larger! Looking at the desks and chairs, i almost felt like Gandalf the Wizard inside Hobbiton (a few minutes into my speech and i’ve already referenced Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings… i can’t help it, fortunately and unfortunately twenty+ years later i am still very much a nerd!)
Truth to tell, twenty years ago - when I was in your exact same shoes, sitting exactly where you are sitting - i never, never truly imagined that i would be where I am now, that I would be doing what I am currently doing.
We didn’t have Junior High and Senior High then, but I’m sure we share similar themes and experiences. After all, a High Schooler’s life is kind of peculiar - it’s one of those in-between periods that bridge you from youthful Grade School innocence to the pseudo-independent launchpad that is College. You want to fit in, and yet you also want to stand out. You want to discover your own identity, assert your individuality, but you inevitably do it by herding with a close-knit set of friends, your high school barkada. By the way, treasure the friends you make during High School - in my experience, they are the ones you’ll really grow old with. Make sure to be kind to them, because when you’re 20, 30, 40, … they will never ever let you forget all the weird stuff you did when you were 15 or 16. Be kind, most especially because they can spill the scoop on your childhood secrets!

Ah, High School. I certainly had different dreams then, different ambitions. and yet, a full twenty years later, life still somehow led me to a different path. i hope that by sharing my journey, my life’s story, i can somehow make a small yet memorable mark on yours. shucks ‪#‎senti

You see, I am a product of safe choices.

My Pa is a Civil Engineer; He’s a veritable genius. But like all Engineers, well they have zero tolerance for failure. Before retiring, my Ma was a successful Bank Executive who stayed with one company her entire life. Yes, my very lineage, my very DNA screams risk averse all over. and it would manifest across many safe choices that have made up my young life.

When choosing schools, the safe choice meant going for the best choice, the only choice. hindi pa ba obvious? Ateneo Grade School Class of ’91, Ateneo High School Class of ’95, Ateneo College Graduate ’99 with a Degree in BS Management Engineering. In weighing my college degree options, I simply asked - what course would get me a high-paying corporate job? Survey says : M.E.! And then when i graduated, i aimed again for the safest choice with a sniper’s precision. i did end up finding that high-paying corporate job when i joined a multinational company, Unilever.

And so for seven exciting years, the talents, gifts, and education that I had been given were honed, stretched, and put to full use. It was a very exhilarating time, and I was working so, so, so hard. It was a great learning experience peppered with accomplishments, and I was aptly rewarded for it. I rapidly rose up the proverbial corporate ladder, rewarded by promotion after promotion after promotion. The career runway in front of me seemed mine for the taking; my bosses reassured me that I was going to go a long way.

There was just one problem. A major one actually. I wasn’t really sure if this is what I wanted to do with my life. There was a hole in my heart and i couldn’t make out it’s shape. I truly didn’t know what was missing. retweet after me ‪#‎hugot.

I was in Chicago for a work meeting when i got the final wake-up call. I found myself with a small group of global leaders of the company. I recall it so distinctly – looking around the table, i got a glimpse of my potential future if i stayed along the same path – the huge salary, the big house, traveling all around the world, living the expat lifestyle. The trappings of corporate success.

But i had reached a quandary.

This wasn’t the person I wanted to become. Being a successful corporate executive wasn’t the life I wanted to end up living. I yearned to do something different, something personally deeper. As corny as it may sound, I wanted to use my talents and gifts to serve others.

There’s a saying which captures precisely what i felt at this very moment. “No amount of walking on the wrong road will take you where you truly want to go.” And so when you realize that you’re on the wrong road, then you absolutely owe it to yourself to get as quickly as you can to what you’ve discerned deep in your heart is the right one.

And so that is what I did. For the first time in my life, I let go of the safety net, and decided to risk it all. safety would no longer be the operating principle of my life. risk in pursuit of a deep-seated sense of purpose became the dominant paradigm. i resigned from my plush and corporate job, and dove into the wild and crazy world of entrepreneurship.

But it wasn’t just any kind of entrepreneurship. i wanted to start a business that at its very core, it’s very purpose, it’s very reason for being - is to help others. Lo and behold - this is what is now popularly known as Social Entrepreneurship. Solving social problems through innovative business models.

With my very good friend, now-Senator Bam Aquino and like-minded leaders in business and social development – such as Rapa Lopa, Dr. Aris Alip, Manny de Luna, Perry Villa, Franco Sevilla - we founded Hapinoy, a social enterprise that supports and partners with microentrepreneurs. We train Nanay Sari-Sari Store owners and provide them capital to seize new business opportunities. Our latest microfranchise offering, Hapinoy BizMo, has them earning more by using the power of smartphones. Yes, we are making Nanays more high-tech, more competitive, and more innovative especially given the threats and opportunities of ASEAN Integration. We’ve already partnered with thousands of Nanays all over Luzon - and after Yolanda, Leyte. We envision a Hapinoy Nanay in every very single barangay of the country, earning more from her family, offering products and services that serve her community.

With my now-wife, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, Fr. Javy Alpasa of the Society of Jesus, and other young professionals, we founded Rags2Riches, a social enterprise that strives to lift artisans out of poverty by upcycling scrap materials into high-end fashion and home products. We don’t believe in pity-buys - buying poorly-designed, low-quality products simply because you ‘pity’ the poor - it’s really not sustainable. We believe - and have so far proven - that poor Filipino artisan communities can create beautiful products that are truly world-class. I’m very happy to share that aside from having a very strong local presence, R2R is being exported around Asia, Europe, and the US. From Payatas to the world’s stage.

Hapinoy and R2R are not about charity, they are social enterprises. I stand before you now today to share that doing good and doing well can go hand-in-hand.

I had found my way into a life’s work that was and is, truly meaningful. Mind you, it’s not an easy life, in fact it is filled with so many challenges and stress. But it’s a different kind of stress - eustress, the good kind. Every morning

I am truthfully excited to get out of bed to greet the day - yes, even on Mondays!

So how did a nerdy high school kid who dreamt only of a safe corporate job end up becoming this happy and fulfilled social entrepreneur? Quite honestly, I’ve asked myself this question many times. And I always end up with a singular, definitive answer. I can only blame - or rather, happily thank - the Ateneo. I am a product of sixteen years of Jesuit formation and education.

The desire for service? none other than the man-for-others mantra, unconsciously embedded in my soul.

That hole in my heart? I give you Exhibit A : my Ateneo teachers, formators, and Spiritual Directors, who taught me to always search for that which will make me whole. Mrs. Chee Kee, Mr. Pagsi, Sir Gabby Mallilin, Fr. Weyms Sanchez, Dr. Leo Garcia, Fr. Gorospe, Fr. Nemy Que, Bobby Guev, Fr. Ted Gonzales.

Find time today to reach out to your teachers and thank them profusely - send them a handwritten note, an email, a PM, even a tweet. They have affected you in ways so profoundly that you do not yet realize. Like in the movie Inception, they have implanted ideas in your mind that will activate when you least expect it. That’s what happened to me!

Now, I once heard a speaker take a contrarian view about our school, he had a tough but fair point. He said “The problem with the Ateneo is that it teaches students about a world that simply does not exist.” He was critiquing all that man-for-others indoctrination, philosophizing about building a better world, fighting for one’s ideals, the whole shebang – when in fact what lay on the other side of the fence was an ugly, inconvenient truth – a dog-eat-dog world, filled with bad people and all sorts of practical realities.

So when freshly-minted Ateneo graduates emerge from the university cocoon unsuspectingly donning rose-colored glasses, they undergo an immobilizing culture shock – the spiritual equivalent of a cold shower – and devolve into a Matrix-like denial-of-truth. Like the living zombies of Apple’s 1984 Ad, they end up falling in line, joining the herd like sheep, dreams of changing the world delegated back into Row 4 of the subconscious. There’s no sugarcoating it, the real world can be hard on you; life can be truly difficult.

So my dear Ateneo Students, how can you get ready for the real world?

I say, start by taking courageous choices as early as you can, here in High School. Safe, boring project topic or something pioneering and potentially grand? Limit yourself to the four walls of the classroom, or go explore communities beyond the campus? Keep your silence when others are doing wrong, or stand up for what you believe in? Take courageous choices. One pahabol : call your crush, or shrink into torpe territory? Take courageous choices.

Take well-thought-out risks – and experience your much-needed bouts with failure and rejection as early as you can. You have to fall a few times in order to learn how to get back on your feet. This is what will ultimately help you develop resilience and grit. Battle scars remind you of the pain when your wounds were raw and open, but they also tell you that that it was ultimately survivable. You will make it. You will bounce back. In the times that you will feel that everything is hopeless, just never never never give up.

Be grateful that you are able to take these risks now because your parents have made it absolutely possible for you to do so. Thank them today for their boundless love, in fact thank them every single day for the rest of their wonderful lives. They have done everything and given everything - to get you here today. Dear parents, lead your sons not from the front but support them from the back. Let them toe the line and walk the tightrope, and be ready to catch them during the times that they will inevitably fall.

Dear students, there’s one more lesson that needs to be learned, if you want to hold fast your idealism amidst a cynical world.

My favorite Marvel superhero is Iron Man. He has this kick-ass armour that can fly at insanely fast speeds, gives him super-strength, and even lets him shoot repulsor rays. However, the most important component of the Iron Man suit is its source of energy; It's the round glowing disc on his chest. It’s called the Arc Reactor.

Dear students, you have to find your Arc Reactor. That which gives you energy, when all else fades away. A source of light even in the darkest of nights.

When I’m tired and weary, I come back home. Home to Hogwarts. To Hobbiton. To Ateneo. It’s my home, my sanctuary. A place that has taught me, molded me, and ingrained in me that there is a better world that we can build, that we must build; With all the blessings that we have been given, it is our moral responsibility, our non-negotiable imperative. We’re faced with a world that is all-too-real, and we have been prepared by the Ateneo to make it more ideal.

I am unwavering in this belief because in this very campus I have found my own Arc Reactor.

In my Twitter and Facebook profiles, i have the ultimate hashtag, one I got from the Jesuits. It’s ‪#‎AMDG. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. All for the Greater Glory of God.

When things get difficult, as they often do, I don’t pray to God to take away the challenges that seek to overwhelm me. I pray that He makes me stronger. All for His Greater Glory.

God is my Arc Reactor. And as you close this chapter on your Junior High School, I pray that He gives you grace and infinite blessings, and keep you strong and powered up for the rest of your days.

Congratulations once again, and good afternoon!