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It is graduation season once again! Schools all over the country are prepping for the numerous advancement ceremonies that will happen all throughout April! Medals will be given, hands will be shaken, and thousands and thousands of pictures will be taken as students complete their academic year and move up to the next stage of their life. I have been a high school teacher for more than 10 years now. And seeing my students walk up the stage this year still tugs at my heartstrings every time.

Parents are proud and teary-eyed. I think this is most significant for them because it is the culmination of years’ worth of hard work, late nights, overtimes, and salary loans. I know more than a few parents who give more than their all in more than one job so that they could find any means necessary for their child to finish schooling. This is where the term “gapang” comes from, “mai-gapang lang sa pag-aaral”. Parents and guardians would almost literally crawl through work just so their children can finish school.

Students go through a different kind of emotional roller-coaster ride. As a student you are relieved that the school year is over. No more tests, no more assignments, no more nerve-wracking oral recitations. None of that! You are now free from the oppression of the classroom and the class record! Yahoo! But then you look at your friends, your many classmates, the old hangout, and the empty lockers. Now you sense a pang of sadness. You will not see them again, you will not be here again, the place you called home for so many years is now an empty hall. Bittersweet. Happy. Yet sad. Because in moving forward, you always leave something behind.

Things are a bit different for us teachers. Our students move on and ahead on the world. But most of the time, we are the ones that stay behind. I have said this a lot over my many teaching years, and it is still true now as it was true then; we spend more time with our students than anyone else in their lives. We interact with them 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week on the regular. Add the countless hours of practices, varsity games, overnight camping sessions, and all the other things that happen in between all throughout the year. We become their friends, we become their parents “in loco parentis”, and we become witnesses to their bitterest struggles and their greatest triumphs. From love, to lessons, to life, we are here for it all.

As I watch my own students rehearse for their graduation today, I leave them (and you) some thoughts as you celebrate this crucial and celebratory moment in your life. Allow me to give you some advice:

1. Be thankful.

There are many people and many things that came together so that you can be here at this moment. Parents & Guardians worked tirelessly to earn to pay for your tuition. Teachers burned hours of midnight oil to pour over your grades and check your essays and tests. Utility personnel put your chairs back in order and picked up your books strewn on the classroom floor. Mr. Manong tricycle or jeepney driver kept his hand steady so you can get to school safe & sound. There are a million things that worked together to bring you here. Be thankful for all of them. Be thankful to each of them. Shake as many hands as you need, and spare no hugs, give credit where credit is due. As it was freely given to you.

2. Make the most of it.

You are stepping out into the world. You have finished all your requirements and proven that you can move on to the next level. What’s next? Make the most of it. Years of equipping and training and testing have brought you to this moment. You know when they say that the students are the future presidents and leaders of the country? It’s true. And years from now I would be deeply honored to invite you back to the school as the honorary guest speaker in a graduation. For you have become a celebrated public servant or a titan of industry. Our hopes and dreams for a brighter future, we have invested them all in you.

3. Look back.

The years ahead can be exciting. There will be new people, new challenges, and new opportunities to excel at. But don’t forget to look back. I always appreciate the students who come back to the school every now and then. Some even call me up and ask to treat me to dinner! Imagine, I used to drive these kids to their homes after varsity practice, now here they are picking me up in their cars and treating me to dinner. Life comes back at you full circle. And the effort was well worth it.

To you, I say congratulations. Thank you for your hard work and the effort you put into continuing your education. Many did not have the same opportunities that you did, and you did your best to finish responsibly. Now go out into the world…and make us proud!

Additional Tips:

  1. Grab something from your school as a souvenir! This may be illegal and can probably get you in a lot of trouble, but it’s fun! In my case, I quickly unhooked the official school clock in my high school classroom and snuck out the gate with it tucked safely in my bag! (Don’t tell anyone) Other classmates got wall frames, and even a fire extinguisher…I kid you not.
  2. Clear out your locker! You wouldn’t want us to find your dirty little secrets when we check them out at the end of the year!

QUICK FACTS:

Undergrad level ceremonies are called “Moving-Up Ceremonies”. Young kids from Kinder & Prep will “move-up” to Grade 1.  

Grade 10 students (formerly 4th year High School Students) celebrate their advancement ceremony called a “Completion”. They are called “Completers” when they finish Junior High School and move on to Senior High School. The term “Commencement” is also used for this.

The term “Graduation” is now more formally used for Grade 6 students and Grade 12 students who will finish their respective academic years.

Grade 12 students and graduating University students receive a “Diploma” for graduation. Everyone else gets a “Certificate”.

The Department of Education (DepEd) handles all public and private schools from Pre-Elementary to Senior High School. While the Commission on Higher Education handles all the colleges and universities, unless you are a recognized Center for Excellence and gain autonomy like some of the bigger universities like UP, Ateneo, La Salle, and others.

Illustration by Madel Crudo

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