Graduation season is upon us but it’s not what students had anticipated. For graduates of the Class of 2020, this step in their academic journey is unprecedented as the pandemic forced them to shift their last semester online and leave campus abruptly without proper closure and spending the final weeks counting down with their peers.

Walking across the commencement stage is symbolic of the years of hard work they put in to obtain their degrees. It’s also a moment of pride to be witnessed by and shared with their family and friends. However, instead of the senior week traditions, caps and gowns, and large-scale ceremonies, students across the country are marking their milestones during this extraordinary time at home or will have to wait longer for a physical celebration at a later date.

From virtual commencements to car parades, the Asian Journal interviewed Filipino and Filipino American students about how they spent their big day and what’s next for them.

Jose Alaras, 22 | University of Southern California
Hometown: Topeka, Kansas
Degree: B.S. in Biochemistry & B.A. in Spanish

“Although the festivities were relocated to a livestream, it was quite difficult for me and my peers to gain any sense of closure during our virtual celebration. All of us worked years to succeed in our classes and all of that hard work culminated into a recorded livestream where the celebration felt distant and removed. The pandemic is obviously of higher priority, and the health risks simply would be too severe to warrant our in-person commencement in May.

Nevertheless, I wish we had experienced the celebration as a USC community, surrounded by friends and family before receiving our diplomas. Instead, my parents threw a celebration at home for my graduation. Although this graduation season was far from what I envisioned, I am thankful to have been able to celebrate with my family — they truly are my motivation and I was honestly more excited to show my parents how thankful I was for all their sacrifices for sending me to USC.”

Future plans: Attend University of Kansas School of Medicine in the fall to begin journey toward becoming a doctor

Monica Chernoff, 22 | Occidental College
Hometown: Palos Verdes, CA
Degree: B.A. in Psychology (Minor in Sociology and Gender, Women and Sexualities Studies)

“Occidental College sent a survey to the current seniors on different options for the graduation ceremony. As a result, Occidental is having one virtual ceremony where they are sending graduation boxes in June and planning to have another in-person graduation ceremony sometime next year for those who want to attend. Even though we have these options, it does not make up the experience of graduating with your entire college class and receiving the diploma in front of your family. Graduating college is a significant milestone for all students and their families. In addition, not having the traditional celebration is heartbreaking and makes us feel not recognized for all of our hard work and efforts. What I feel like I missed out on the most is the last few weeks hanging out with your college friends. We were not able to have senior celebration banquets, go on senior trips, and say proper goodbyes to other peers and teachers. I am a college athlete and my water polo season was cut short. I was heartbroken to miss out on many exciting things as a senior captain: senior day, the opening of our new pool, and just playing more water polo. Despite missing out on so many things, my family and friends have been so supportive. For my graduation day, my family and I did a little ceremony at home and had different zoom calls. I learned to still be proud and grateful for my college education, family, and health.”

Future plans: Start the marriage and family therapy graduate program at the University of Southern California this July

Marcelle Cruzado, 21 | University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nevada
Degree:  B.S. in Business Administration – International Business

“The Lee Business School handled the transition to virtual learning very well, in my opinion. In this time of uncertainty, the professors and faculty made sure to communicate with their students and be direct about any potential next steps for the future. While I did not have the senior year that I expected, the Lee Business School, the Honors College, and the student organizations I am involved with all celebrated their students through a YouTube video, social media, or Zoom! In addition, the Lee Business School has postponed their graduation, to be determined.”

Future plans: Pursue an MBA with a concentration in management information systems at UNLV

Elvelyn Fernandez, 22 | Georgetown University
Hometown: Honolulu, HI
Degree: B.S. in Biology

“Since my freshman year, I performed at the annual lu’au and bayanihan showcase for my university’s Hawaii Club and Club Filipino, so I was looking forward to performing for the last time as a senior. My university is postponing our in-person graduation to a currently unknown date. During the day graduation was scheduled to happen, they streamed a virtual graduation ceremony, which felt pretty anticlimactic especially because I am not physically on campus with my friends. Fortunately, I was able to celebrate with my family back home as they gave me leis and hosted a large Filipino lunch for everyone in our house.”

Future plans: Perform research or work in a clinical setting before applying to medical school; ultimate goal is to become an oncologist

Michelle Gutierrez, 21 | University of California, Santa Barbara
Hometown: Cerritos, California
Degree: B.A. in Political Science

“I think the most heartbreaking part of it is that my mother, who helped me go to college, won’t be able to see me walk through that stage and get my degree. I’m sad I won’t be able to see all my friends in our cap and gowns and cry during our commencement. It was a moment of happiness that was abruptly taken away from us. I’m still trying to cope with the idea that we won’t have a graduation, but I know that it’s a necessity and it’s out of everyone’s control. I also truly wished I could have experienced my Pilipino Graduation ceremony. Our loved ones present our Filipino flag stoles to us and everyone gets a one minute speech dedicated to whoever they want. I was ready to dedicate the ceremony to my mom and to all my friends who were with me through my journey in college. My housemates and I still plan to dress up in our cap and gowns to take pictures in our house. We also plan to have our own little ceremony by handing out fake diplomas and playing the graduation music while video chatting our families.”

Future plans: Move back to hometown and continue job search

Alicia Gabrielle Puzon, 21 | California State University, Northridge
Hometown: Makati City, Philippines
Degree: B.A. in Journalism & Public Relations (Minor in Communication Studies); Dean Scholar for Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication

“CSUN postponed the ceremony until further notice. Depending on the situation, they might move it to December of this year or spring next year. Thankfully, CSUN and all the individual colleges within the university held their own ‘virtual’ celebration of sorts. The university prepared a celebration video with messages from school officials, while the journalism department sent out congratulatory email blasts. I admit, it’s a bit disheartening to have all the festivities cancelled. While I understand the reasons behind all the postponements, it’s still a bit disappointing. Originally, my family was supposed to come here from the Philippines and we were all supposed to celebrate together, but because of the travel risks, that had to be cancelled. I know that the ceremony is just a formality, but knowing that the class of 2020 ended their studies at home while entering a scary economy makes the whole situation all the more discouraging. Nevertheless, I was still able to celebrate in my own little way — my sister, her boyfriend, and I ordered takeout and ate together during graduation day, and we Facetimed my relatives.”

Future plans: Look for a job in public relations or journalism before student visa expires

Jacqueline Rafael, 23 | St. John’s University
Hometown: New Hyde Park, NY
Degree: Doctor of Pharmacy

“We will have an online virtual slideshow graduation on May 30. But it was devastating since I was in school for six years! I wish I experienced pharmacy ‘formal’ with all my classmates. I will celebrate with a party with my family.”

Future plans: Take the three New York state board exams to become a registered pharmacist and continue to work for CVS

Julio Sabangan, 26 | Rutgers University – Newark
Hometown: Little Ferry, NJ
Degree: B.A. in Video Production

“Since I graduated at the end of the fall semester, I was fortunate enough to receive my diploma in the mail around April. I wished they had the ‘pre-graduation’ festival in the quad. I would have attended that. I sat at home with a plate of food, a cup of coffee, and had my family surrounding the television while we waited many, many hours for my name to appear on the screen. As you can see, my name starts with an ‘S.’”

Future plans: Venture into voice acting and video editing for television/films and advertising agencies

Stephanie Sison, 22 | New York University
Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Degree: B.A. in Economics (Minor in Business of Entertainment, Media, and Technology)

“I felt cheated to not graduate in Yankee Stadium alongside my fellow Class of 2020. I have looked forward to walking across the stage these past four years, and have dreamt of throwing my cap in the air with family, friends, and professors by my side. Aside from commencement in Yankee Stadium, I wish I could have experienced our Senior Cruise, NYU’s Grad Alley, and our annual Strawberries and Champagne. All of these events would have given me lasting memories to end my four years on campus. Instead of riding the subway to graduation, I walked downstairs and graduated on my couch. However, I felt grateful to be surrounded by family and felt thankful for my school and its efforts. We watched both graduation videos together followed by a brunch and dinner in our home. My family decorated our home for the festivities and surprised me with a Zoom celebration with all of my family back in Manila. Though I am looking forward to an in-person commencement, I had an unforgettable graduation day with family.”

Future plans: Working in New York City for AlphaSights as an associate in their consulting segment

Ferdinand Gerard Suba, Jr., 25 | Cornell Law School
Hometown: New York, NY
Degree: Juris Doctor (J.D.)

“While an in-person convocation will take place in the future, the law school hosted a virtual convocation ceremony on May 9, in which graduates, family, and friends were able to watch the dean, the dean of students, and an alumnus offer words of celebration and encouragement. Although it was disappointing that I could not celebrate in person with my peers, family, and faculty on the original convocation date, I nonetheless felt proud of what I had accomplished in the past three years and thankful for the many lessons learned and friendships formed. I wish I had experienced many end-of-the-year traditions with my peers, namely Barristers’ Ball, the banquets of the law school journals, and the 3L class dinner in the Reading Room of the Cornell University Law Library. While quarantined, I celebrated my graduation day by video chatting with my family and friends.”

Future plans:  Litigation associate in the New York office of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP

Jared Ortaliza, 21 | University of California, Los Angeles
Hometown: Glendale, CA
Degree: B.S. in Human Biology and Society; Minor in Asian American Studies

“Fortunately, UCLA was a bit more responsive to students’ critiques of transitioning to a solely digital ceremony and gave seniors a survey as to whether we would eventually want to hold a real-life ceremony in the coming months after the COVID-19 crisis is over. Not being able to walk in a real-life ceremony is underwhelming, given that it’s the culmination of four years worth of hard work and an opportunity to celebrate that with the people who have supported me along the way. However, I ultimately know that sense of accomplishment does not come from a piece of paper and that regardless of the events, I still find satisfaction that I was able to graduate from university. I feel like the experience I missed out on most was getting to say goodbye to my friends — there were many last meetings I didn’t know I had that when news of a virtual spring quarter broke out. I keep in touch with many of my friends, but having a proper in-person send off for all of us would have prevented our last time seeing each other from feeling so abrupt. My graduation is the same week as my birthday…I may hold a family dinner at home with my mom and dad! We can’t do too much because of quarantine but it’s the best we can do for now.”

Future plans: Apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to do research on the Southeast Asian governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and eventually a graduate degree in public policy to help support progressive policymaking

Nathaniel Padre, 28 | Columbia University
Hometown: Seattle, WA/Pasadena, CA
Degree: B.A. in Evolutionary Biology of the Human Species

“I didn’t think much of it until I experienced it. I attended graduation at Columbia last year, and I remember the proud feeling I experienced of my friends walking across the stage. I really wanted my parents to feel that for me. While I don’t particularly feel robbed or upset, because I find it necessary, but I do feel like I’ve missed out. Hopefully, this will be remedied soon with the possible in-person graduation ceremony. My family thought it was appropriate to have a kamayan feast, but in my absence. ‘Kamayan’ is ‘eating with the hands’ in the Philippines and also refers to a type of feast in which large portions of various Filipino foods are served on top of banana leaves that you eat with your hands. Unfortunately, I’ve been quarantining on my own on campus in NYC so that I don’t possibly bring the virus to my family. I watched them eat and celebrate my graduation on my behalf through Facetime.”

Future plans: Take a gap year and search for medical-related positions for experience before applying to medical schools next year

Caroline Raquel, 21 | University of Pennsylvania
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Degree: B.S. in Economics with a concentration in finance and B.S.E. in Bioengineering

“Penn rescheduled our in-person commencement to May 22 and 23, 2021, a week after the Class of 2021’s commencement. During graduation weekend, they posted pre-recorded graduation videos of the deans’ speeches and awards. It is a disappointing way to end such a momentous occasion. However, with the current state of the world, there are much worse things happening and I feel lucky to be home and safe with my family. Penn does Senior Week, the week between finals and graduation, with tons of fun activities and parties. I wish my friends and I got a proper goodbye since most of us left campus during spring break thinking we would be coming back in a few weeks. My family surprised me with a surprise parade outside my house. It was wonderful to be able to celebrate with family and friends even if through car windows and masks.”

Future plans: Start first job as an associate at Innovation Lab at KPMG U.S. in New York this September; working remotely in LA until NYC reopens, most likely until 2021

Eleanora Velez, 22 | Seton Hall University
Hometown: Summit, NJ
Degree: B.S. in Diplomacy and International Relations and a B.A. in Economics (Minor in French)

“Not being able to experience the big ceremony and receive my diploma on stage is upsetting and makes me feel like I lost out on an experience I longed for since starting college. I also wish I experienced the Senior Toast Ceremony where the dean of our school and our president host an intimate event just for seniors to toast and celebrate our accomplishments. While in quarantine, I celebrated my graduation with my mom, sister, and plenty of FaceTime calls with other family members and friends.”

Future plans: Pursue another internship while going back to school for a master’s degree in foreign security; goal is to become an international security advisor for the State Department or the Defense Department

Tiffany Ashley De Guzman Viray, 23 | D’Youville College
Hometown: Freehold, NJ
Degree: Dual B.S. and M.S. in Occupational Therapy (Cum Laude)

“Although graduating from my living room couch was not the ideal situation, it does not change the fact that I’ve worked the hardest I ever had these past five years to earn both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in occupational therapy. Traditionally, the Occupational Therapy Department will throw a White Coat ceremony before graduation, so it’s unfortunate that I didn’t get to experience that with my classmates and professors. To make up for this, my entire program celebrated our accomplishments through a virtual happy hour on Zoom, which was nice and special. For the most part, I think not being able to spend and celebrate my last semester of college with my friends and professors hurt the most. I met life long friends in Buffalo, NY and I had the most amazing college experience, so to be pulled away from that so abruptly was really hard to face.”

Future plans: Take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam later this summer; eyeing a specialty in pediatric or traveling occupational therapy

Monica Zafra, 26 | University of the Pacific – McGeorge School of Law
Hometown: Fullerton, CA
Degree: J.D. (Concentration in International Law)

“I wish I was able to experience our school’s graduate luncheon and commencement. In addition, serving as the Asian Pacific American Law Students’ Association co-president, I also wish I was able to have our end of the year spring celebration. My co-president and I put so much work into the event and it was unfortunate for us to have to cancel an event that would’ve had such esteemed members of the Asian American legal community in attendance. Right after my last day of finals (via my computer screen), my family surprised me with a mini celebration in our backyard and ordered my favorite meal from the location I had my debut at. As for June 6th, we will watch the virtual commencement and I hope to have family and friends on Zoom to celebrate as well. I’ll also be watching the Youtube Virtual Graduation Ceremony the Obamas are hosting that same day.”

Future plans: Take the bar exam in September; long-term goal is to be an international human rights law attorney

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