ALL VAXXED: Some 88 graduating students of the University of Saint Louis Tuguegarao (USLT) hold an in-person graduation ceremony, a first for Cagayan province during the coronavirus pandemic, on Feb. 5 while strictly observing health protocols and for everyone in attendance to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Photo from USLT)

By Villamor Visaya Jr., Philippine News Agency Stringer and Philippine Daily Inquirer Correspondent

TUGUEGARAO CITY, Cagayan, Philippines — The first in-person college graduation in Cagayan province during the coronavirus pandemic was held on Saturday at the University of Saint Louis Tuguegarao (USLT) campus here, drawing praise from residents.

Tuguegarao resident Santiago Dickson said it was high time for parents and teachers to physically attend their children’s commencement exercises, having longed for the “personal” experience since quarantines and lockdowns made previous graduations purely online events.

The weather also cooperated, said May Rosario, a relative who witnessed the university’s 50th graduation rites at a grassy field inside the campus.

The ceremony was joined by 88 USLT students who completed their courses mostly in engineering, education, and management for the school year 2020-2021, as well as by graduate students who received their master’s degrees.

“We actually expected 95 graduates but seven of them did not make it,” USLT editorial assistant Jonathan Sangdaan said.

The program was brief and no speeches were delivered before Fr. Renillo Sta. Ana, the USLT president, conferred their degrees.

So far, no graduates displayed COVID-19 symptoms after the ceremony even as the city still has 404 active COVID-19 cases as of Feb. 5.

The city, which is currently under alert level 3, has recorded a total of 18,644 patients since the pandemic struck in 2020 and had lost 550 residents to the disease.

School officials said strict health protocols were observed during the one-hour program, requiring every attendee to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, with seats spaced a meter apart. USLT had secured the permission of the local COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force for the graduation rite.

Only a selected member of the family of a graduating student was allowed to attend. Everyone, including the new graduates, was also required to present full vaccination cards.

Excited, ecstatic

Resident Mary Antoniette Tavera-Jacinto said city folk were excited about the impact of the in-person graduation on other activities after most gatherings were curbed or strictly regulated during two years of the pandemic.

Graduation ceremonies requiring physical interaction had been prohibited across the country since March 2020, with schools conducting these rites as online events over the past two school years.

Chrizel Parcon, who received her diploma for completing her master’s degree in engineering, said she was ecstatic at being able to participate in the ceremony.

USLT started out as Catholic School for Boys of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with 138 pupils when it opened on Jan. 6, 1965. Three years later, the school began offering college degrees in civil engineering, commerce, liberal arts and junior secretarial courses to 236 students. In 1968, the school was renamed Saint Louis College of Tuguegarao.

It became USLT on May 20, 2002, and was “one of the first thirty private higher education institutions in the Philippines to be granted full autonomy by the Commission on Higher Education from 2002-2007,” according to the school website.

Graduating college students like Arnold Dizon and Anarose Gubac Alasin enrolled in other schools in the city hoped their colleges would replicate USLT’s graduation ceremony.#