I finally am an official graduate of the University of the Philippines Manila, with a Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry. Everything seemed so surreal, yet so beautiful. The commencement exercises were a simple affair, just the way I liked it.
I left home by 6 AM, struggling with the choice of violating the dress code for black shoes. I had on a very pretty dress that went well with my pewter pumps, but in the end, duty won out. I had thought that I was going to wear a black toga anyway, so everything would be fine. I didn't go the full makeup and hair route; I let my hair dry in the car and pinned it with a simple clip later on, and I only dabbed a tiny smudge of lip gloss on my lips. The only fancy things I had on were the heirloom pearl earrings and ring from my godmother, and the gold watch from my grandaunt. I celebrated the occasion with jewelry, my friend would later say, instead of the usual pancake maquillage and ozone-destroying hairspray. At least my pictures would be okay, I had hazarded, without having my face look kabuki-white or my head look like a poodle landed there. I was thinking, maybe I would dress up when the time came that I would receive my degree as Doctor of Medicine; not that I wouldn't dress up because I didn't graduate with Latin honors or that I wasn't proud of my Biochemistry degree. It just so happened that I found it quite an exaggeration had I gone the "traditional" (traditional meaning very common to Pinoy culture) route of heavy makeup, overdone hair, a dress looking like a wedding gown, droves of relatives present, and a photography overkill. And hey, I graduated as a scholar of the Department of Science and Technology and as a best thesis awardee, anyway.
The ceremony was a very boring affair, with the processional and awarding of titles taking the most time. Our college occupied half of the seats reserved for all the graduates, and I overheard a parent comment, "I fell asleep when they were conferring the degrees for the College of Arts and Sciences, and when I woke up later, they weren't finished!" Most of us either snoozed, took pictures, or talked during the boring parts. The only exciting part was being conferred with our degrees; at 0931H, the president of the UP System pronounced us as official graduates, and we joyfully transferred the tassels of our (falling) caps from the right to the left.
Photo "stolen" from the fabulous Carlo. Notice his beautiful pout.
That's Carlo, me and Hernie, with Mamu on the far left.
That's Carlo, me and Hernie, with Mamu on the far left.
I immensely enjoyed the address of the speaker, Professor Ambeth Ocampo, who was able to make the speech fun and quite touching as well. He talked about the human side of the national hero, who was a doctor; his medical mishaps, his humanitarian work, his death wish, and his personal escapades. Who would have known that Rizal (as an opthalmologist) attended to his sister's childbirth, and would later write in his notes, "She lost so much blood, she would have died anyway?" Who would have deduced that Rizal wrote much on the genito-urinary system of the human body, sketching more male parts than female parts? Who would have known that Rizal experimented with surgeries that left patients, well, dead? Who would have known that the "Rizal twist" was due to pure vanity, instead of medical reasons? (Rizal was to be shot in the back, but chose to face the firing squad. Many attribute it to valor, but it was really vanity on his part; he also specifically instructed the Spanish not to shoot his face.) The medical graduates were not quite amused by the stories of Rizal's medical antics, but I think they missed the point that Rizal was, as the speaker emphasized, not afraid of failure. The whole audience was rocking with laughter throughout the speech and this was so much better than the "speech" (more like political campaign) of the speaker in the college recognition program.
After going up the stage, I was surprised by being so warmly greeted by the multitude of professors, not only from my department. My Chemistry professors, my History I professor, my Physics professors, my Comm II professor, my Biology professors, my Math professors, my Physical Education professor, professors who never became my instructors but became my friends, and even the staff of the college and the Learning Resource Center, were so generous with the handshakes and hugs...the gestures were so warm and loving. I was very touched when they said, "You are one in a million, and we wish to have more students like you." No academic honor would have surpassed those words, and for a moment, I thought tears would fall from my eyes.
The combination of threatening tears and hunger (I wasn't able to eat breakfast because of the rush to get to the venue on time) drove me to the loo, where I slyly ate two chocolate covered biscuits and wiped my eyes dry. I dared not to eat before going up the stage to get my dummy diploma, because I was so afraid that chocolate would cover my teeth in the photographs that were to be taken. After that quick snack, I went back to my chair and waited for the speech of the class valedictorian, only to be greeted by the chaos of graduates milling around, while the students from other colleges were still going up the stage. My mum said it was a fitting comeback (though I was still annoyed by the show of bad behavior) to those graduates from the other colleges who were misbehaving while we were going up the stage.
Gerard's valedictory speech was short and quite beautiful, well-written and delivered in Tagalog. He confided to me later that he struggled with it, being the Cebuano that he was, saying "Alam mo naman, Bisaya dako." (You know that I am Bisaya.) The speech was to be delivered in Filipino/Tagalog, because we were from the state university, and to do it in English was deemed unpatriotic. He reminded us that we were the children of our Motherland, and that whether we meet our success here or abroad, we must always remain rooted to our country. He encouraged us to give back to the institution that generously educated us, emphasizing that as Iskolars ng Bayan, we were educated through the blood, toil, sweat, and tears of the taxpayers of the land.
After the pledges of loyalty I couldn't quite pronounce clearly (sending me into silent gales of laughter) and the school hymn, I was free to go. I returned my toga immediately, and set up to eat a late lunch with my parents at Sakae Sushi in MOA. The food wasn't quite as spectacular as the last time we went, and we only finished off 24 plates of sushi, compared to 27 plates the last time.
I went to the University of Sto. Tomas next, to get my Hepatitis B booster shot. All the nurses and technicians in the Health Service clinic were so curious about my outfit (and were so bored, as "business" was slow) and thus our conversation was as follows:
Attending Nurse (while preparing shot): Why are you dressed in those nice clothes?
Me: It's my graduation, Ma'am.
X-ray Technician: From what school are you? (while examining rubber shoes brought by another colleague, for sale)
Me: UP, sir.
Nurse: Ah, what was your course?
Me: Biochemistry, ma'am.
X-ray Technician: Course?
Me: Biochemistry, sir.
*Nurse injects vaccine*
X-ray Technician: Oh, so that's why you're dressed like that. Why didn't you treat your friends out to a party first?
Nurse: You're so hardworking dear. Prioritizing your shot before your graduation party.
Me: Thank you, ma'am.
Nurse: (rubs my arm, places bandage over shot area) Let me sign your card.
Me: Okay. (Leaves) Thank you.
That was the strangest conversation I had yesterday. The vaccine didn't hurt, unlike the tetanus shot I got last Thursday. Good thing she didn't inject it at the same spot as the tetanus shot. Thirsty because of the heat, I went to McDonalds to indulge in a bubblegum float.
And then, we drove home. Graduation done. =)
P.S. Graduation photo dump later.