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Davis, California

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Column: Utang na Loob

With Thanksgiving upon us and fall graduation approaching, I‘ve been reflecting upon my time at Davis and what it took to get here.

My graduation day, the day I’ve long anticipated, is less than a month away. As I’m sure many of you can agree, it has not always been an easy journey. I invite you to take a moment and remember what it took for you to get here.

My great-grandma dropped out in the seventh grade to help raise her siblings. When I was little, my dad worked three jobs to provide for us, and my mom worked as a full-time secretary and parent.

To this day I ask myself — how do I repay something like that?

In the Philippines, we have a term called “Utang na Loob” — don’t worry if you can’t pronounce it.

“Utang na Loob” is the inner determination to pay someone back for the good that they’ve done for you. It literally means “debt of gratitude.” It’s more than just wanting to repay a favor, it’s the desire to make a positive contribution to that person’s life because they helped you in some way.

Think of the family and friends who’ve contributed to your success thus far.

I know I’m not alone in my gratitude.

Whatever your personal trials and struggles, we have all arrived at this moment as a community. None of us could’ve done it without the other.

Though the paths to our success have been laden with midterms, papers that seemed to never end, late night runs to In-N-Out and Old Tea House and all-nighters which we promised never to do again — we have approached this milestone together.

Now I invite you to envision what you will be doing with your current success. Are you going to bury it and hoard it all to yourself? Are you going to build on it and share the wealth with those who helped you achieve it?

As UC Davis students, we are constantly striving to become better versions of ourselves. As one of the top universities in the nation, it’s only natural for us to continuously push for excellence in every facet of our lives. But in that constant struggle to build up our academic and social strengths, we sometimes forget the many people who contributed to the process.

With that in mind, our success here at Davis transcends this moment. Our success is a tribute to those who helped us get here as well as a light for those who will come after us.

We are engaged in an endless cycle of contributing to each other’s growth. That’s how our school became what it is — all the students and faculty who have worked tirelessly with their own all-nighters to get us to this moment, and all the students after us for whom we are setting the bar, laying the foundation.

When I was little, I could always look forward to a hot, home-cooked meal from my great-grandma after school. Even now, when I visit home, the first thing she says is “Have you eaten?”, “What do they feed you at school?”, “Why aren’t you wearing a sweater in this weather?” And though we do everything we can to make her as comfortable as possible, she still likes to get up and help everyone else.

That’s the kind of mindset that I hope we can all engage in once it’s our turn to graduate and step into this big bright world — a heart of ceaseless giving.

Davis produces some of the best students in the nation. When we are all alumni, each and every one of us should look back at Davis and be able to say, “This school is better because I was a student there.”

As the UC emblem states, “Let there be light.” I know that we will be that light for the students who will come after us just as we were inspired by those who came before us.

JHUNEHL FORTALEZA wishes she could have more graduation tickets for her gigantic family. She can be reached at jtfortaleza@ucdavis.edu.


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