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Watching from the stage at graduation

The frail white-haired man in a plain polo shirt walked slowly but proudly as he looked up around him, unmindful of the whispers behind him to step up as the processional Graduation March played for his grandson, a graduating student in BS Marine Engineering and his other batchmates of 2024. At the Ringhop Ceremony, the grandpa was the escort who went up the stage with his “maku-apo” as they entered a giant ring-shaped platform where the proud grandpa slipped the class college ring on the graduating midshipman’s finger. I saw the Lolo shed a tear as he tugged his grandson down the stage after that ritual.

That scene was a tender, touching moment from the stage up close. This and hundreds of similarly poignant images of a mother, father or guardian, a grandparent, a husband or a wife, girlfriend or boyfriend to the graduating student are unforgettable snapshots during school graduations.

In a whole week this June, I had the extraordinary but meaningful chance to watch our grown-up students come up and walk the stage to receive their diplomas and recognition with their parents and guardians in tow, shaking hands with the school president and guests, and taking a bow before a reasonably large audience they have not been familiar with for the first time under glaring spotlights.  The first event was last June 11 for the Senior High School of MPCF Canaman with Rusell M. Baja, General Manager of the Archipelago Philippine Seafarers Training Institute, Inc., as Guest Speaker, who spoke about making choices of working immediately after Senior High or pursuing higher learning for a professional career. A multi-awarded Philippine Navy officer, Capt Edwin Nera, the Commander of the Naval Taskforce 31 and Deputy Commander of the Naval Forces Southern Command, was at the Ring Hop Ceremony last June 18. He emphasized the values of humility, excellence, and integrity in one’s daily life and work.

The next day, June 19, the 40th Commencement and Completion was held in the afternoon after the Baccalaureate Mass at the Penafrancia Basilica Minore in Naga City with the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Caceres, Rev Fr Joseph Wilfred Almoneda as celebrant. The Executive Director of the STCW and MARINA, a Bicolano, Samuel Batalla, was the Commencement Speaker who spoke about the important values of  competence, integrity, and life-long learning in  his talk on “Exemplifying Professionalism and Versatility in an Era of Connectivity: A Challenge to the Graduates.”

People watching

The perspective from the stage, as I sat on the ceremonial red seat as Board Chair of the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Canaman, Camarines Sur, looking down on the vast array of graduates donning their white gala uniforms in their best snappy selves, was a sight to behold. Graduations are an exciting marking event, but most fail to recognize the other emotions evoked by this transition period.

Being on stage for as many as five hours of the graduation rites is a taxing exercise. To offset the boredom that can come at times, I turned the occasion into a productive people-watching activity. People-watching is the act of observing people and their interactions at the subconscious level. It involves picking up on specific behaviors and interpreting them to guess or create a story, interactions, and relationships with limited details. This exercise can also be a shared activity with your seatmate on stage.

From where I sat, I witnessed great joy, a sense of pride, and hope among the faces of students and their loved ones. Up close, I also saw faces of sadness about leaving, disappointment with expectations, and even fear of the unknown after graduation. These faces of the white-haired frail Lolo who brought up his grandson almost singlehandedly when both parents had died ahead; the construction worker in his old rubber shoes and his son; the burnt-faced farmer and her daughter; a weary-looking executive in his long-sleeved office shirt and his son, and many more that can warm one’s heart and inspire creative images of other mixed emotions.

This month is the time of year for graduations. Milestone events like college graduations provide the space to express generous thanks to all who helped them graduate and prepared them for the next stage in life. Both the Valedictory address of the Batch 2024 Presidential Awardee and Cum Laude, Ric ardo Jose Palacio, and the President of the Graduating Class, Midshipman Roy Tristan Daza reminded their batchmates to remember the most fundamental expression of gratitude, especially to their parents and guardians, their mentors and the school.

From the stage, I looked at the parents and all those who came to the graduation ceremonies, whose eyes remained glued to the ongoing events. After the diplomas and the Mariners hymn, I saw students who offered a reassuring embrace to their parents and loved ones. Perhaps from my imaginative mind, they could be singing the following to their ears:

Did you ever know that you’re my hero

And everything I would like to be?

I can fly higher than an eagle

For you are the wind beneath my wings beneath the wings


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