#Class2020: graduating during a global pandemic

 

I have always imagined the thrill and excitement of lining up towards the stage. I’m sure I would have constantly fixed my baggy graduation gown and nervously adjusted my cap. When the host would finally call my name, I would imagine my heart skipping a beat. I would gather as much courage as I can to take that difficult first step and hope to God that my legs would stop shaking.

As I slowly walk and gradually reach the center of the stage, I imagine shaking the hand of our college dean with a victorious grip and accepting my diploma with a tight and triumphant grasp. Then I would face the cheering crowd, ignoring all the painfully blinding lights, and show the biggest smile I ever made. At this very moment, I imagine that I would certainly silently scream in my mind: “This diploma is mine! I worked hard for this and I finally made it!”

Of course, all of that was just my imagination. Just a vivid dream that stands within an arm’s reach but still a few millimeters away.

Going back a few months ago, I didn’t really think much about what our graduation ceremony would be like. Us graduating students didn’t really have much time to imagine or fantasize about those kinds of things. We were all extremely busy and dead-on focused on our classes and manuscripts. We even avoided the said thought entirely since none of us was a hundred percent confident that we would be able to accomplish all our requirements on time.

In the back of our minds, however, there’s always this assurance that our graduation ceremony would always going to be there. There were no precedents to think otherwise, and no postponement of any graduation exercises occurred in recent memory. Plot twist— there is now.

So as we look back at what could have been, it’s very hard for us to not feel sad and melancholic.

During my last year in college, I was under a lot of pressure and was constantly drowning in deep stress. I was struggling to accomplish all my field practice manuscript, thesis, and class requirements. Furthermore, I was also spearheading two community projects for my youth organizations because the idiot me thought that I should end my student leadership career with a big bang. And that big bang almost turned into a full-blown mental breakdown. I had no choice— I had to keep going.

When the class suspension was announced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was actually relieved. It gave me more time to work on my thesis and provided me the mental rest that my body badly needed. I also didn’t go back to my hometown in Southern Leyte because I thought that classes will simply resume shortly in the following weeks.

In the beginning, the situation was indeed alarming. It was something that our generation has never experienced before. At its initial stages, I think all of us had a false sense of reassurance because we were thinking that the pandemic was happening at a very distant place. There’s no way it would reach us here.

Instead, there was this silent plague of denial which made people cling on the slightest glimmer of hope for normalcy. When the pandemic eventually worsened and the number of positive cases exploded, that glimmer of hope for normalcy dimmed. When the pandemic made its way to Eastern Visayas, that silent denial turned into tangible fear.

This year’s upcoming graduates were promised with so much opportunities, supposedly entering a thriving and optimistic job market. Despite having a relatively shaky government, our economy was still booming and developing progressively.

However, when the pandemic struck, businesses were shutdown, institutional operations were suspended, communities were put into lockdown, and the entire country and the rest of the world stood still. In an instant, as if coming from the snap of Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet, the world suddenly couldn’t breathe and our societies slowly crumbled.

Because of the pandemic, universities were no longer able to hold traditional graduation exercises. It was a heavy and painful blow for all of us. This ceremony was supposed to be the climax of our life story. This was supposed to be the peak of our journey as students. This was supposed to be that once-in-a-lifetime moment that one would celebrate and share with friends, classmates, and family. Now— it’s gone.

We have no choice. We have to prioritize everyone’s health and safety. The mass gathering of people to conduct graduation exercises would definitely violate the government’s community quarantine and social distancing measures. Nevertheless, nothing— not even an online graduation ceremony— can ever fill the emptiness and lack of closure that I believe most of my batchmates are feeling at this moment.

However, this pandemic is way beyond us. We are now experiencing one of the world’s worst economic depression. Boom is turning into bust, progress is turning into stagnation, and optimism is turning into fear as well as uncertainty.

This pandemic has clearly shown that social issues affect all of us. This likewise extends to other problems, such as climate change, human rights violations, gender discrimination, and many others. Nonetheless, these social problems don’t affect everyone equally. Some people experience situations far worse than others— and it is usually the people living in poverty and in marginalized communities that experience the full brunt of this systemic and deep-rooted inequality.

This pandemic is truly a transformative and an eye-opening experience for all of us. I strongly hope that this COVID-19 crisis will teach people, especially students and the youth, to feel empathy and compassion to other people. We need to understand that we are not on the same boat; we are merely on the same ocean. Some people are living on extravagant yachts, some are living on sturdy ships, while others might be living on weak rafts, and some might be already drowning. Within these vessels that we stand upon, each and every one of us are also experiencing and battling our own storms.

So as the future citizens of this generation, I strongly believe that it should be one of this batch’s mission to continuously fight injustices and call out unfair privileges that exist in our societies. This pandemic was able to expose this ugly truth, which has previously gone unseen, unheard, and unacknowledged for so many years.

We should be involved and make our voices part of the narrative because our lives and the lives of our loved ones are on the line. Let this be one of our major takeaways that we bring along with us should we finally conquer this pandemic. Let us be the torchbearers that will help guide our society not to a “new normal,” but towards a “better normal.”

If we are lucky, maybe we can have the collective power to mitigate or prevent catastrophes like this from ever happening again. And maybe, just maybe, we can prevent another child or another youth from ever experiencing the scars of fear, hopelessness and isolation that these devastating crises bring.

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