A Commencement Beyond Reach
Held at every end of the academic year, celebratory traditions have continued to be abound in educational institutions, filling the venues with pompous tunes and reinforcing the achievements of learners that possess dignity and the absolute right to education. As such, the presence of the celebrants and their loved ones are expected—a presence that demands actual, physical interaction imbued by the joy of having finished senior year. In the case of XU, among other colleges and universities, the 81st Commencement Exercises would have been so before March ended, if not for the wrath of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that forced the Class of 2020 apart.
…used to be in nobody’s minds
By the start of 2020, Jameson Lim (BSCE ‘20) had formed a lot of images on “what it would truly be like to experience the Commencement Exercises.” Citing the excitement from his peers in his own college, he adds that the big event that was supposed to happen “was the most talked about topic in our classes.”
Joshua Bactong (BSCS ‘20) held the same anticipation as a Computer Studies graduate. “The commencement exercise is more than just a ceremony,” he shares. “It is a special moment wherein we are proud of our achievements and the completion of our degrees.”
Aside from sentiments, January had also witnessed a decision made by the Board of Trustees. Vice President for Higher Education (VPHED) Juliet Q. Dalagan, PhD informed in OVPHED Memorandum No. 1920–33 that “during its regular meeting on Dec. 7, 2019, the Board has approved to invite Ms. Carina C. Dayondon (BSBM ‘04) as the Commencement Speaker.” A second lieutenant of the Philippine Coast Guard, Dayondon has also been the first Filipina to scale the World’s Seven Summits.
In February, Dalagan released another memorandum on the official schedule of the Exercises, further putting the event in its supposed place. Instead of the usual three-day period—the last two allotted for the actual ceremonies in two batches—it was changed to two days. Only one afternoon was plotted down for the hooding ceremony, awarding of medals, and distribution of diplomas for all schools and colleges.
…began to be a manifested reality
Several weeks later, the complications of the public health emergency brought by COVID-19 prompted University President Fr. Roberto C. Yap, SJ to postpone all graduation and commissioning ceremonies except for the Kinder Moving-Up Ceremony, as promulgated in Memorandum No. U1920-065. This decision was in connection to the Department of Health’s (DOH) advisory against “attending, participating in, and organizing events that draw a huge number of attendees” and recommendations of canceling “planned big events or mass gatherings until further notice.”
On the same day, Dalagan, in OVPHED Memorandum No. 1920–39, went over the specifics on what shall be done in lieu of the Exercises. This included the declaration of all candidates for graduation as “Graduates of Xavier Ateneo” by March 21, the announcement of honorees and awardees through a separate memorandum from Yap, the claiming of medals and copies of credentials on a future date, and the participation of the Class of 2020 to either next year’s ceremony or that of Dr. Jose P. Rizal School of Medicine’s (JPRSM), tentatively scheduled on June 20.
On April 6, Yap released Memorandum No. U1920-075, listing down the honorees and the sole Religious Studies Awardee. The list was formed with the help of the Committee of Graduation Honors headed by Charity Rose Pagara. Only one was conferred summa cum laude, seven were conferred magna cum laude, and 18 were conferred cum laude. More than a month later, on May 8, the official 2020 graduates of XU were finally declared on the official University website.
…is and is not really the end
Given the magnitude of the disease, which, as of press time, is of national/local concern, the 81st Commencement Exercises’ state of limbo was understood by the graduates. “At first, I did not know what I really felt because somehow, I was still very optimistic that the pandemic would just pass by,” Lim recalls. “However, […] the pandemic was not getting better. […] The excitement for the Commencement Exercises slowly turned into fear on what [sic] would happen to the city. […] Many questions circled around my mind, but never was I angry or upset that the Commencement Exercises was postponed, because there really is no one to blame for this pandemic. I believe it was a very reasonable decision and action by Xavier University to postpone our Commencement Exercises for the safety of all.”
Lim adds that the present-day setting does not change the fact that they have successfully completed their higher education. “The graduating class must come to realize that we have finally reached our dream—the dream of completing higher education, and nearing the life of being a professional.”
Aage Maneja (ABHist ‘20) from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) equally thinks that, despite preferring the tangible live rites to recognize the efforts of everyone involved in the graduates’ education, the postponement is “for the best given the period of uncertainty we’re living in.” He also emphasizes that pushing on with the ceremonies isn’t the best move the institution can make. “We have to be cautious for everyone’s safety,” he urges.
However, Maneja holds an amount of expectation. “Hopefully, when the situation becomes better and measures are relaxed,” he says, “I hope that the University pushes through with the ceremonies. […] Not right now, but we will.”
Anisah Castrodes (BSBA ‘20), from the School of Business and Management (SBM), similarly yearns to have their final walk in school in the near future, which she considers as the most painful “almost”.
Dalagan reiterates that this year’s ceremony is still under the status of postponed. “There is no definite date yet since everything is still uncertain right now,” she reveals. However, Dalagan asserts that once her office has made a decision, the graduating class will be kept posted.
Bactong, on the other hand, suggests the possibility of an online ceremony for their batch. “It would be better to have at least an online commencement exercise just like the other schools, so that we could feel a little bit proud of our achievements and completion of our degree.” Nevertheless, Bactong is also in favor of the possibility of joining the Class of 2021 in their exercises next March.
The University community cannot deny that a significant annual event like graduation is on the edge and at risk of falling without grace. The times have likewise told the Alma Mater that what she and her children are used to having, traditions included, might be set aside for now. She can choose to adapt, yes—change what needs to be changed, retain what can be retained—but more importantly, she has to wait for the awaited resolution. Whether or not the light will be green is up to the world around her—and whatever her outcome, she has to convince her growing family, including those who have grown independent by March, that it is the right thing.C