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Young Blood

‘Sablay,’ sunflowers, and a virus

I have pictured it a million times. The beautiful white dress I’m going to wear, my family’s smiles and cheers, sunflowers lining the path, countless congratulations, and seemingly endless celebrations. It’s supposed to be one of my happiest days, signaling the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one.

Every time I wanted to give up, weighed heavy by backbreaking schoolwork and crippling self-doubt, I held on fiercely to this mental image. Someday, it’s going to be my turn to shift my very own sablay from my right shoulder to the left. Someday, I will get to take tons of graduation photos with my batchmates and favorite professors. Someday, my parents will finally hear my name called on stage and my college woes will officially be over.

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That day was supposed to happen in 2017. But because life almost never goes according to plan, it didn’t. Every June since then, I would become bitter but at the same time hopeful that the next year would be my year.

Alas, 2020 came along and ripped my graduation picture to shreds. For the fourth consecutive June, the sunflowers along University Avenue did not bloom for me despite my most fervent prayers. Just when my name was finally included on the list of graduates.

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It’s fine. It’s just a ceremony, anyway. What’s important is I’m still getting that diploma. Besides, there are much more pressing problems at the moment, like the pandemic ravaging the world.

No matter how many times I say these to myself, it’s still not fine. Nothing is.

Honestly, having no physical graduation ceremony during a public health crisis wouldn’t have been this hard to accept if only the crisis can truly be deemed inescapable. But seeing the country mired in one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns, buried deep in trillions of debt, yet test kits and personal protective equipment for frontliners remain scarce, is just infuriating.

The rising death toll and prolonged quarantine are especially harder to endure when each day brings tidings of some political interest irrelevant to the pandemic getting prioritized over the plight of the masses.

Every day, someone gives face to the government’s lack of proactive policies — a woman dead after waiting days for a bus home, jeepney drivers arrested for rallying to request government aid and ask permission to resume their work, patients forced to walk to hospitals to have their dialysis treatment, and stranded workers left with no choice but to sleep under a bridge.

The country is still in a crisis, so now Batch 2020 graduates have to move on without the kind of closure we had expected. Yes, I probably shouldn’t have anchored my hopes on a ceremony that can only bear witness to something I had already achieved. But that vision helped me keep going, and I survived six years of mental and emotional turmoil looking forward to it. Now I’m letting it go, only to find out that the game plan to put things back to normal is just to wait for a vaccine from other countries? To add insult to injury, we can only watch as countries with excellent policies are able to combat the disease even without a vaccine.

This just makes moving on a lot more painful than it should be. The “what ifs” are killing me. What if we closed the door to infected countries from the very start and worried less about hurting China’s feelings? What if we did obsessive contact tracing with the first few positive cases? What if we prioritized a mass testing program even before the surge in deaths? What if, what if, what if. These are all useless questions now, and nothing but accountability can quench them.

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I did my best so I could march at the end of the school year. I know I can’t do that anymore. Maybe the only closure I need now is to see our policymakers also do their best so Batch 2021 can.

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Gemma Alkuino Esteban, 23, is an aspiring teacher.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, delayed graduation, Gemma Alkuino Esteban, Young Blood
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