[OPINION] To the graduating class of COVID-19
Many of you might have the good fortune of escaping physically unharmed, but you are likely losing psychological safety nets attached to identity. The last in-class exam from that awful professor who needs to retire, the final weeks of beer and fried chicken from that bar near campus, the umpteenth embarrassing graduation picture with your parents and bored siblings, the joyful relief of leaving because, for some, you just didn’t give a f*** about school — these form parts of the structure of the self. (READ: No graduation rites in the country during coronavirus pandemic – Briones)
In this pandemic, they are now rupturing. The ordinariness of finding yourself in this world is now requiring a retelling, where new voids might never be healed. Grief is inevitable.
And so, mourning is necessary.
For some, you graduate from highly selective schools whose overvaluation of world rankings confuses magnification from engagement. The survival and monetizing codes of these institutions in the higher education market — and it is a market — do not enable you to do precisely that when you graduate. For the rest — that is, the 99.99% percent of young Filipinos — you are the real engines of this country but leave for a status-anxiety job market that devalues your capabilities.
The short-term aches and pains of university life are engulfing into long-term anguish.
Many of you were struggling long before celebrity-adjacent influencers took to sexualized TikTok clips disguised as pandemic positivism. I know, because through my mental health research, you let me in on your vulnerability. About one-third of you have felt down, depressed, or hopeless for more than half the days or for nearly every day. Nearly half of you felt a sense of failure, too. Some of these may simply be the intrinsic despair of youth, but I believe something menacing is going on.
I see intergenerational trauma in action. You did not live through the brute force of Martial Law or through the redemption of People Power. But you are a generation that doesn't need first-hand experience of horrific injustice to understand what horrific injustice is like. Your historical empathy, strong and intensifying, is not privatized cool or a projection of woke. You are genuinely more liberal, more creative and less punitive — at a cost.
One in 4 of you have cut, burned, or otherwise hurt yourselves in the last 12 months, according to my research. A little more than half of you had thought that it would be better if you yourselves were dead. One in 5 had planned to kill yourselves, with about 10% of you having attempted suicide. These are astonishing and heart breaking numbers, seemingly irrefutable evidence of suffering as the quintessential Filipino ethos.
And then, there’s the pandemic.
It’s tempting to now tap into the optimism and promise of graduation and other school year-end rituals when the world is so bleak. But I am deciding against it. Not that you are less capable of coming through to the other side. And not that the rest of us are less willing to buy into that personal branding.
But to me, this takes you away from the necessary work of grieving. Negative emotions are signals that something needs to change. To hasten a redeeming shift towards yet another Filipino archetype — resilience — seems more like a relentless drive to avoid change. (READ: [OPINION] Embracing grief, avoiding toxic positivity)
The grief police will not like the way you’re wading through the deep fog of grief — or that you’re mourning at all. Your grief, they’ll suggest, is selfish. People are dying, they’ll say. Why are you grieving about graduation or class parties? If you grieve on social media — because you will and do — the backlash might be fierce and intense, judging your public mourning as performative and therefore fodder for critical analysis. The grief police, you see, takes comfort in a sense of injury, where there’s only one right way to be sad in this pandemic.
But you stay steady and grieve on.
The death of any one from the coronavirus is so wounding. For their surviving loved ones, they’re feeling, I suspect, like they’re at the mercy of gale force emotions to which they did not consent nor had full understanding.
But your loss is important, too. Not being with your friends in the last weeks of college life. Not having your beaming parents watch you walk across the stage. These also matter, because they matter to you.
When others claim that a COVID-related death is more entitled to our mourning than a graduation, it is the grief police believing that compassion is in short supply. It is not. This is not a competition. We — and most especially, your proud families and friends — are all capable of immeasurable compassion.
Your grief is valid, because all loss is valid. – Rappler.com
Dr Ronald Del Castillo is professor of psychology, public health, and social policy at the University of the Philippines-Manila. The views here are his own.