I AM a little bit upset because I cannot attend my nephew’s graduation at Silliman University in Dumaguete City. It’s not because I was not invited nor because I don’t have boat fare, but my schedule wouldn’t just permit it. You see, graduation in our family, just like any other families, is rather a big deal. It’s a celebration where every member of the kin is at least expected to attend, endure the heat and the lengthy graduation ceremonies. And what do we get? A diploma, and today’s standards, doesn’t add up to much.

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These days, graduating a four-year course does not guarantee you a career, rather it guarantees you unemployment. Unless you proceed to another degree, like law or medicine, the possibility of getting a good paying job is at least assured. Or, unless you go abroad to work or want to experience how to be maltreated and abused, then, your dream of stability will have at least a semblance of realization.

Enough of being so maudlin, let us just accept the fact that one thing our graduates face after accepting that coveted diploma is unemployment, so let’s reminisce some good things from the past, shall we? Do you remember attending your elementary school graduation? In the baby boomer’s time, nursery or kindergarten was unheard of. We go directly to Grade 1 upon reaching the age of 7, or if you can reach your left ear with your right arm over your right ear above your head, or vice versa. That was the most effective proof you are eligible to be enrolled in Grade 1.

Private schools then were rare; most of my age group is a graduate of “mababang paaralan”, built of wood or pre-fabricated skeletal structures painted red if your barrio is lucky, if not, under the Acacia tree is enough to be called a classroom. I still cannot understand the logic why we have to sing before going to class, though. Yes, we have the flag ceremony, we sing the “Lupang Hinirang” popularly known as “Bayang Magiliw”, and we recite the “Panatang Makabayan” now known as “Panunumpa ng Watawat”. And in the 70’s, there were two additional songs I remember I had difficulty memorizing: “May Bagong Silang” and “Isang Bansa, Isang Diwa” or was it another song? I think the last one is a slogan, together with this one: “Sa Ikakaunlad ng Bayan, Disiplina ang Kailangan.” And, we have to do exercises too before going to class, to the tune of Yoyoy Villame’s “Mag-exercise Tayo Tuwing Umaga.” And only after tending our respective gardens were we allowed to go to the classroom, replete with sweat and smelling like camels rescued from the Sahara desert after a month of being lost.

We love to sing way back then. Before the class starts, we have our daily program, when “song by the class” was the favorite expression and the “last part of the program” is a signal that inspection of our hands and ears is about to commence. We even have to say in chorus our morning greetings to our teachers: “Good morning Mrs. So-and-so, good morning classmates” recited in chorus with different volume and quality and tone of voice. Every morning those greetings are like the echoes of the school bell ringing across the halls. Attending school before was like attending a musical-drama workshop; it was fun and full of musical events. No wonder “Glee” is such a hit amongst the Filipino crowd, and High School Musical 1-3 is equally a must-see.

You can just imagine therefore when commencement exercise comes, popularly known as “closing”. From Grade 1 to 5, there was no commencement exercise program I didn’t participate. Since my parents were both teachers, it was a given that I have to do the following: render a “tula” (which I did a hundred times), sing a song (which I didn’t, even if my grade depended on it!) or dance any Hawaiian dance (I did Pearly Shells, My Blue Hawaii and Tiny Bubbles, twice, and donned a grass skirt made of straw or coconut leaves much to the delight of my skin allergies!) But I couldn’t remember my male cousins ever suffered the same fate that my sisters and I underwent.

Then came my own graduation day. Since there was no “toga” available in my barangay, the powers-that-be in my “mababang paaralan” decided that the graduates should wear a hat, not your social-variety ala New Yorker hat. No, we have to wear the “buri” hat or straw hat, and a white dress. Looking back, I could have died of embarrassment just wearing the dress with the hat. To top it off, my neck was developing a rash because of two everlasting flower garlands hanging there courtesy of my cousins, and two corsages made of asparagus and ylang-ylang orchids, courtesy of my sisters, which unfortunately stained my white dress to the consternation of my mother.

Nevertheless, after almost four hours of ceremony, the commencement exercise finally ended. It was as long but every grade level participated, it was a carnival of sorts, as it was intended to be. It was a festive send-off to the graduates that will be embarking on a new life and new experience. And I think, the “closing” or commencement exercise of yesteryears have the same fervor as the graduation exercise today - with hope, fear and anticipation that the future is bright for each of the graduates despite and in spite of how dire the prospects might seem. (Want to react? Email me: justsaying416@gmail.com