For My Students: A Note on Plato.

To my dearest students who graduated yesterday–CONGRATULATIONS!

Seeing you all donning togas, looking fresh and alive made me so hopeful and excited! The adventure is just about to begin, finally! But before I release you (for real, this time, kasi nag-dry run na tayo last year, diba? Hahaha!), please stick around for one last note on Plato. 🙂

Let me confess that the Allegory of the Cave was merely a point of departure. We didn’t need to spend too much time with it but I chose to stay because it was a good place to start. You were sophomores then and as a young teacher, I was more convinced to have you interested in learning than to teach you concepts you would surely forget in time. This is how “dogness” and that Cave came to be so finely etched in my memory. Now, why is it so important and what will it mean for the future?

Just two things.

First, if you still have your copies, please return to Book Seven of The Republic where Plato features Glaucon in conversation with Socrates. Recall the idea of people living in this cave and perceiving reality based on shadows reflected on its walls. They were chained to face the dark side while behind them was the entrance where eventually, one of them would make it outside. The light was blinding at first and then as his eyes gradually adjusted, the man, once imprisoned, saw things as they were. He returned excitedly into the cave hoping to share what he had seen and free the other prisoners but alas, they would not have it. They thought he had gone mad and were not willing, as he was, to be free.

Now before you use your Ateneo education to evangelize and free others on the basis of what you now know, make sure you first use your intellectual gifts to free yourselves from the chains you wear (willingly or unwillingly) as they have been handed to you by family and society. Choose what you decide to believe in but err on the side of truth, even if we cannot all agree on what that is. That is the point. Trust in your deep curiosities, even if, and especially if, these make you look and feel silly from time to time. The gift of an education isn’t just a job and the sooner you know this, the less intimidated you will feel about the world of work.

Remember too that Plato concerned himself with a dialectical method. Discussion and debate mattered because precisely, in the Cave, it’s easy to grow comfortable in our ignorance. Never be satisfied with yours–hold opinions but have them questioned and do not fear the use of your minds. Discover the truth of opinions but let the pool of your search be wide enough to encompass even the people you dislike. The point is not to win the argument but to have it and to enrich your lives with ideas. I doubt, too, if Plato would judge history on the basis of a meme or on what he could read on Facebook? So, please, pick up a book or two or three or many even if no one is around to quiz you on them anymore.

Second, and last, remember that Plato’s politics was grounded in his experience of injustice. He was the student of Socrates. You remember him right? Socrates was the guy whom the Athenian government put to death by ingesting hemlock just because he disrupted social order and questioned most things believed to be true.

I do not wish for you to see or experience injustice but something tells me that if you truly live in this world, you are bound to sense it. If you do, take a page off Plato’s playbook and remember that things need not be as they are. You can and must use the truths you know and those you discover to live a different way. Don’t let fear or anyone else tell you otherwise.

There’s life outside of that cave and it is full of all the wonders we might not have known or imagined when we were still in our classroom, thinking of poor Plato.

Okay, class dismissed. Go already! I miss you guys very, very much but in case I don’t see you soon, know that I’m super proud of you! I could not have asked for a better set of students! +AMDG