Graduation and opening exercises bookend my university’s academic calendar and they are events which I make sure not to miss. The former I attend religiously because it gives me a once-in a-year chance to wear my PhD garb and to cheer my senior thesis advisees as they march one by one in their various fashionable expositions of the barong (pineapple fiber cloth) and sablay (the maroon-green-gold sash with the pre-Hispanic alphabet rendering of our University initials). The latter is the ceremonial welcome to new and returning students, heavy of symbolism and nostalgia-inducing. Both give me a renewed sense of purpose for my chosen profession, and a boost of varsity pride.
June is that time of the year when 16-year old expectant freshmen with their parents in tow brave the heat and the perspiration-inducing uphill climbs of our Miagao campus. They comprise 20% of the 6,000+ high school seniors who took the admission exam the previous August. Mostly honor graduates from public high schools in the Visayas and Mindanao regions, they leave their small-town accolades for the rigor and grit of academic programs where a grade of 3.0 (the equivalent of a “C”) is heaven-sent. Almost 90% of them will receive tuition and financial assistance; on their shoulders they carry the dreams of their poor to lower-middle class parents. They will fight homesickness at first, then years of rural bucolic living in the Miagao town where cable TV is non-existent (in dormitories).
I love opening exercises as genuine displays of unabashed gaiety with a mix of myth-making. In a jam-packed auditorium, the University hymn “UP naming mahal” (University of the Philippines our beloved) is sung; the echoes of unstinting service to the nation are repeated in speech after speech; the student activists chant “Iskolar ng bayan, ngayon ay lumalaban” (the nation‘s scholars are fighting now) with the exit of the University colors and stage a demonstration after the program. Academic groups (upperclassmen from various colleges) in their distinct trademark colors (red for Redbolts; green for Clovers; blue for Bluechips) and wacky paraphernalia try to outdo each other with their clever, sometimes raunchy cheers. Clapping and boo-hoos accompany introductions of faculty members and administrators. If one considers that this ceremonial opening is done at least 3 times (university, college, Division) in 2 days, you get the idea of how energized everyone is.
April is that time of the year when beaming 20 to 21-year olds proudly walk with their parents to receive their diplomas. Their faces are unrecognizable in the glare of evening lights and their salon do’s. The valedictory speech of the student with the highest GWA * tells of service to the nation; the “UP naming mahal” is sung ardently and the same student activists do their usual chant and demonstration-- constants for 103 years. Preceding this main event, the University holds a formal recognition program; a free cultural performance and a baccalaureate mass. It is both celebratory and somber; and one in which I get to say seemingly never-ending goodbyes to my graduating academic brood.
Rituals and traditions in the academy are underrated in a world that has become too fast-paced and harried. Pragmatists may think such displays of pomp and circumstance are a waste of tax payer’s money (we are after all a publicly-funded University). But I am old-school and remain strongly convinced of the value of shared memories in community building. I would like to think that I bond with my students in the daily grind of classroom instruction as much as being part of the crowd during graduation and opening exercises. After all, we have the same “maroon” (UP colors) blood cursing through our veins.
Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.
*General Weighted Average