MEMBERS OF UST batch 2023 made their farewell walk at the Arch of the Centuries on Tuesday, May 30, symbolically ending a college stint marked by a transition towards a return to normalcy and the struggles posed by hybrid learning.
The graduating students, who missed two years of on-campus learning, reminisced their pre-pandemic life, took countless photos and flexed their college identities using colorful paraphernalia during the onsite Baccalaureate Mass themed ‘Looking Back, Looking Forward.’
For the last time, they wore their type A uniforms – most of them soiled with dedication messages after the mass – as candidates for graduation, parading in costumes and headdresses while holding banners and roaring their loudest cheers before bidding farewell to the University.
For communication senior Hannah Baquiran, walking the halls of the St. Raymond de Peñafort building for the last time felt bittersweet.
“It’s sinking in a lot today…we were laughing about how we were here during our first year. Then once we returned, it was suddenly already our last year, and everything in the middle just went by,” Baquiran told The Flame.
“[We have] nothing to rush. Nothing nagging at you that we have to prepare for this. This time, we’re actually having a break [from being] a student,” she added.
Asian Studies Society’s outgoing president, Johannes Adrian De Guia, reminisced memories from his freshman days when he frequented the campus without any restrictions.
“It was as if time stopped within the vicinity of the university. UST [is] just as beautiful as I remembered it,” de Guia said.
Students from different colleges chanted merrily along with the thronging of drums as they filled the UST grandstand during the procession before the mass. It was a welcome sight for a university that turned into a ghost town for two years and is still cautious about resuming the pre-pandemic learning set-up.
To make the day even more memorable, student leaders and volunteers like creative writing freshman Psalmuel Lasquite dedicated their afternoon preparing gifts for seniors in holding rooms.
“It’s a little bit of a program where we show that we’re embracing their hardships and struggles,” Lasquite said, passing handcrafted flowers to the seniors as a gesture of gratitude and recognition.
Short but lasting
Some seniors could not help the rush of nostalgia as they looked back on their years where physical interactions were not yet forbidden and milestones were not yet stolen by lockdowns.
Outgoing Central Student Council president Nathan Agustin recalled the sudden shift to the online set-up in March 2020, when the one-week class suspension lengthened into a two-year break from onsite classes.
“Our batch faced the pandemic when our journey had just begun. But we persevered until we saw once again the gates of the university gradually open,” he said during his graduation message for the class of 2023.
Danica Caisip, a creative writing senior, felt nervous about ending her senior year without getting the most out of her limited onsite classes.
Despite being limited to virtual platforms, Caisip formed lifelong friendships with her classmates who helped her accept the end of her short but “sweet” college life.
“It was only a dream to celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass (which is one of) UST’s trademarks. This time, we will be the ones to sit (in those chairs),” Caisip said.
Creative writing senior Ellah Perone echoed these sentiments, describing her road to graduation as “surreal and bittersweet.”
“Our stay in UST was very short, so we were not able to make the most out of it […] Still, even if we missed out on some onsite activities, I’m thankful for the times we spent here [on] campus,” Perone said.
Asian studies senior Tricia Rebong wishes she could spend more time with her friends on campus.
“There was grief because of the years we spent online. I grieved the two years of my college experience that I lost to the pandemic. Nonetheless, I am and will forever be grateful [to] UST for being my home,” Rebong said.
Returning to old traditions
WATCH: The University of Santo Tomas exhibits a Voltes V and K-pop themed fireworks display during the Baccalaureate Mass celebration on Tuesday, May 30.
— The Flame (@abtheflame) May 30, 2023
The University, known for its age-old traditions, brought back the fireworks display as part of the annual milestone.
A burst of colors painted the sky as instrumental music from Voltes V and K-pop songs played.
For sociology senior Michelle Zuñiga, the fireworks display was not just a symbolic end to her academic life but a celebration of the success of Thomasian graduates.
“[The fireworks] reminded me of the challenges we have been through, online and onsite, which we have conquered together, stronger, and wiser,” Zuñiga said.
Saul Adato, who has been a Thomasian since senior high school, looked forward to joining the ceremony of the light and the singing of the UST hymn with his classmates for the penultimate time.
“Every time I hear the UST hymn, I feel a wave of comfort. It signifies how the Thomasian journey ends at the grandstand […] then you’ll meet your blockmates’ eye contact, and all those four years of memories come flooding back,” the legal management senior said.
The event ended with the seniors’ farewell walk at the Arch of the Centuries, with some students joking that they could already perform the ritual without the fear of being expelled. Thomasians avoid passing through the arch before graduation because of a superstition that those who will do so would not complete their degrees.
UST Rector Fr. Richard Ang, O.P. called on the graduating students to find excitement in their exit, saying it is ingrained in Thomasians to thrive in the real world.
“May you find meaning as you receive the Thomasian mission cross, and may you find excitement as you exit the Arch of the Centuries. Soon, it will be the day for your commencement exercises, and then goodbye. It takes forever to say goodbye,” he said.
This year’s Baccalaureate Mass celebrated 9,473 graduating candidates which included 1,063 Artlets.
The graduation ceremonies from June 1 to 30, will be done onsite, according to the Office of the Secretary-General. The Faculty of Arts and Letters’ graduation ceremony will be held on June 5. F — with reports from Mariane Ysabella Pante and Joss Gabriel Oliveros