education in the Philippines

#Sablay2020: What graduation from home feels like for UP students

Niña Diño
The virtual ceremony fills the students with mixed emotions. Left without a choice, they will watch their own graduation unfold from a screen at home

It’s the time of the year again, but there’s a big difference.

The University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman will hold its graduation rites on Sunday, July 26. It is the 109th commencement exercises but the very first to be held online because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The virtual ceremony filled the students with mixed emotions. Left without a choice, they will watch their own graduation unfold from a screen at home. 

In the previous years, thousands of graduates would gather at the University amphitheater for their long-awaited graduation ceremony, but the pandemic has shifted the scenes for now. 

Forgoing a tradition

Like many of his colleagues, Joshua Ambrosio, the valedictorian of UP Diliman’s graduating batch, is disappointed that he will not be able to march, shift his sablay, or take pictures with the symbolic sunflowers along University Avenue on Sunday. 

However, with the risks and restrictions posed by SARS-CoV-2, Ambrosio believed that the physical celebration could wait. 

“Gathering over 2,000 people in one place in the middle of a worsening pandemic is more than dangerous – it’s offensive to both the front liners who are putting their lives at risk to fight this disease, and the families of those affected,” he said.

UP Diliman will confer degrees on 3,778 candidates. A total of 302 graduates will receive the Latin distinction of magna cum laude while 682 will graduate cum laude. 

Despite the lack of a physical ceremony, UP Diliman strived to honor its graduates by planting 22,000 sunflower seeds along University Avenue last May. These have since bloomed in time for the graduation season. 

The university also organized watch parties for each college’s recognition rites on Zoom, and featured those with top honors in a video dubbed “Meet the Summas.” 

“UP has really given a lot of recognition to what I have achieved, from having photoshoots to interviews,” said Beatrice Reyes, a graduating summa cum laude student from the BS Biology program. 

Administrators have been making efforts to adapt to the paradigm shift brought about by the pandemic in order to duly recognize the graduates this year.

Virtual ceremony presents problems

However, the graduating Iskos and Iskas are still hoping for a traditional ceremony when the time is right. 

Students have expressed concern that the ‘new reality’ disproportionately affected their co-graduates who did not have the means to attend a virtual graduation. 

More than 5,600 UP students, some of whom are graduating students, do not have the technology to cope with online learning or access virtual events. 

Many do not have laptops or mobile devices, which are integral to be able to join the livestream for Sunday’s commencement exercises. 

Chairperson of the UP Diliman University Student Council Sean Thakur, shared that once the situation permits, he hoped that the university can conduct a physical event to properly send off the graduates and celebrate their hard-earned degrees. 

“Internet and technology requirements to join the online event will definitely present concerns for some,” he said.

As graduation is a cherished milestone for students, many are looking forward to a physical send-off when the circumstances and government rules permit.

Call to serve the country

“We can all celebrate graduation by using all the lessons we’ve learned to serve, especially during times like this. We are being called to work together in our different fields to give the nation, the Filipino people, what they truly deserve. Because at the end of the day, the experiences and lessons gained from our stay in UP are preparing us to take on the greater challenges ahead,” said Reyes.

Set to become graduates of the country’s state university on Sunday, the ceremony’s theme “Maglingkod, Magmalasakit, Manindigan” which, according to UP, calls on the Class of 2020 “to serve the country with empathy and conviction so that excellence, rights, and justice may prevail.”

“It pays tribute to the frontliners and those who lost their lives to COVID-19 and is also a protest against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and Congress’ vote to not renew ABS-CBN’s franchise,” UP said in a statement on Wednesday, July 22.

It added that only key participants would be present at the university during the ceremony, which would be made available online, to comply with health and safety protocols.

Determined to uphold honor and excellence even after graduation, College of Fine Arts valedictorian Nina Morales said she would pay back to serve the country, especially in light of the pandemic. 

“I am graduating from the College of Fine Arts with so much pride, because now, people are starting to see the role of art and design in building narratives and creating spaces that exclude no one during this global crisis,” Morales shared.

Indeed, this year’s graduation is far from usual. But the blooming sunflowers remain a constant symbol of hope for UP students, reminding them that UP Diliman will continue to fight even in uncertain times. –