FOR THE first time in what felt like forever, the University felt the atmosphere everyone was familiar with during its back-to-back Baccalaureate Mass for the graduates of batch 2020, 2021, and 2022.
From June 3 to 4, the University was brought back to life, revived by the presence of the Thomasian community—students, professors, and staff. The hallways that have been silent since the University adopted the virtual learning mode reverberated with laughter and greetings. Classrooms were once again filled with students. Students were seen embracing again, propagating the culture of hugs that was discouraged two years ago. Drumbeats and chants filled the air, reminding Thomasians that no pandemic can extinguish their school pride and spirit.
The University resumed its graduation traditions such as the exit through the iconic Arch of the Centuries, a celebration of the Holy Mass on the open field, and the ceremony of lights. The administration, however, decided not to hold the fireworks display as an expression of solidarity with those who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Graduating students were more than happy to be back, reuniting finally not only with their classmates but also with the University.
This was the case for journalism batch 2021 Loreta Arroyo, who admitted feeling “deprived” when the previous graduation ceremony was done online.
“It feels nice […] Like it’s a one time that brings us back in time. We are reclaiming all the times that were taken away from us and for one evening, it’s just us as one block, [and] as one AB,” Arroyo told The Flame during the second day of the baccalaureate mass
Behavioral science batch 2020 graduate John Raymund Alayon said the in-person event was the “most memorable.”
“We waited for almost two years and of course, we get the chance to experience a solemn celebration,” he said.
The return to the University was not only celebrated by the students but by the AB maintenance staff as well.
Maintenance staff James Malagueño and Albert Chavez expressed their excitement, saying “Parang kami na rin ‘yung g-graduate (It feels like we are the ones graduating).”
They added that the return of students to the campus allowed them to go back to a regular work schedule. The maintenance staff worked under a “no work, no pay” policy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, according to staff Maricar Yabut.
‘You are all survivors’
UST Rector Rev. Fr. Richard Ang, O.P commended Thomasians for finishing their studies despite the torments of the pandemic as he led the first-ever in-person Baccalaureate Mass since the pandemic.
“You are all survivors. If you survived the pandemic, you can survive anything at all,” Ang told graduating students of Batch 2022 during the first day of the Baccalaureate Mass.
Ang even encouraged the students to celebrate their milestone, and not to think of it as a “sin.”
“Today is not a sin for you to be proud of yourself as long as you remain humble and magnanimous regardless of what you already know. As wisdom comes as you age,” the University rector said.
UST Vice-Chancellor Rev. Fr. Filemon Dela Cruz Jr., O.P also conveyed a similar message to batches of 2020 and 2021, encouraging them to mark their milestone through “pictures”
“Magpa-picture kayo nang husto (Take a lot of photos), Because this is a part of your memory making, that you have survived this pandemic and you graduated,” dela Cruz said.
However, Dela Cruz reminded the graduates that there would be more battles and challenges to face in life.
“It is a long way for you, for us, for our country, [and] other countries toward recovery,” Dela Cruz said.
The vice chancellor said hardships during the pandemic can be a great source of strength and inspiration in the future.
“When life gets tough, you can say ‘Kaya ko ‘to, nakagraduate nga ako, pandemya pa ‘non (I can do it. I was able to graduate and there was a pandemic then),” the vice chancellor said.
A bittersweet moment
Exiting the Arch of the Centuries is a long-time university tradition that has been cultivated throughout the years but suddenly took a pause because of the online set-up these past two years.
— The Flame (@abtheflame) June 3, 2022
For Bea Diwa, a communication graduate in 2020, passing through the arch was “fulfilling,” after two years of waiting. She added, “I can finally say that my journey in UST has finally come to an end. It’s a bit bittersweet.”
The bittersweet feeling of exiting is echoed by recent behavioral science graduate Eldrick Conwi, who said he performed the tradition with all the experience and friendships he made in college.
Political science batch 2021 graduate Dax Dacanay said exiting the arch made him revisit all the good and bad memories in the University. He felt as if every memory rushed into him while walking on the so-called lover’s lane and through the Arch.
It was a “euphoric” moment,,according to polticial science batch 2021 graduate Johannah Ferrer: “It dawned on me that I’m really leaving UST.”
Thomasians avoid premature passing-through the Arch as doing so is believed to lead to their debarment. The University Rector was quick to debunk the urban legend.
“When I was a student of the Faculty of Arts and Letters, my classmates and I would pass through that frequently,” said Ang, who graduated from the Faculty of Arts and Letters in 1990 with a philosophy degree.
The rector was ordained to priesthood in 1998, after he finished sacred theology at the Faculty of Sacred Theology in 1997.
“Later on, once you pass the Arch of the Centuries, walk on and carry your faith with you. The faith, which is the University’s greatest legacy,” Ang said.
The two-day Baccalaureate Masses for the three batches were held at the UST Grandstand and Athletic Field.
Face-to-face graduation rites for all academic units of the batch 2022 have been scheduled from June 6 to 30. F – with reports from Aubrey Shane Lim