Alex Honnold

There’s a documentary that you ought to watch. It’s terrifying. It will make your palms sweat. It’s a true story horror film that’s impossible to fathom. It’s death-defying.

Free Solo is the title of the 1-hour, 40-minute film (by National Geographic) and it’s a story of how one man escaped death by climbing one of the planet’s most incredible of rock formations: El Capitan.

Alex Honnold is the real-life actor and climber of this incredible film that won the “Best Documentary Feature” in the recent 91st Academy Awards.

The 34-year-old Honnold did not just climb the 3,000-foot rock formation nicknamed “El Cap,” he climbed it from base to summit without the use of any rope. Yes, climbing the granite mountain with his bare hands.

One slip, one false grip, one momentary lapse of judgement and he could have easily fallen.

But Alex Honnold survived. And the documentary Free Solo was made to record his preparation, anxieties, injuries (leading to the climb) and his actual nerve-wracking climb.

My best friends Dr. Ronald Eullaran and James Co, together with Raycia and Jewel and their children, visited the Yosemite National Park a couple of months ago. When I asked about El Capitan, they were in awe talking about the 90-degrees-steep, all-granite, 914-meter-tall rock monolith.

Rock climbing is a popular sport around the world. There’s indoor wall-climbing (Metro Sports Center, among others, has a facility). There’s outdoor adventure climbing. Here in Cebu, there are a good number of rock climbers who love the thrill of walking vertically. I’ve read about Cantabaco in Toledo City.

Which brings me back to “Free Solo.” The risk of slipping and falling in a near-vertical climb is extremely high. And safety is the number one goal of every rock climber.

Not Alex Honnold. Never mind if he was repeatedly told that he could die, he trained his mind and body to be positive and to perfect the El Capital climb.

So here’s the good and the bad of the documentary. It’s a film that’s extremely good and thrilling (scoring a 97% rating in the Rotten Tomatoes scorecard). The bad part? People will be inspired to follow Alex Honnold and climb “free solo.”

Richard Lawson, a writer for Vanity Fair, said in his review of the film: “I left the theater invigorated and rattled, in awe of this charismatic man’s accomplishment but scared that it will inspire others to attempt the same…”

My advice? Watch the documentary. But don’t ever, ever attempt to climb without that rope, harness, helmet and safety gear.

Chance favors the prepared

My best friend Dr. Ronald Eullaran’s favorite saying is this: “Chance favors the prepared.” Pause for a moment and think about those four words. Chance favors the prepared.

This is the story of Jeremy Lin. You think he’s a one-shot wonder, someone who was a nobody and, due to a lucky break, was just fortunate to become the world’s newest superstar? No. All his life, Jeremy Lin prepared for that moment. That “Chance,” that one opportunity to shine, was never presented to him before. Before college, he applied to join the best basketball universities in America. UCLA. Stanford. UC, Berkley. He was turned down. He ended up in Harvard. (Not bad!)

After Harvard, he sent his resume to fulfill a lifelong dream: becoming an NBA player. He submitted his credentials to eight NBA squads. All eight said, “Sorry, kid, you’re not good enough.”

Finally, Jeremy did enter the league and joined the Golden State Warriors. He wasn’t golden there; he was a golden bench-warmer — asked to sit down and lay golden eggs on the bench. Next, he got transferred to the New York Knicks where, sleeping in his friend’s couch, he was weeks away from being cut.

Then, the moment he’d been waiting for all his life appeared. Many call it “lucky break.” Some say its “opportunity” or “good fortune” or a “stroke of luck.” It was Jeremy Lin’s chance. A couple of players from the Knicks got injured. Having few options — and in desperation after their team lost 11 of their last 13 games — coach Mike D’Antoni called the forever-sitting Jeremy Lin to play ball.

Game One, he scored 25 points. Game 2, he scored another 28 points. Against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, he shot 38. In Jeremy’s first seven games with NY, they were 7-0. From a win-loss record of 8-15, they climbed to 15-all. In the process, Lin became the NBA’s first-ever player to score at least 20 points and pass for seven or more assists in each of his first five starts. Even Michael Jordan couldn’t achieve that!

Of course, as expected, New York has slipped in their last few games, including a loss yesterday to Dallas. Still, they’re a respectable 18-20 today; having won 10 and lost five since Lin joined.

Lin is the world’s super-hero. Chance? Swerte? Luck? Yes. Of course. Everybody who’s good needs good luck. And, true enough, many who are good are luckier. But remember this: Chance favors the prepared. All his life, Jeremy prepared for the moment. In high school, he averaged 15 points per game. In college at Harvard and while studying the difficult Economics course, he averaged 16 PPG in his senior year.

Jeremy Lin is not surprised at his success — like we all are — because he prepared for it.

What does this tell us, ordinary mortals? Prepare. Whatever it is you want to pursue in life — sports-related or work-related or school-related or any dream that you own in life — be ready. Your opportunity will come. Maybe it hasn’t. It possibly won’t be today, next Friday, or this April. But it will come. And, when it does, be ready.

As inspiration to all of us, here are a few quotations…

“The will to prepare is as important as the will to win.” – Bud Wilkinson

“Don’t go to the fishpond without a net.” ~ Japanese Proverb

“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” ~ Henry Ford

“Talent alone won’t make you a success. Neither will being in the right place at the right time, unless you are ready. The most important question is: ‘Are your ready?’” – Johnny Carson

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” ~ Louis Pasteur

“The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“Today’s preparation determines tomorrow’s achievement.”

“It is better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.” – Whitney Young

“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

Manny V. Pangilian Commencement Address

School of Humanities & School of Social Sciences?Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City? 4:00 p.m., Saturday, 27th March 2010

Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat. I want to thank Father Ben and the Ateneo community for the honor of this doctorate degree. And congratulations to our Law School for having 7 of the 11 – ten topnotchers – in the recent bar exams!

Father Nebres, Father Magadia, trustees, faculty and staff, parents and siblings, graduates of 2010 – many congratulations. Thank you so much for this gift of fellowship with the sesquicentennial class. You‘ve earned your diploma from a great learning institution, and you have every right to be proud. I have wracked my mind and heart with what I should say today. The weeks of fear and worry at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight, and sleep. And I‘ve asked myself, what I wish I had known at my own graduation day 44 years ago.

The sad truth is that I don‘t even remember who the speaker was at my graduation, or a single word that was said. So I begin these remarks with the expectation that I will soon be forgotten. I‘ve been cautioned that on an occasion as this, graduates are only thinking one of the following thoughts: one – I hope these ceremonies finish soon because I can‘t wait to take my vacation. Two – inspire me please. There aren‘t too many doing that these days. Three – If MVP stops talking before I stop listening, I‘ll give him a big applause. Four –If you hand out free tickets to the Justin Timberlake concert tonight, we‘d give you a standing ovation. Yes, I’m happy to say that Smart will be giving away four free tickets right after this ceremony! Now that you‘ve been sufficiently humored and bribed, let me earn my honorary degree, and turn thoughtful and traditional. More to do, more to achieve I come here today with the thought that despite what may seem to be the culmination of a successful life with this honorary degree, there‘s still much to do. I come to say that one‘s title, even an honor like this, says little about how well one‘s life has been led –that no matter how much you‘ve done, or how successful you‘ve been, there‘s always more to learn, more to do, more to accomplish. So I want to say to all of you, that despite your remarkable achievement, you too cannot rest on your laurels.

Some graduating classes in the past have marched into this place in times of peace and progress. In those easy times, we could have called on you to keep things merely going, and not screw things up. But we‘re gathered here at a time of trial and transition, not only for this country but also for the world. Our economy slowed down last year because of a global recession – the result, in part, of greed and irresponsibility that rippled out from Wall Street. We continue to spend beyond our means. We avoid making the tough, unpopular choices. And in 44 days, we will elect a new set of national and local leaders. For all of you, these challenges are felt now in more immediate and personal terms. You will soon be looking for a job – struggling to figure out which career makes sense in this economy of ours. Maybe you have loans, and are worried how you‘ll pay them down. Maybe you‘ve got a family to help. Maybe you‘re asking how your siblings can have an Ateneo education like you had. Against these issues, you may be tempted to fall back on the more visible markers of success — by chasing the usual brass rings. How much money you make, a fancy title or a nice car. Being on the roster of the ?rich and famous (or the ?most invited) guest list. But the choice of form over substance, fame over character, short-term gain over long-term goal is precisely what your generation needs to end.

Defining success
Coming from the Ateneo, I know that the pressure to succeed is immense. In fact, your biggest liability is the need to succeed. And your biggest fear must be the fear of failure. But first, let me define what success is. Let me tell you, money‘s pretty cool. I‘m not going to stand here and tell you that‘s it‘s not about money, because money is sweet. I like money. It‘s good for buying companies and things – and for putting up a few buildings here and there for Ateneo. But having a lot of money does not totally make you a successful person. What you want is both money and meaning. You want your life and your career to be meaningful. Because meaning is what brings real richness to your life, to be surrounded by people you can truly work with – because you trust and treasure them, and they cherish you in return. That‘s when you‘re really rich, that‘s when you really succeed.

Fear of failure
Let me now deal with failure. On this wonderful day when you stand on the threshold of what is called ?real life, it is – ironically – the best time to talk about failure. Nobody‘s life is seamless or smooth. We all stumble. We all have setbacks. If things go wrong, you hit a dead end – as you will, many times in your life – it‘s just life‘s way of saying – time to change course. Now I cannot tell you that failure is fun. Periods of failure in my life were dark ones. I‘ve had a lot of success. But I‘ve had a lot of failures. I‘ve looked good. I‘ve looked bad. I‘ve been praised and criticized. And it hurt like hell. But my mistakes have been necessary. I had no idea how far the tunnel of failure extended. And any light at the end of it seemed more hope than reality.

Now let me tell you about some of my biggest failures.
In 1995, first pacific invested in telecommunications in India at a time when the industry there was just getting started. Under the laws of India, foreign investors are allowed to own not more than 49% of a local telco. So we invited an Indian partner to hold the 51% majority. You all know how capital intensive the telco business is. To our utmost regret, our partner could not provide the counterpart capital. The relationship soured, and we had to sell the business. Since then, India‘s telecoms industry has grown exponentially. So we lost significant value by divesting. If we had managed to retain this business, I would not need to make a living giving graduation speeches. But I have had personal failures as well.
I will now let you in on a well-kept secret. I was in 4th year high school in San Beda College, and was in contention to be valedictorian that year. It was an open secret that majority of my classmates were cheating –changing answers from true to false, ironically, in our religion exams. I felt I had to do the same to protect my grades. Several of us were caught – pero ako ang pinag-initan. I knew I was wrong, and deserved to be punished. Indeed, San Beda stripped me of all my honors. Finally, with the suspicion about rampant cheating, I was asked by the principal to name names. I refused. I disappointed my parents deeply. It took many years for the pain and bitterness to heal. Several years ago, I thought it was time to free myself from the rancor and memory of that experience. What better proof of reconciliation with San Beda than the 3 NCAA championships for the Red Lions?

Failure taught me lessons about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had imagined: I also found out that I had parents whose value was truly priceless. The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you can be secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life, my career and, most importantly, my moral values. So graduates, always remember this – success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts. MVP‘s lessons for life as I come near the end of my remarks, let me wrap up with some old-fashioned, feel-good graduation advice:

First, hug and kiss those who helped get you to this day – parents, grandparents, friends, teachers. If you’re too shy or uptight to do that, please do the old fashioned handshake thing. But I recommend a hug and a kiss. Don’t let the sun go down today without saying thank you to someone.

Second, don’t forget that you have a body under your toga. Take good care of it. Engage in sports. It‘s fun, and it is a laboratory for victory and adversity. How an athlete celebrates his triumphs, or overcomes defeat or injury, how he deals with a hostile crowd or a critical media, reflects what life is all about. Indeed, sports offers a richness all its own – it is a metaphor for life.

Third, remember you have brains under that mortarboard. You‘ve been running it like crazy for four years, whining about all the books you’ve had to read, the papers you’ve had to write, the tests you’ve had to take. Yet thanks to that versatile, gigabyte hard-drive of yours, and a million Starbucks cups, you made it today.

Fourth, give one peso for every ten you earn. I saw my mother pass away 8 years ago, and she left this world without anything. Which means you’re not the owner of what you think you own – you’re only a steward, because everything‘s on loan. So pass some of it on. If you don’t, government will just take it anyway.

As today‘s door closes softly between us, those are my parting words. But there will be other partings and other last words in your lives. But today will not be complete without acknowledging what Father Ben has done for the Ateneo these past 17 years as the university‘s longest serving president – the new Loyola Schools, all the new buildings, the UAAP championships and the bonfires. It has been a pleasure working with him. Thank you so much Father Ben.

I do have one last word for you, if I may. This was a gift when I graduated at the age of 19 – the gift of friends with whom I sat on graduation day, who remain my friends for life. So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you will recall those of Seneca, one of the old Romans i met in search of ancient wisdom: ?as is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters. I will now let you go. Through God‘s providence, may each of you travel well that precious journey called life. And may your future be worthy of your dreams. My deepest thanks for the courtesy and honor you all have shared with me. Many congratulations. God bless you all. Good day and good life.

Today, Jack Mendez turns 45

He is my coach. My mentor. My Sunday-lunch drinking buddy. He is funny. Wise. Has street-smarts. He’s rich, was poor, is God-loving and forever generous. He’s a family man, a Rotarian, a disciplinarian.

Jacinto Villarosa Mendez was born on August 17, 1931. Which makes him, today, 45 years old, right? Right. Because never mind the math, it was this morning 45 years ago–on March 4, 1965–when he established what has endured as his legacy: the Centurion Security Agency, Inc.

Today, the company that owns .45-caliber pistols commemorates its Year No. 45. How many homegrown Cebu companies can claim this longevity?

Few. That’s because few people are like Jack Mendez. He wasn’t supposed to succeed. Born poor, he was raised poor. In elementary, he endured kilometers of walking on dirt roads to attend school. In college at the USC, he could barely afford to buy textbooks. When he stepped inside the library, he wore borrowed pants and, to support his studies, he mopped floors in exchange for free lodging.

Manny Pacquiao? Jack Mendez was the same: he lifted wood at the pier as kargador. And, on his final year at the USC law school, his father, a firewood dealer, decided that his brothers and sisters would stop school to allow him to graduate.

After passing the bar exams, he did what no other brand-new lawyer has possibly ever done: he became a security guard. While assigned at a furniture company in Manila where snakes crawled the premises at night, he squatted on table tops.

Yet, he endured. He persevered. He did not let his sorry state bruise his fate. Jack’s first job was with the SSS. Despite a stable job and lofty position as division head of the Claims and Benefits branch, he dreamed beyond the Social Security System. He longed to become an entrepreneur and daydreamed of establishing his own security business.

March 4, 1965. That was the moment. He named the business “Centurion.” As he envisioned, the start-up prospered. And the reason is simple: The owner was a former security guard. Who better to train and manage blue guards than a former security man himself? He understood the guard’s suffering of sleepless nights and the loneliness of working everyday, seven days from Thursdays to Wednesdays, including Christmas and Holy Week.

In those mid-1960s, guards were perceived to be “notorious” and “shady.” He aimed to change that stereotype into one where people would respect security personnel who were courteous, qualified and well-trained.

He did that. From one solitary guard when he started nearly half a century ago, the firm reached a peak of 1,500-strong men and women, back when they operated a second agency, Mensa (or Mendez Security Agency).

The company motto? It remains as enduring today as it was in 1965: “The Best Pay from the Best of Companies through the Best Service.”

True enough, CSAI became the best: 10 times it was adjudged the “Best Security Agency for Region 7” and, three times, it was awarded the “Most Outstanding Private Security Agency” of the Philippines.

Why, you ask, this story of Atty. Mendez on these back pages? Because, like metaphors, life and sports are alike. Difficulties? Challenges? Adversity? Are these not present both in our daily lives and in the lives of athletes?

The story of Jack is motivating. Be you an athlete or a non-sportsman, it defines what is one of the most powerful teachings in this whole universe: You. Can. Do. It.

For here’s the formula of life employed by Jack Mendez, now 78 years young: “Hardships are not meant to make us bitter.… but better.”

One more lesson he imparts? Laugh. Yes. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.     Laugh. Out loud.    Win or lose, shout ha-ha-ha-ha. For life, and sports, is a struggle. But if you laugh at your own foibles and chuckle when problems arise, you’ll often succeed.

And so today, to the original Centurion, to my inspiration, to my father-in-law: Sir, I salute you.

Jasmin, John (back), Malu and Jack Mendez, and Atty. Michelle Palmares

Me’Anne Solomon

“The Scariest Alphabet Letter Many Don’t Want To See,” an article I wrote in July 12, 2005…

Lance Armstrong owned a $1 million Texan home and a French villa with a ravishing blond girlfriend swimming in its pool. He pedaled home the World Championship crown; sprinted first to snatch Tour de France stage victories. He was such a European celebrity that he couldn’t walk down Paris without getting swarmed. He was the world’s No.1 cyclist.

Then it struck… Mary Anne Alcordo-Solomon couldn’t have enjoyed life better. With husband Tito, she spent lots of hours with her teeners Ma-ann, 18, and Mikey, 16. For eight years, she was one of the most active at the Rotary club, rising to the top spot as the district secretary. Back in the office, she owned and managed the billboard giant Alcordo Signs, one of the largest outside Manila.

Son and Father

Once, there was a teenager who lived alone with his father. The two owned a special relationship. Even though the son never got to play basketball—he was always on the bench—his father never stopped cheering from the stands, never missed a game.

This young man was the smallest of his class when he entered high school. But his father continued not only to encourage him, but also made it clear that he didn’t have to play ball if he wanted to stop.

Yet the boy loved basketball. So he decided to hang in there, determined to try his best at every practice, and perhaps get to play when he turned senior. All through high school he never missed a practice, nor a game, but remained a bench warmer all four seasons. His faithful father was always in the stands with words of encouragement for him.

The Role of the Father

Thanks to Dr. Vic Verallo, my mentor in running, for sharing this most profound and meaningful article about fatherhood. (These two stories are true.)


Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder.

Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was Capone’s lawyer for a good reason. Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends, as well. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of th e conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block.

You Have To Watch This

I don’t follow American Idol (much less, Britain’s Got Talent) and rarely, if ever, post non-sports related material on this website. But this has to be one of the most inspiring Don’t-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Cover stories. As of 10 a.m. (RP time), Susan Boyle has generated nearly 20 million YouTube hits in less than five days! Click here.

Dick and Rick Hoyt

One of the most inspiring stories I’ve read is the one of the father-and-son tandem of Dick and Rick Hoyt. Believe me, after reading their story and watching the video below, you’re sure to emerge either of the following: inspired, awakened, you’re wiping tears off your cheeks, you’re stirred off your chair, you want to hug your son or daughter or mom or dad, you’ll want to shout, “IT’S GREAT TO BE ALIVE!”First, read this article “Strongest Dad in the World,” written by one of the best American sportswriters, Rick Reilly (of Sports Illustrated). Then, watch this video…