By Diana G. Mendoza
Educating future engineers and innovators to become entrepreneurs is critical to Guam’s economic development, Filipino-American engineer Diosdado P. Banatao said in his commencement speech before the University of Guam Fanuchanan, which graduated its first batch of engineers on Dec. 19.
“The betterment of the next generation will be enabled by entrepreneurs reaching ideas for innovation, businesspeople who know the dynamics of wealth accumulation, and educators coming from all science and technology disciplines to educate future innovators,” Banatao said in his speech.
“The role of Guam in educating future engineers and innovators to become entrepreneurs is critical to the success of Guam’s economic development.”
He said innovation creates the path to what is new and necessary and being integrated into a world of changes that are complex, competitive and open.
“I would like to congratulate the University of Guam for graduating their first group of engineers,” Banatao said. “I believe that engineering and technology are important components of any country's economic development; innovation and entrepreneurship are two important tools for nation-building.”
UOG conferred degrees to 241 graduates at its Fanuchånan Commencement Ceremony. Among the degree recipients were the first-ever civil engineering graduates to have been educated on island.
The graduates also heard from Class Valedictorian Anthony V. Reyes, who earned a bachelor’s in civil engineering and is the university’s first-ever valedictorian from the School of Engineering.
He shared how school was challenging for him, trying to fit into the standard mold for learning and later finding out he had a learning disability. He credits his progress to great teachers who didn’t see it as a disability.
“These teachers saw me not as a student with a learning disability but as a student with different learning abilities,” he said. “I was a student like everyone but now filled with aspirations, hopes, and dreams.”
Reyes went on to be in the top 10 of his graduating class from Southern High School and to be the Most Distinguished Graduate in his class at Guam Community College, where he earned associate degrees in both pre-architectural drawing and civil engineering technology. He is also a first-generation college graduate in his family.
He closed by encouraging his classmates to not be afraid of the unknown.
“As individuals, we have the propensity to make decisions based on things that we are familiar with and comfortable for us, thus sometimes closing doors of unexplored opportunities for fear of the unknown,” he said. “Do not be blinded by the darkness.”
“I can feel the enthusiasm for this on-campus commencement, and I’d like to say a special thanks to all the people who have made this event possible,” said UOG President Thomas W. Krise in his remarks. “I thank our graduates for learning with us, for challenging us to think in new and different ways, and for your commitment to making the world a better place for all of us and for those who come after us.”
Banatao, who was once called the “benevolent disruptor” by Forbes Magazine because of his innovations to make personal computers smaller, more powerful, and less expensive, is the founder of three companies — Mostron, Chips & Technologies, and S3 — all listed in Nasdaq. He is also an angel investor who founded Tallwood Venture Capital.
Describing himself as a “natural engineer,” he shared his experiences of being in a profession that he said he is passionate about and in having a keen sense of trends and opportunities involving technologies solutions for computing and communications.
“My goal always (is) to make people's lives better and to find it exciting to see people use my innovations and designs,” he said, adding that the process of creation and innovations is not only accumulating knowledge in engineering, design and technology — but also the understanding of markets.
An electrical engineering graduate, full scholar, of the Mapúa Institute of Technology in the Philippines, Banatao was barely 20 when he finished his degree, cum laude. After college, the board exams, and the Philippine Airlines' pilot training school, he immigrated to Seattle, Washington to work for Boeing while enrolled at the University of Washington graduate program for electronics engineering.
But after a year, he decided to go on to the full-time study of engineering at Stanford University, which was in the heart of what is now known as Silicon Valley.
Banatao’s first design job was at National Semiconductor, which was designing a complex microprocessor.
“I continued to enhance my design skills from being a design engineer to managing a group of engineers in designing semiconductor chips," he said.
Banatao's technological innovations included many firsts: developing the first single-chip 16-bit microprocessor-based calculator, the first 10-megabit ethernet media access control and physical layer transceiver chip, the first system logic chipset for the PC/XT and the PC/AT, the pioneering high-speed local bus concept for the PC, and the first Windows graphics accelerator chip."
Later, as a venture capitalist, he funded the first GPS chipset, hard disk controllers, the first noise-canceling chip for mobile phones, and graphics accelerator chips, and many more semiconductor designs for communication.
In his speech, Banatao recalled his humble roots as the son of a rice farmer from a small village in Malabbac in Iguig, Cagayan Valley in northern Luzon, the Philippines. His father finished only high school and had many jobs to buy a bigger plot of land so he could support his children through school.
“To my parents, education was the key for us to be able to live a better life,” he said. His father left for Guam to work in a grocery for seven years. “Guam is an important part of our family history.”
His grand aunt, Mama Oza, was a grade school principal who made him start first grade at age 5. “I remember learning math with the use of 20 bamboo sticks that we brought to school,” he said. After graduating valedictorian from elementary school, Banatao went to the Ateneo de Tuguegarao High School in Cagayan, where he excelled in math and science.
Banatao has three children — Ray, Desi, and Tala — with his wife Maria, and nine grandchildren, who are proud to be Filipino-Americans and who love visiting the Philippines.
In early 2000, his family decided to financially give back to the community by helping his village school to become the first elementary school to have its own computer center, providing scholarships to outstanding students by providing them with college scholarships in California. Through Asian Pacific Fund, his family also provided scholarships to outstanding films focused on STEM.
He has also helped establish, through the Philippine Development Foundation, institutes at UC Berkeley and the University of the Philippines to do research in solving societal issues that help developing countries all over the world.
“My journey from Cagayan Valley to Silicon Valley is arguably remarkable because I did not inherit wealth, land, or business. I achieved my success through the use of my own intellectual capacity and through strong values of hard work, perseverance instilled by my parents, who live by the soil. I can also firmly say that my accomplishments truly had a positive impact on global industries and economies,” Banatao said in his speech.
“I cannot forget that I came from humble beginnings. The legacy I want to leave is simply to be remembered as a good person, first, and engineer, second. I firmly believe that true fortune resides in fortitude, family, and faith.”
He told the graduates, “My story could be your story.” He urged the graduates to “never give up” and to “stay focused on your dreams. It's okay to fail as long as you get up and continue to fight for your dreams. With hard work and determination, you will get there.”