While Lauren graduated in the front yard, I graduated in my bedroom. My hair was untrimmed with lots of white streaks showing. I wore my old nevertheless still presentable cream blazer and a pajama which was not shown in my camera. I just had the strangest feeling of all. It was the 61st day of the lockdown in New York which was then the epicenter of the pandemic in the US.
By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Five-year-old Lauren Constantino Beck graduated kindergarten on June 25, 2020 in an unprecedented manner. Her teacher, Mary Ann Franzita came to deliver her certificate in her front yard, and she received it with a sweet smile. Very shortly after, her mom, my friend Ann, her dad Nick, and older brother Tristan posed with her and teacher Mary Ann for a picture.
We cheered for Lauren! And that’s it.
Teacher Mary Ann left in 10 minutes to give out another student’s certificate. Lauren and her brother, wrestling with impatience, were up for a photo session directed by their mother. Nick who rushed out of his bedroom in a dress shirt but barefoot (the new covid fashion statement) when the teacher arrived, went upstairs to go back to work.
In the wee hours of that day, Ann stylized a backdrop of thick white paper with the inscription Class of 2020! Congratulations, Lauren which we colored with crayons. For Tristan who finished 3rd Grade, Ann made a poster: Yes! I survived 3rd Grade! The posters, finished at about 3AM, both came out gleefully beautiful.
We all enjoyed the barbecue, corn, and fruits for the otherwise happy day of accomplishment of the two children.
It was only last year when graduation ceremonies were a big social event. Done in social halls and coliseums, graduates walked proudly to receive their diplomas as they’re being cheered by family and friends. That’s all gone now. It felt strange and nostalgic to not have those traditional graduation rites.
On May 23, I finished my Masters in Religious Studies at the Unification Theological Seminary in a supposed graduation ceremony in the spacious hall of our school in Manhattan. The COVID19 pandemic made all excitement and preparations go pffft. We instead had an online ceremony through zoom.
The graduates did an online rehearsal one day earlier with the emcee, the zoom administrator, and all those who had a part in the program – our Registrar Ute Delaney, Academic Dean Dr. Keisuke Noda, Vice President Dr. Michael Mickler, and President Pres. Thomas Ward. We all had to be familiar on how to operate our computer screens using the zoom platform.
While Lauren graduated in the front yard, I graduated in my bedroom. I just had the strangest feeling of all on the 44th commencement exercises and first virtual ever for UTS. My hair was untrimmed with lots of white streaks showing. I wore my old nevertheless still presentable cream blazer and a pajama which was not shown in my camera.
It was the 61st day of the lockdown in New York which was then the epicenter of the pandemic in the US.
It really was so convenient to graduate virtually. No big effort to dress up and be in rehearsed rites. But being alone in my bedroom felt funny. I cannot clap spontaneously for my classmates, I had to stretch out my arm first to touch the unmute button, so we could hear all our claps.
The UTS gave two (surprise) awards for students this year – the Distinguished Service Award and the Public Leadership Award. I kicked and shouted for Vanette Colmenares who was accorded the former. She deserved it for having been helpful to all of us at school and in providing support to school activities with vigor.
Then I heard my name for the Public Leadership Award! Whatttt! I kicked and shouted some more! I made so much noise in my bedroom. What an honor to have been recognized by my school community as having “best demonstrated creative leadership toward positive social changes.”
I was inducted into the Theta Alpha Kappa Honor Society along with eight graduates that day as well. We had pre-recorded our two-minute speeches. So that part was mildly ecstatic, but still a moment of honor and joy.
During my speech, I honored the memory of my daughter, Leani Alnica, who I miss everyday but so much that day. She passed on to a higher life on November 17, 2019 due to colon cancer. I always felt that life is not fair – why would someone so young not have enough years to prove one’s love and leadership in a world so lost and wanting.
Despite my daily grief because Nikki isn’t with me physically, I embrace my life with gratitude and responsibility. And although life has drastically changed because of covid19, the profound feelings of joy, pride, and community and family remain the same, untrampled.
I was inspired by the graduation message of Dr. Ki Hoon Kim during our virtual graduation. “What shall we do?,” he queried.
“The entire world has been on lockdown and this is negatively affecting the economy. More than 33 million Americans have filed unemployment claims. Social isolation, job loss, and grief over the death of loved ones is leading to psychological strain and even political unrest. Some communities have staged protests over stay-at-home orders and business closures. There has been a rise in Sinophobia and incidents of abuse directed at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
“I suggest two responses. First we must secure our spiritual anchors. The second response to COVID19 must be to find creative ways forward,” Dr. Kim said.
Creative ways. I look at the young Lauren and Tristan. Immediately, the challenge is to create ways to make their home schooling creative. While on lockdown, the school’s online program was in competition with interesting movies and online games they play such as Minecraft.
Parents, like Ann and Nick, were having a hard time making them focus on online studies with the deluge of homework. They deserve a big congratulations too for surviving the kids during the lockdown. What will the academic community do about this? How will online schooling look like in the Fall?
What’s in store for the 2020 graduates? The world is not so vast anymore for them. We can only hold hope in our hearts and continue to be vigilant in health practices.
As for me, what creative ways are there for teaching online, and what practical courses. I am sure UTS is rolling its sleeves for programs that are more innovative and relevant.
As I write, New York is reopening itself – but cautiously, as Gov. Cuomo warned people and business entities. Wearing masks and social distancing must be heeded as the government has provided budgets to disinfect the trains and increase testing.
Restaurants are constructing partitions around tables and limiting the dining capacity. Better safe than sorry, yes.
Even parties will soon have foods to be individually packed, to avoid contamination and exposure.
Covid19 has rebooted all of us. It’s teaching us to change our old ways. For me, the new normal will be creative and better. Now is the time to be clean and boost our immune systems, as nature had always prescribed. Have some sunshine, Vitamin C, exercise, hydrate, don’t stress so much, be happy.
Wearing a mask means showing respect for others and for self-preservation. In a public health crisis, it shouldn’t be a selfish assertion of individual freedom or of political allegiance. I believe that New Yorkers have flattened the curve because the majority of us wore masks, washed our hands more often, socially distanced, and stayed home.
How very strange that it took an invisible enemy to change us all. The world is not yet out of the woods of this pandemic but it has certainly brought out the best and worst in people.
At least in NYC, it has taught us to be united, both government and people, so that unified action such as social distancing and wearing of masks could actually mean saving lives. #