‘Graduate na ako’ | Inquirer Opinion
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‘Graduate na ako’

/ 05:05 AM October 21, 2022

On Sep. 24, 2022, I was supposed to climb up the stage to get my diploma and have my mother hang my medal around my neck.

But 50 kilometers away, in a hospital room and hooked to an IV line, I could only watch in the online livestream as the announcer called my name.

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At that exact moment, I was waiting for an emergency gallbladder removal operation.

Sayang. I was supposed to wear a P7,000 barong Tagalog, with the sablay hanging on my right shoulder.

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Instead, I wore a hospital gown that day, as doctors and nurses prepped me for surgery.

My family and I were supposed to eat at a buffet in UP Town Center. We originally planned to celebrate the fact that in 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, I got my journalism degree.

I was hungry and very thirsty from the ongoing fasting at the time. The doctors didn’t want to risk me drowning in my own vomit due to the general anesthesia to be administered in the operating room.

Mama was supposed to hang my cum laude medal around my neck. Or rather, I intended to give her my medal, as she deserved the award for being my “ulirang ina.”

She ended up beside me, helping me with my needs and signing consent forms. My right hand was hooked to slow-dripping dextrose.

In a matter of two days, my anticipation of a celebration turned into a very different reality.

Unexpected. At midnight on Sept. 22, I clutched my stomach in pain. Contorting my body in a frog-like crouch and lying on my left side only gave me little comfort and sleep.

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I was already rushed to the hospital earlier that week for gastritis.

Five hospitals later, the pain only went slightly away. The chance of me walking up the stage and taking photos with my mother and my family became very slim.

The gravity of my illness sunk in when a doctor told me that I had huge gallstones blocking my bile. I had to go to surgery on graduation day.

Retribution. The gallstones are a penalty for how reckless I have been with my diet for the last 24 years.

My privilege has allowed me and my family to eat fatty foods like pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti.

As a child, I was a “meatatarian” who rarely ate vegetables. I only ate fruits like bananas, apples, and oranges when forced.

Grade school and high school PE taught me that not eating a balanced diet would lead to health problems.

Never have I considered that this unhealthy living would bite me in the butt so hard.

The costs. I inadvertently denied my mother the opportunity to climb to the stage to receive my academic awards, supposedly for the last time.

My mother used to pin my ribbons and hold my diplomas during commencement exercises from preschool to high school.

A huge part of my life savings went away. At least I was lucky that my siblings shouldered half the medical bill, and that my office reimbursed my laptop purchase.

Most importantly, it made me realize that what I do to my body does have consequences. I now avoid fat-filled foods, alcohol, milk tea, and coffee.

Recovery from my four wounds in the abdomen wasn’t so bad, but the occasional pain I felt as my belly jiggled reminded me that I had to lose some weight too.

In a way, these realizations served as my own process of moving up in the world.

Graduate. I try not to think too much about not being physically present to graduate. Or missing out on seeing batchmates and workmates in their dashing barong and baro’t saya.

After all, I already got my diploma and medal months ago. The face-to-face event was merely for the sake of a formal celebration and reunion.

At that exact moment I was supposed to climb up the stage, I told my mother. She cried, even if I told her not to.

“Hindi ko mapigilang hindi umiyak. Proud ako sa ’yo,” my mother said. Even at that unfortunate moment, she was still proud of me: She even told a nurse, even if I didn’t want her to.

The sheer irony of that moment was embarrassing and sad at the same time. And it hurt that my mother and my family didn’t get to celebrate, and instead worried about me.

But now that I’m comfortable enough to share this experience with others, I guess I can finally say, with full acceptance:

“Graduate na ako.”

—————–

Earl Garcia (@malabongtinta) is a 24-year-old writer who graduated at the time of the pandemic.

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