F2F Graduation at last, on the 3rd year of the Pandemic
For the first time since the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic almost three years ago, graduates from schools far and wide are now overwhelmed with excitement to walk up the stage and physically receive their diplomas from their school heads. They come face to face with their mentors or teachers and their classmates whom they only see on the screen of their electronic gadgets in the past years of virtual classes. All these amidst successive lockdowns, social distancing, physical, mental and financial hardships, illness, emotional challenges and setbacks. Often, these conditions, especially at the start of the Pandemic, were distressing for the fragile young minds still trying to figure out the meaning of the harsh realities around them during these unusual times. That year, 2020, will be remembered as one of the most challenging in the history of higher education. But, according to one education official, former Dep-Ed Secretary Liling Briones to the batch of 2021-2022, “I congratulate you… resilience is in your blood.”
Among those who welcomed the news about F-2-F graduation is Kevin Allan E. Asuncion, 22, Bicolano, youngest of six grown-up children of a fish vendor and housewife. He is ecstatic at the thought that he will be one of the 504 confirmed graduating students to walk the aisle during graduation at the Gym of the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Canaman campus. He will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering degree. BSMarE is a four-year maritime course that trains the students to operate the ship and care for persons on board at the operational level of marine vessels such as cargo ships, cruise ships, fishing boats, battleships, and submarines. The Mariners is the premier and top-notch maritime college in the Bicol region. It is one of the leading accredited schools of the Philippine Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI) and is known for its multi-pronged Disaster Resilience and GAD (Gender and Development) programs. Its social development thrust is to develop a “Total Marinero”: disciplined, honest, and socially responsible professionals in their field of specialization.
Kevin comes from the 4th class coastal municipality of Del Gallego, the last town in the northern part of Camarines Sur where the Quirino Highway (aka Andaya Road) meets with the first town of Quezon province. Like Kevin, the Pandemic forced students to stay home and grapple with the pressures of online learning, navigating the following semesters with weak connectivity and poor gadgets. His father, a fish vendor, set up a small store in front of their home while their mother took care of all six siblings as a full-time housewife. When school began blended classes in 2021, he decided to return to school and joined limited F-2-F classes. Not to burden his family with school expenses, he did what he began to learn about self-reliance, resourcefulness, and reliance in school. He worked at a fast-food chain nearby, paid for his board and lodging, and found his way, navigating life’s daily challenges.
Graduation: a once-in-a-lifetime moment
I met Kevin at the Board Room for a quick face-to-face chat about how he feels their batch can now experience physical end-of-school-year (EOSY) graduation. Kevin is an active officer of the Coast Guard Student Corps. As he talked, I immediately felt his sense of confidence and demeanor lift up when he said, in Filipino, “Nakakabuhay po ng dugo, nabuhayan po ako, gaya ng iba na aakyat po kami ng stage sa graduation.”
As I call Kevin and his batchmates, the students of the Pandemic have endured significant crises in their own adjustments to life outside their homes and schools. The Pandemic brought them multiple concurrent concerns, all at the same time. Nevertheless, going up the stage is a celebratory finale for the student’s hard work and the many sacrifices of their families.
On Friday, July 8, Kevin and his batchmates will hear the sound system blaring out their names one after another to the backdrop of the graduation music. Later in the ceremony, the graduates will turn their tassels from right to left and throw them up the air; the jubilant graduates would turn to their lone family representative for a photo-op alone or with their classmates. The Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and the Department of Education (DepEd) had earlier announced that only one parent or guardian is allowed to join the graduate during the ceremony in keeping with the health protocols.
Graduation, after all, is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. It is a milestone no parent would want to miss, not in a million, in the presence of their family, teachers, and peers. It happens just once, and this, by itself, captures the depth of excitement of Kevin and his batchmates as they await their graduation day, no matter their social class and origin.
Resilience building at Mariners
“Resilient Graduates: striving and excelling as shapers of a post Pandemic future in the maritime industry” is the chosen theme for the 2022 Commencement Exercises of MPCF in Canaman, Camarines Sur, and Legazpi City, Albay. The words “resilience” and “perseverance” have been the most quoted experiential terms of the Pandemic period. We draw lessons on resilience and perseverance from all who partake of the continuing learning challenges -online and blended- under an environment of vulnerability and changing health protocols.
For the students, determination and resilience, mainly through times of adversity like today, can be the hallmark of a successful student. Choosing to enroll in college has become a significant decision for every family. College expenses continue to rise as do the demands for each college course. But the experience of Kevin and others like him at Mariners, who have to juggle studying, working a full-time/part-time job, and taking care of at-home responsibilities, may seem quite daunting. I asked Kevin why he was able to succeed while some college students didn’t. He simply smiled, and said as a piece of advice, “mahirap talaga buhay, basta may gusto, may paraan.” He had an excellent supportive social environment at Mariners. After graduation, Kevin believes he is ready for his next journey in life.