HEAVY RAINS delayed but did not stop the welcome rites for about 12,000 Thomasian freshmen who got a first taste of what it feels like to be part of Asia’s oldest existing university.
The Welcome Walk, which marked the beginning of the college journey of the first year students, pushed through last Saturday, Aug. 6 after a two-day postponement caused by bad weather. It was the first welcome ceremony for UST freshmen since the government lifted the state of public health emergency induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the much-anticipated event has returned to normal, its participants will continue to feel the vestiges of the pandemic. The holding of full onsite classes is still not allowed and professors may still conduct as much as half of their classes online.
But at least during the hours when the on-board activities were taking place, the new breed of Thomasians experienced the ambiance of the pre-pandemic UST – a time when the classroom was the only site for classes, when students did not have to worry about securing a stable internet connection to listen to lectures, when learning management systems were largely unused and when it was unusual to ask whether meet-ups would be held face-to-face.
From the Quadricentennial Pavilion (QPAV) to the Arch of the Centuries, the freshmen marched, chanted and displayed their colorful props as they savored their first moments as Thomasians. They went on to learn about UST cheers during the ROARientation and were serenaded by P-pop groups BGYO and Bini during the Welcome Party.
The first year students did not know what awaits them in college and there is a chance that not all of them will exit the same arch or march in the same pavilion after four or five years. But for some, the opportunity to take part in the cherished traditions of the University is already a dream come true.
The welcome ceremonies were initially scheduled on Aug. 3 but they were postponed on the same day following the Manila city government’s suspension of classes due to inclement weather.
Literature freshman Jossel Jaym Leo, who came from Baguio City, over 200 kilometers away from Manila, shared that he had spent much time preparing for the event before it was deferred to a later date.
LOOK: First-year Artlets take shelter from the rain in the St. Raymund de Peñafort building before heading home due to the suspension of the Thomasian Welcome Walk, ROARienation and Welcome Party today, August 3. pic.twitter.com/6k3Q6gYZ2Z
— The Flame (@abtheflame) August 2, 2023
“I left at 12 a.m. to travel to Manila. Right after I stepped into school, UST posted that the event was canceled. I was sad and a little disappointed, so I grabbed breakfast before heading straight back to my hometown,” Leo said.
Creative writing freshman Vherwin Kayle Cristobal said his excitement came to a halt when the event was moved to a later date.
“[I was] very excited at first. I even came early since I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic. Then disappointment happened when the news came and [I had] no choice but to go home,” he said.
Still, the prompt rescheduling of the event, announced a day after the city-wide class suspension, lifted the spirits of students. It may have rained on their parade, but that did not dampen their excitement for the next chapter of their lives.
Several freshmen waved their arms high and screamed their hearts out from the moment they entered the QPAV until they marched through the iconic Arch of the Centuries.
Before the event, the Thomasian rites of passage were just the stuff of stories from Cristobal’s relatives.
“It was surreal because we have many Thomasians in the family and I only get to hear their stories, but having experienced it myself, I would say it lived up to my expectations,” Cristobal said.
For some freshmen, stepping into the University of Santo Tomas as students was already a fulfillment of a goal.
“It felt like a dream. Since elementary [school], I’ve been aiming for UST. [It was] dreamy. [Since] the mass, I was already excited. Then when it was the ROARientation, shouting ‘Go USTe,’ it was like living in the moment. Like a dream come true,” Leo said.
Eris Gabriel Santos, a political science freshman, already felt at home the moment she walked into the QPAV with her newfound friends.
“The event didn’t fail to make us feel welcome with the performances, interactions, and games where we became supportive of each other, even though we didn’t know everyone personally,” Santos said.
Political science freshman Kien Godwin Holgado, whose childhood dream was to study in UST, said the day created “long-lasting memories.”
“If I could describe this day, this would be ‘remarkable.’ This Thomasian Welcome Walk — I will forever keep this moment even as I grow older, and until the day that I’ll be going to achieve my dreams,” he said.
While some freshmen who attended alone were nervous to be in a new environment, their seniors were kind enough to break the ice and to offer friendship.
“[The seniors were] so lively and so welcoming. From the way they [taught] the steps and chants, they had patience and from the games, they really welcomed us freshies,” Leo said.
The high energy of Thomasians was felt as they lined up at the QPAV for the welcome party, which made a comeback after a three-year halt.
At least 2,700 freshmen joined the party onsite, while 37,000 viewers tuned in to UST Tiger TV’s livestream on Facebook, according to the event’s assistant producer Nathanael Monte.
First-year history student Aaliyah Valdez said the welcome party became the highlight of her day when P-pop groups BINI and BGYO went on stage and rendered performances.
“Aside from seeing [BINI and BGYO] perform in person, hearing them lead the UST chant was like (a meeting of two worlds). It made my first day as a Thomasian extra special,” Valdez said.
— The Flame (@abtheflame) August 5, 2023
“Despite the slight setbacks caused by the rainy weather a few days ago, I’m glad the concert wasn’t canceled and that things worked out in the end for us Thomasians,” she added.
Just like the concert that pushed through despite the possible bad weather, the freshmen managed to make it as members of the Thomasian community in spite of the challenges confronting them.
In his homily during the Welcome Mass, UST Rector Rev. Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. reminded the new breed of Thomasians that the obstacles they had faced form part of a process that would yield a positive result.
“It may be true that learning may suffer from occasional disruptions beyond our control, but generally speaking it is one long continuous process that is projected to produce a desired positive outcome in each and everyone of you,” Ang said.
“So congratulations for making the decision to carry on, you stand at a historic crossroad of your life with this coming of age.” F