MACA-ka-graduate tayo!: Compassion & congratulation amid the COVID-19 pandemic

A graduate student sees a gleam of hope to finish his master’s degree amid battling distress and anxiety caused by the pandemic.

I remember how I announced my excitement somewhere at the beginning of March. I posted online that I would visit the libraries of the University of the Philippines-Diliman for my literature review. Then came the agent of cancellation: the coronavirus lockdowns. 

The pandemic put everything at a standstill. Four other classmates and I, who were already crafting our thesis proposals in the Master of Arts in Communications Arts (MACA) program at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, were left clueless about our academic fate. We were waiting for the announcements amid the petitions for mass promotion. We were hoping for a compassionate resolution. 

The contagion saturated the air with dreadfully unseen enemies. Soon, I was infected not by the virus but by apprehensions that were cooked inside me using the following ingredients.

First, boil a cup of unemployment for an untimely nonrenewal of contract in the workplace one month before the lockdown. 

Then, add the news about the crisis. After it, put the distractions at home like television, chores, and even cats that disrupted my momentum to work. 

Lastly, courtesy of the pragmatist in me, pour the worst-case scenarios, one being the probable lack of consideration from professors because A. I am already a graduate school student expected to be strong-willed and resourceful instead of full of excuses; B. I would inevitably do my proposal even if grades get deferred for I would be enrolling my first units of thesis to start gathering data in the next semester. 

A friend once told me that the loss of faith in compassion breeds desperation. I consumed the recipe of apprehension that soon morphed into pressure until it consumed me. 

I emboldened myself to be productive. I told myself that I should take advantage of the situation and that it should not be the other way around. I was at home and had control over my time. I could read online resources for my thesis. 

I could still remember the drill I built for myself. I would be engrossed in working on my paper for an hour and would rest on the next as a reward. Work, rest, work, rest, work, rest. I would even punish myself whenever I broke this seemingly flawless routine. Exceeding an hour of rest or being distracted in the hour of work would be penalized by doubling the hours for toil. 

I was enlisted in this regimen until I found myself one day typing a story instead of cerebrally contending with Althusser and Fairclough. Soon, I was impulsively writing a set of fantastical narratives. My fingers grew a life of their own and were frantically typing. It was a liberating experience. However, the dusk later reminded me of how I failed to perform my routine. I cried that night and composed an honest post online. 

I admitted there how unmotivated I really was to be productive and how I felt guilty for not accomplishing anything. I was part of a hustle culture. 

The post was received with “care” reactions, one of them from Prof. Janette Malata-Silva, whose class with me and another classmate was disrupted by this pandemic. I visited our chats. Ma’am Janette, who would always react literally with a heart in our online conversations, invoked her academic freedom by expressing her willingness to waive her requirements and give us passing grades. 

I also revisited my chats with Prof. Jerry Yapo, my thesis adviser since college and our professor in Graduate Seminar, where we were tasked to craft our proposals. I was surfing through waves of consultative talks when I found these reassuring words: “That’s good in the midst of COVID-19.” I remembered then the first three sentences he typed in a group he asked me to create for our class: “Hi, my dear COMA 299. How are things with you? Stay safe and healthy.” 

My hypothesis was wrong. My professors are considerate after all. There is, to alter the title of a book, love in the time of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The same night, I communicated with a mental health worker. “Congratulations! You were amazing! Really? You were drafting your thesis proposal? Amid this pandemic?”  The energy on his voice was contagious.

We will get to our destinations. I believe in the name of our chat group: “MACA-ka-graduate tayo!” In this pandemic, in my program. It is in the future tense, full of trust and hope.

He then explained to me that it is normal to feel these apprehensions nowadays and that I should acknowledge them. He advised me to take a break from doing my thesis proposal and let my creative writing channel my anxieties.  

I was writing every day, a few of them published in an online anthology for COVID-19. I was doing my passion and by doing so I was being kind to myself again. The word “passion” may have been derived from “compassion.” I attended creative writing webinars. I took a Bachelor of Science in Binge-watching.

Sir Jerry may not be aware, but his five students in Graduate Seminar have a separate chat group, which I named “MACA-ka-graduate tayo!” By occasionally checking on my classmates, I would find out that I was not alone in my battles.

Kuya Glenn and Joseph, who are both teachers like me, were watching a series, too. The former would enthusiastically send links of reservoirs for scholarly sources. The latter would recommend light-hearted anime to me and disclosed that the crisis also affected his work. Lyza amazed me on how she recalibrated the methodology of her research in another subject to circumvent the data gathering limits imposed by the pandemic. They are no longer just my classmates but are fellows in a support group system. 

Little by little, my muse for thesis writing is waking up. My topic has something to do with censorship among journalists. With all these happenings, how could I not be inspired?

The path to healing is nonlinear, says a page on mental health. I believe it also applies to dreams. The flight may be delayed, but we will get to our destinations. I believe in the name of our chat group: “MACA-ka-graduate tayo!” In this pandemic, in my program. It is in the future tense, full of trust and hope. 


Edited by Charmie Joy Pagulong

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