Not a Lost March: A Tribute to ‘Corona’ Graduates

I heard the call of home from more than a thousand miles away.

I went home to my alma mater, Sindangan National High School, to address its 2019 graduands. That was a year ago, but it remains one of the most meaningful journeys I have ever made.

As I sat among school officials and dignitaries onstage overlooking more than five hundred graduating students in their pristine, white gowns and listening to the lengthy speeches, I remembered my own graduation ceremony in the same place two decades ago.

Graduating from high school meant everything to me; but more so, to my parents. For them, it was a relief that four years of worrying about school fees had come to an end. It was the day when my parents thought I was ready for the world of work. Yes, work. For a few months after graduation I spent my time working in a fish market in Las Piñas, cleaning tables at a fast-food restaurant, or running office errands.

My heart goes out to the millions of Filipino youth who, because of the coronavirus pandemic, have been denied the opportunity to sport their graduation togas and march to the solemn strains of graduation music to receive their certificates.

The global health crisis has been a heavy blow for many of this year’s graduates. Their what-I-want-to-be-after-graduation reveries have been sadly abridged. Because of the rigid implementation of social distancing, there are no graduation ‘groupies’ to keep for posterity.

I fondly recall my high school memories while addressing the Class of 2019 of my high school alma mater. ©Sugod Marcher

Nonetheless, several innovative schools have managed to make the graduation dream come true through ‘cyber-graduation’. Bizarre but inventive, one school even used robots with students’ faces projected on tablets so that those who graduated remotely could be ‘in the moment.’

Meanwhile, some university graduations are still postponed indefinitely. How about public schools that did not have and still do not have the means to migrate from physical to virtual graduation? Or perhaps a more sensible question would be: What happens to the graduates from poor families that are badly hit by community lockdowns?

While the calling off of actual commencement ceremonies has upset many hapless graduates in general, the situation may have exacerbated the anxiety of public school students, who have yet to find the means to continue their college education, or seek employment, or both; especially now that freedom of movement is restricted.

Graduation is more than just wearing a toga or throwing a cap in the air. The occasion is a rite of passage, thus called ‘commencement’ –– the beginning of new life. Yet, what new life awaits our graduates in the new normal?

I may have been indigent when I finished high school, but I at least had the freedom to move; to leave my hometown, albeit in a tired, rust-gold cargo boat, and chase my dream; to find my niche in life – many miles away.

This is my only high school graduation picture, retrieved from a classmate’s old photo album. I never had my own graduation photos as keepsake. My mom thought that borrowing a camera, buying negatives, and developing the images were non-essentials.

Standing before a crowd of hopefuls, I closed my speech with a challenge to the graduates of my former school:

“Graduates, let ‘resilience’ be your watchword. Pursue your dreams. If you have the passion for learning, if you have a strong work ethic, and if you set yourself realistic goals, you will surprise yourself – you will reach unimagined places.”

I am not sure if my message still makes sense to them since the enforcement of community quarantine. My fervent wish for them and this year’s graduates is to withstand the impact of distance and immobility.

Their graduation is, after all, not a lost march. It is a march towards the new normal.

It delights my heart to see my fourth-year high school adviser and now principal, Mrs. Noralyn Relampagos – Sabanal (third from right). Likewise, some of my closest high school classmates, who are professionals themselves, give me moral support (first to sixth from left). A few of them are now teaching in my former school.

[Entry 329, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Marvin M. Enderes finished Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Secondary Education Major in English cum laude at the Philippine Normal University Manila, which also bestowed him the Graciano Lopez Jaena Award in Journalism in 2003. He was former editor-in-chief of the university’s student periodical, The TORCH Publications. He currently teaches Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education, First Language English and Literature in English at Macau Anglican College, Macau. He received the International Educator Award of Excellence and Influential Teacher of the Year award from the United Federation of Filipino–American Educators in 2018 and 2019, respectively. He loves to cook and travel.

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