Our family celebrated this milestone last week when our youngest graduated from elementary school. After a few weeks of preparation, a turn-over ceremony with the fifth graders, a baccalaureate mass and inter-faith celebration, their graduation day came too soon.
The baccalaureate mass, in our non-sectarian school, is said to be the heart of the big event. We had it celebrated by the priest who comes in regularly for special masses and who, incidentally was the officiating priest of the graduating class’ first communion rites a few years ago. The non-Catholic families joined after the mass for an Inter-faith celebration and prayers.
Graduation day was the big day when the young ladies came in the graduation gowns made specifically for the event and the young gentlemen donned their finest barong tagalog. Special awards were given to the children based on what learning areas they excelled in. Even those who are in the mainstream program were given special awards.
For us families, this special event signifies not an end but a beginning to newer, bigger and more difficult challenges awaiting the children as they embark on their journey as high schoolers come next school year.
Graduation rites are also called commencement rites. To commence means to begin, to start, to initiate something new. This dispels the belief that graduation is an end after all the years of studying done.
I have asked several parents what their thoughts are about graduation and what these rites mean to them. Their responses are summarized below:
The Filipino culture is big on utang na loob. One of the traits for this uniquely Pinoy trait is that children are more or less expected to help out their families after they have finished with their studies, be it high school or college, especially if they are starting to gain their financial independence. For those with younger siblings, this means helping out in the financial responsibilities that go with their educational pursuits. For those still living at home, this signifies giving a share in the household expenses like utility bills and food budget.
The list could go on and on. There are exceptional families where helping out is not expected. But this is the norm, especially among the average, cash-strapped households.
Realization of dreams and aspirations
Graduation rites signify that the completion of the process of acquiring some required competencies. For the college students, to be an accountant, an engineer or an architect means one has undergone all the learnings, trainings and skills needed to practice in a particular field. These will help one towards the realization of dreams and aspirations.
But whose dreams and aspirations? The child’s? Or the parents’?
Sometimes parents dictate what career their children should pursue. There are those who insist that their children be doctors or lawyers like them, with little regard as to what the youngsters want to do and who they want to be. On the other hand, there are as many parents who support and nurture whatever it is their children are good at.
One parent said: “The day all my children graduate from the university is the day I can really breathe a sigh of relief and say I have helped them towards the realization of their goals. I hope and pray that they will be happy and successful.”
Showcase of skills
In the traditional setting, such as elementary and high school graduation rites, the typical recognitions and awards are usually given to those who excelled in the academics, those who stood out and did well in the major subject areas and those who played a big role in the leadership aspect of their school lives.
In the non-traditional school our children go to, such recognitions and awards, plus a lot more, are also given. There, the following are recognized:
• children who read well
• children who write and speak well in Filipino and English
• children who played sports
• children who participated in the Scouting movement, inter-school competitions and seminars
• children who are good in music, the arts and its different mediums
• children who are good examples to their classmates
• parents who have been active participants and partners in the learning process
Parents take pride in their children’s accomplishments and acquired skills. They take pride in their children who have achieved recognition beyond their expectations.
Schools, on the other hand, should re-evaluate the recognitions and awards they give to their graduating students so that other skills, other than academic performance, are paid attention to After all, academics is not everything. A balanced learning is the best bet to prepare children to tackle life’s challenges.
Visit Filipino family homes. Hanging on the living room walls for all guests to see are photos of children smiling at the cameras, wearing their graduation clothes and holding their diplomas. If these are not the ones hanging on the wall, we see diplomas and other certificates and medals of recognition for what they have accomplished in school.
Graduation rites are important events in the lives of the Filipino families. There are offices that grant their employees a leave of absence to enable them to attend their child’s graduation rites.
Graduation is one of the stepping stones for young people intent to take over the world or at least to stake out a small space under the sun. That piece of paper called diploma with their names on it can be a ticket to a life filled with possibilities and opportunities.
I always tell my children, “Your education is something that I can give you that no one can take away from you”. Most of the other parents I talked with echoed this sentiment, too.
Congratulations, dear graduates and proud parents!
Photo: by the author, some rights reserved