Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sablay, sunflowers, and reminders to serve the people for the bright lights from UP Diliman

Note: * This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version in the 02-08 May 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published weekly in San Francisco, CA. This blogger/author is the Philippines Special News/Photo Correspondent of the said paper.  

Two long vertical maroon streamers from the top of Quezon Hall provided the historical framework of the 2014 General Commencement Exercises of the University of the Philippines Diliman on 27 April.   The streamers were in honor of Apolinario Mabini, the revolutionary ‘sublime paralytic’.  It is in celebration of his sesquicentennial birth anniversary this coming July that the commencement program carried the theme “Pagbabalik Tanaw Tungo sa Tapat na Pamamahala.”

On the University Avenue, streamers vertically hang on posts along the traffic island of blooming sunflowers told that this year’s graduation class is the 103rd batch in the history of the university, alongside that of the Mabini commemorative
UP Diliman Chancellor Michael L. Tan said he could have similarly honored Isabelo de los Reyes, had he known earlier that the 150th birth anniversary of the pioneer in the country’s labor movement is also in July. The dean of the School of Labor and Industrial Relations (SOLAIR) gave due recognition to de los Reyes when he presented his unit’s candidates for graduation.

Directly facing the graduates, their families and friends seated at the amphitheater, was the banner stretched across the front of the stage bearing in big bold red letters the slogan of the 1970s: Paglingkuran ang Sambayan (Serve the People).  It was a reminder of the great responsibility expected by the country of the graduating class, the Iskolar ng Bayan, since their university education was subsidized by the people’s tax. 

Wherever you go, UP President Alfredo Pascual said in his message in Pilipino to Class 2014, whether in government, in business and industry, in the academe, in NGOs, or in other fields, you are expected to push for reforms that would contribute to the well-being of the country and society.

Commencement speaker Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, expressed similar sentiments urging Class 2014 to pay back the people who spent for their education.  She exhorted them to be productive: “Huwag ninyong sayangin ang inyong kabataan, ang inyong lakas, ang kaningningan ng inyong mga mata, ang inyong idealismo at pagkamalikhain, sa mga pangarap na walang saysay.” 

She urged them to help in building a just and free country, clean of corruption. You have the voice, she said in her speech, to shout “‘tama na, tama na ang katiwalian, tama na ang lamangan, tama na ang kasuwapangan.’ Panahon na para ang katarungan ang manaig.”  

Sereno asked for patience and vigilance in the prosecution of graft and corruption cases. “Anuman ang magiging kararatnan ng mga judicial process na pagdaraanan, kailangan po ng walang humpay na pagbabantay ng taong bayan, di lamang sa pag bantay sa kaban ng bayan, kundi sa pag ganap ng tungkulin na iniatas ng ating konstitusyon sa mga opisyales ng ating pamahalaan,” she emphasized.

The Chief Justice was speaking to what Chancellor Tan described as the brightest and most privileged graduating class, many of them part of almost 4,000 high school graduates who gained admission to the Diliman campus after passing the UP College Admission Test (UPCAT) of 2010.

“Almost 60 percent of our students come from private high schools,” Tan said, “and another 30 from public science high schools, whose composition is still largely middle and upper income.”  He acknowledged, and thanked “the students from low income families, whose parents, or an Ate or Kuya, scrounged and saved, sought ways to get [them] into, and keep [them] in UP.”

Comprising Class 2014 were 3,367 with undergraduate degrees, 710 with master’s, and 62 with doctoral, degrees.  Tan made special mention of the seven students from Eastern Visayas who made it despite the adversity caused by typhoon Yolanda.  

On the lead were twenty summa cum laude graduates, and at the top was Ralph John O. Ugalino, BS Chemistry, from the College of Science with a weighted average grade (WAG) of 1.067. 

The College of Engineering had the most graduates at 789, eight of them summa cum laude.  The College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP), College of Science, and the School of Economics each had three graduates with top honors. 

Through a selection process that involved submission and oral presentation of a speech before a panel of judges, Jose Maria L. Marella, BS Economics(1.164 WAG) was chosen from among the qualified summas to deliver the response in behalf of the graduating class.

In his speech "Para sa Bayan: Dangal at Husay," he stressed two important values -- Honor and Excellence. "Dangal. Honor. Integrity. Ito ngayon ang hamon sa ating mga bagong graduates ng UP. Ipalaganap natin ang pagsisilbi ng may karangalan sa bayan. Huwag nating kalimutan ang mahahalagang aral na natutunan natin sa loob at labas ng classrooms sa UP. At higit sa lahat, isaalang-alang natin sa bawat gawain natin ang kabutihan ng lahat, ang kabutihan ng bawat Pilipino at hindi and pansariling interes lamang. Saan man tayo mapapunta, balik-tanawin natin ang mga aral na ito, tungo sa tapat at mahusay na pamamahala!"

The historical and current reference frames of this year's commencemnet program were enriched by the cultural nuances of the sablay. This is the official academic costume that graduating classes have been wearing since 2000, replacing the traditional cap and gown (toga).

The sablay is a loose garment or wide sash using the UP colors of maroon and green. It is a nationalistic expression conveying the importance of our indigenous culture, a value that the University teaches. The sablay is adorned with ukkil , representing the growth of knowledge, and geometric patterns like triangles and chevrons, which are common design elements of indigenous cultures in the Philippines. UP, the University’s acronym, is based on the baybayin for U and P, and is etched in yellow on the sablay.

It is worn over barong tagalog for the men, and ecru- or eggshell-colored dress for the women. The graduating class wears the garment on their right shoulder at the start of the program. The highlight comes when UP President confirms them as graduates, and that is when they move the sablay to their left shoulder using the proper technique so that they do not have to take it off. 

There’s another frame for the UP Diliman graduation day, very environmental or botanical.  It is not an official practice but it simply became traditional: the planting of sunflowers (Helianthus annuus L.) usually in late February so that they come into full bloom along the University Avenue and around the Quezon Hall amphitheatre during commencement week.

We have seen people in cars stopping by for selfies with the blooming sunflowers, and graduates sneaking out of the amphitheatre for picture taking at the University Avenue with the UP colors of their sablay as counterpoints to the bright yellow of the sunflowers.

It is almost a given: an unofficial part of the commencement program, a brief time allocation for student activists to express their advocacy statements. 
This year, before everyone rose for the singing of UP Naming Mahal, the activist graduates moved to the front with their banners, and with clenched fists, recited their protest slogans. 

From the balcony of Quezon Hall rolled two black tarpaulins printed with “US Troops Out Now!!!” and “Obama Out of Asia Now!!!”  This was on the eve of the arrival of US President Barrack Obama in Manila for his state visit to the country.

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