Empowerment – Taking Charge | A Graduation Message

Artist Teresita Fernandez once said, You don’t need a lot of friends or curators or patrons or a huge following, just a few that really believe in you.

Graduates of all vocations, yet particularly those of the arts, don’t wait for one or two years to truly own your life, empower yourselves now!  Whether it is your fashion design sensibility, your knowledge in making patterns, your ability to write, cook, paint or dance.  Be empowered to celebrate yourself beyond your birthday, anniversary or graduation day and that might just be the right ingredient for you to find happiness on top of your successful career!

Since it is graduation season and many words of wisdom are being shared worldwide with fellow graduates as we speak, I, Si Jie Loo, visual and performing artist, am compelled to write down a word or two to reflect, this time as a recent graduate.

To many college grads, life after graduation is a waiting game: Yes, we are told that we are ready to conquer the world with our liberal arts and college education, but we also know that once we are out in the real world, we are at the bottom of the ‘food chain’.

We program ourselves into this waiting game: let’s work for a year or two, see if there are exciting promotions at the workplace, then maybe apply to grad schools. We are apt to endure the boredom of workplace, out-of-balance lifestyle, difficult relationships with colleagues or supervisors because we are only doing this for a year or two; We succumb to unfair terms of employment, living arrangements, unhealthy social habits in exchange of friendships and so-called long term career goals, ‘the end game’, because it is just for another year or two.

But what exactly is the ‘end game’?

Say we get into grad school, finish grad school, find a higher pay job, pay our loans back, start a family, is that where we suppose to feel the happiest?

Many of my peers are very good at applications, in fact our society is very good at training us for applications. We have no problem getting into a prestigious program, conference, positions to take advantage of the perks of traveling, learning another language, meeting people from around the world and perhaps show off these achievements on our LinkedIn profile and Facebook timelines. But all of this are merely strategies to position ourselves for the next gig, the next big break, the next relocation– the glamor.

Many of us still end up asking, “why am I here?” or “Is this what I really want?” even as we obtain that golden opportunity. What we do know is we are looking for that road to happiness.

Will financial security or owning a house makes us happy? YES! Is the ability to help out in our family a key to happiness? of course! But how do we get there? I agree that having financial security is very empowering: it allows us to travel, to consume all the beautiful things in the world, to give, to support a cause. Empowerment brings happiness. But what empowers us other than $$$?

For starters, the passive waiting does not empower me. Getting a job or a higher degree may be empowering at first, but it starts to feel draining when many passive roles (receiving instructions) we hold pile up and prevent us from being at our best. It is the active pursue of opportunities that showcase my strength and abilities empowers me, even if $$$ is not in the equation. I was proud of myself when, despite couldn’t contribute monetarily for my three younger siblings’ education, I was able to guide and propel them to the scholarships and opportunities they deserve to further their studies in colleges abroad.

Recently, I felt empowered taking charge of my own art exhibition; I made curatorial decisions, planned my own social media postings, told my story about the individual artwork on the labels and prepared the entertainment programs during the opening. I felt empowered and happy because I get to do what I love, and my community from different circles came together to witness that. I have not felt that way since my wedding celebrations last year, when friends and families from all around the world came to celebrate my achievements: the choice of bridal dress, the best men and best ladies attires, the theme, the decorations, the colors, the food and most of all on getting married. Unsurprisingly, I find parallels between planning a wedding to celebrate love and planning an art exhibition to celebrate my other love that is Art–They all involved a bunch of people coming together. Save to say that this act of coming together is a common practice across professional fields and humanity.

A friend who is a film producer and director recently described what makes her happy, “it is working together, appreciating each other’s skills and intellects, and collectively put a product of our passion out there to the world, even if the project barely pays.”

Another friend speak of the importance of self-reflection, “when we are in a community, we get to voice out our reflections comfortably with one another, when we are alone, all we do is work and get use to the routine, that we forget to reflect how are we feeling to anyone or ourselves.”

So… *cough*


As you graduate today and go out to a new environment, know that you will miss the community that you grow to love and feel at home with. Know that you will be lonely at times in the world when you can’t speak your heart to a friend who really knows you. Know that you are talented, and even though you feel intimidated by superiors and the hierarchical systems of each playing fields, you still own your strengths and ability to grow as a human being.

Know that you have the power to reach out and form your new community. Know that you have the ability to identify people who are genuine, kind and equally as talented and like-minded as you (they might not be of the same professions) even though they may be hard to find at first. Know that people will come together and celebrate happy moments with you when you personally take charge and make a point to do that!

Congratulations, graduates!  May your journey be of empowerment.