My on-site graduation: It was surreal

2 years, 21 days after that abrupt end, I found myself in familiar surroundings among teachers and beloved batchmates

To a 15-year-old grade 10 student like me, the news of final exams being canceled was one full of jubilation. My Messenger inbox was flooded, with group chats buzzing with excitement and relief at the abrupt ending of a hectic school year. Discussions of symbolism in Animal Farm and about mathematical equationswere replaced with vacation plans and future lakads with friends.  

However, these emotions turned out to be short-lived. The prospect of an extended summer break was soon overshadowed by the grim reality of the COVID-19 global pandemic. What would follow was an unprecedented Senior High School experience. 

COVID surges, alarming death tolls, heated socio-political issues that included threats to freedom of speech and alleged corruption in government,  the devastating super typhoon Rolly, repeated lockdowns resulting in massive loss of income and worsening poverty levels,  all contended with an overwhelming feeling of loss – of high school experiences and highlights that would never materialize. Those events, considered as rites of passage, such as school fairs, overnights, Junior Prom and Senior Ball, would not occur for our batch. On late nights and early mornings, I was left pondering the what-if’s and what-could-have-beens. 

The last day of high school that I had imagined when I entered the Junior High Building in Grade 7 would not transpire.  There were no heartfelt goodbyes, tight hugs in the hallways, conversations about college plans, and final class pictures. In fact, that day was quite anticlimactic—it seemed like any other school day, simply logging off Zoom and closing all my tabs for the day.

Yet, as often said, the best things in life are the unexpected ones. My senior high journey turned out to be full of unexpected surprises and new opportunities. 

Despite the apparent disruption and changes brought about by the pandemic, digital technology allowed us continued access to education. Thanks to our school’s innovativeness and readiness to pivot and adopt e-learning, we somehow managed to have some semblance of “normalcy” in those unpredictable times. We still had a structured class schedule and extra-curricular activities. In fact, the online set-up ironically enabled me to get to see more and know more, from webinars to internships, from interactions to outreach programs. The drive to maximize the capabilities of online platforms taught me that distance does not have to be a barrier to find resources, to create solutions and to form relationships and connections.

So when my batchmates and I received news of an on-site graduation, I’d like to think that it was another moment full of jubilation. What seemed for a long time to be only a remote possibility was actually becoming a reality. And this time, the emotions were not short-lived. 

Batch 2022’s IBDP Cohort 11

Two years and 21 days after that abrupt ending to my Grade 10, I found myself in familiar surroundings among teachers and with my beloved batchmates, ready to finally graduate high school. To me, the day was simply surreal.  

Seeing my schoolmates and friends, some for the first time in two years, was truly beyond words. It felt like we just picked up where we left off. In the weeks prior, Xavier gradually allowed students on a voluntary basis to go to school for year-end recollection and various school events.  Yet oddly enough, the last day of my Xavier life felt like the very first day of school in the sense that I was full of anticipation and excitement to enter campus. 

Walking through the school quadrangle as the traditional graduation marching anthem was played, and seeing the beaming faces of parents and teachers welcoming our arrival made me realize just how amazingly fast time flew. Is this it?

As our names were called and we went up the stage to receive our diplomas and awards, memories of my 13 years at Xavier flashed by. Brimming with profound elation, yet with a tinge of nostalgia as we sang the school song with pride and glory, I could only say a prayer of thanksgiving for this day of celebration.

After the program, we wasted no time to capture the milestone moments. I just couldn’t seem to get enough photos with friends, schoolmates, teachers and family. 

It felt not too long ago when I entered the walls of Xavier School as a bright and jolly child. Now, I leave campus as a wiser, yet still bright and jolly 17-year-old. 

I can say that the overwhelming sense of loss, fear and uncertainty in the earlier days of the pandemic has long been displaced by countless learnings, discoveries and experiences— from making wonderful friends over Zoom and Discord to teaching digital literacy to over 700public school students, from acquiring new skills and meeting new people to engaging in activities that seek to promote personal growth and expand my horizons. 

“It felt not too long ago when I entered the walls of Xavier School as a bright and jolly child. Now, I leave campus as a wiser, yet still bright and jolly 17-year-old.”

Not only was I able to explore new subjects in my Senior High IB curriculum, but I also learned to navigate new territories with more independence and creativity. Organizing inter-school events that brought together different personalities for a common purpose revealed the power of dialogue as a channel to inspire and be inspired. Reaching out to our distant neighbors—the typhoon victims, the undernourished children, the urban poor communities—through fund-raising activities became more real; a stark reminder that anything is possible when one sees beyond limitations. The pandemic did not destroy our plans and spirit. It merely diverted them. 

My batchmates and I graduated at a crucial time. We begin college at a time when face-to-face classes could return. We also turn 18 in time for the National Elections. Our online exposure to societal issues and volunteer opportunities in the past two years have molded us to become more engaged citizens and galvanized us into action, and hopefully, to make the right choices—choices that will define our future and the future of our country. 

So, when I’m asked, “Did you miss out on a lot of things?” 


But I know I definitely gained so much more. For that, I am incredibly grateful. 

The author with his homeroom section, 12B

Zander Ellis Sy

graduated from Xavier School San Juan with academic honors and was a recipient of the Xavier Award, the school's highest award. He was the head of TEDxXavierSchool and XS Youth Christian Life Community. He won a number of international accolades in debate tournaments. As a passionate learner with an interest in economics, history, and education, he aspires to be involved in policy-making and finance.

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