MSU Marawi students graduate away from home
MANILA, Philippines – The all-too familiar graduation march blared from the speakers. Students donned their togas. However, the subtle hint of sadness on the faces of the graduates were too evident not to ignore.
Caught up in an unexpected clash between government troops and the combined forces of the Maute group and the Abu Sayaff group, this year's graduates from the Mindanao State University-Main Campus were forced to celebrate the end of their college life away from the place they consider their second home.
Around 2,000 graduates of MSU's Main Campus marched to receive their diplomas on Thursday, July 13, at the Marawi State University - Iligan Insitute of Technology auditorium.
They are known in the university as the Pagsidan batch, which means "Bringer of Hope" in English. (WATCH: Soldier composes song for conflict-torn Marawi)
One of the graduates is Junaina Sharief, a 20-year student who finished her course BS in Public Administration.
For Sharief, the only woman finalist of a coveted university leadership award, their graduation is historic yet bittersweet.
She reminisced the good memories she had while studying in MSU - Main Campus in Marawi City like the first time she walked its halls and where she met a lot of friends.
“Sobrang nakakalungkot, pero wala naman kaming magagawa. Alam naming safe ‘yung school pero dahil sinabi ng militar na hindi safe na gawin dun ‘yung graduation rites, wala kaming magagawa,” she said.
(It’s sad because we cannot do anything. We know that our school is already safe but the military has the authority)
Despite claims of university President Dr. Habib Macaayong that the Marawi campus is safe, for security reasons and due to the clamor from the parents of the students, the school administration decided to hold this year's commencement exercises in Iligan City.
In the university’s 52-year history of holding graduation rites, this is the first time that they conducted the graduation ceremony elsewehere outside their campus.
The pre-commencement exercises were divided into two groups, one held in MSU-IIT and the other in La Salle Academy, converging at the commencement proper at MSU-IIT in the afternoon.
No permanent address
Graduation gave Sharief a mixed feeling of celebration and struggle. For more than a month, Sharief and her family had been transferring from one temporary home to another.
“I may not be staying in an evacuation center, but like many of us, I still have no permanent address due to the ongoing clash,” she said
After learning about the clash, Sharief and her family stayed with relatives in a town in Lanao Del Sur, far away from the conflict. But eventually, as the fighting moved from one barangay to another, the family moved back to Marawi City.
They haven't really settled back. According to the recent graduate, they are still ready to evacuate when the situation calls for it. Sharief shared that they would still hear bombs explode in nearby areas. From time to time, they would also hear the rattling of bullets piercing through the walls of nearby houses, from dusk to dawn.
“Masaklap pero ‘yun ang katotohanan. Hindi naman sa nasanay na kami pero dahil wala na kaming magawa," she added.
(The whole event is tragic but it’s the truth. It is not that we are already used to it. But we have no choice)
The crisis in Marawi City entered its 55th day on Sunday, July 12. As of Friday, July 14, there have been 111,764 families, or 514,312 people, displaced by the armed conflict in Marawi City. The displaced families come from all 96 barangays of Marawi and from 20 other neighboring municipalities of Lanao del Sur.
Bringer of hope
A youth leader back in her hometown, Sharief said that she is optimistic her fellow graduates would do their fair share in rebuilding their hometown once the war stops.
“I don’t believe na because of what’s happening eh iiwan ko na ang bayan ko. Makakaya namin ito, we will rise. Siguro hindi pa ngayon pero babangon at babangon kami," she said.
(I don't believe that I can leave my hometown just because of the ongoing clash. We can surpass this challenge and we will rise together – maybe not now but a time will come for that)
With their right fists raised up in the air, the graduates sang their school hymn during the graduation ceremony.
"Ating ipagkapuri itong pamantasan. Buhay at pag-ibig skanya'y iaalay. Saan man naroon, bigyang karangalan," the graduates sang.
(Let us praise our university. Let us offer our life and love. Wherever we are, let us bring honor to our university)
For Sharief and the graduates of MSU-Main, the song took a whole new meaning as they pledge to stay true to their batch's name – Pagsidan – and help bring back hope to their crisis-hit city. – with reports from Clyde Villanueva/Rappler.com
Clyde Villanueva is a Rappler intern