“Imelda Marcos’s sandals lived better than I did.
I just discovered that. I was reacquainting myself with that whole sordid history — with the unfathomable extravagance that she and her dictator husband, Ferdinand, indulged in before they were run out of the Philippines in 1986 — and found an article on Medium that said that her hundreds upon hundreds of shoes occupied a closet of 1,500 square feet. That’s larger than the Manhattan apartment that I called home until last July. I should have been an espadrille.
She personified greed. Ferdinand, who ruled the Philippines for more than two decades, epitomized authoritarianism and kleptocracy. The couple pilfered an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion from the country. And now their son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., better known as Bongbong, is poised to become its next president. In the election in the Philippines on Monday, he won in a landslide.
He and his supporters made that happen not by renouncing his parents’ legacy. They instead embraced it — or, rather, reimagined the Marcoses’ reign as some misunderstood and underappreciated Golden Age. They used social media to disseminate and amplify that gaudy lie. And the strategy worked.”
“. . . . .On Sunday morning I had the honor of delivering the commencement speech at my undergraduate alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The previous afternoon, I dropped by the stadium in which the event would take place so I could size up the lectern and the teleprompters. Given my compromised eyesight, I wanted to be sure that I could see the scrolling text and that the lectern’s surface was big enough to hold a printed copy of the speech, just in case.
It was a quick chore, tucked into a chaotic day, and I approached it in a businesslike fashion. But as I stood on the stage, gazing out at the seats and at various insignia evocative of my college years, I had to set my jaw and close my eyes to hold back tears. I was suddenly a dam on the verge of breaking. And I indeed broke, 10 minutes later, back in my car. That’s also when I understood the surge of emotion.
I was something of a mess in college. Not on the outside, and not by the usual yardsticks, which are crude ones: I got excellent grades. I wrote frequently for Carolina’s principal student newspaper and was one of its top editors for a while. I landed good summer internships. I was on a path.
But I was often terrified that it would lead nowhere. Or, rather, that I’d stumble badly before I got much further along. My insides were always roiling, and my brain was frequently on fire with doubts about my ability, worries about my stability and a puerile anger about the lack of any assurances in this life. How was I supposed to stay calm in the face of so much uncertainty? I didn’t stride, lope or sprint into my future. I tiptoed toward it, not trusting it for a second.
All of that came back to me in the empty stadium. I remembered it keenly. And when I put that state of mind next to where I was standing, and why I was standing there, and what that meant about how the years had in fact played out — well, I was overwhelmed. I felt foolish for having been such a pessimist. I felt ashamed about the narcissistic component of my dark self-obsession at the time.
But my tears, I soon realized, reflected something else: a mixture of profound gratitude and enormous relief. My nerve-frazzling future was now, three and a half decades later, my richly satisfying past. While there’d been rough patches in my journey from there to here, they’d proved survivable, and the disappointments had paled beside the delights. While I still wasn’t striding — that’s just not in my nature — I also wasn’t tiptoeing, nor was I trembling.
I didn’t share that, not in so many words, with the students I addressed on Sunday. I had different remarks prepared. (If you’re interested, you can read them here, on my website.) But to all the young people who are just finishing one chapter and beginning the next one, I would say:
The unpredictability of what happens next is no curse or taunt. It’s just life, ever maddening, ever mysterious. If you’re frightened, you’re not alone, and a shortfall of confidence is no harbinger of doom. Shoulders back. Chin forward.
You’ll be tripped up by unforeseen obstacles and setbacks. But you’ll also trip across unanticipated bounty and blessings. You’ll quite possibly find yourself someday in a place and role you never expected. You’ll be moved by that.
And you’ll realize that the journey to that point was all the more interesting for its refusal to be scripted, and for its absence of any firm guarantees.”