By Edna R. Bautista, Ed.D.
The future looked bright for Alyssa Jacelyn Salangsang Acob, Hawaii Filipino Chronicle’s first-ever journalism scholarship winner. In November 2019, she was recognized for her academic achievements at the Chronicle’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, Excellence Awards and Gala Dinner.
But COVID-19 roared into 2020, and by spring break in March, when she only had a few more weeks before graduating with honors from Hawaii Pacific University as a double major in Integrated Media and Mass Communications, the future looked uncertain.
“Everything was happening and changing so fast,” Acob recalled about the pandemic impacting her senior year at HPU. “I was honestly sad, angry, confused and discouraged because I had all these expectations of how I wanted my last semester of college to be, but I couldn’t do anything about it.”
Acob was just looking forward to spending time with her classmates, especially those who were graduating with her, and learning as much as she could from her professors before going out into the real world.
“I was also looking forward to the events that the school would host for the seniors, including GradFest, where seniors could go to pick up their caps and gowns, take photos and just hang out with friends. There’s also a concert that the school puts on where they would invite a featured artist to come and perform for all HPU students, alumni and faculty,” she said.
Because of the coronavirus crisis, Acob missed all these special moments and was not able to experience any of these collegiate traditions at HPU as a graduating senior.
Final class act
Like many other schools, HPU had to switch completely to online classes via Zoom and Blackboard. When the campus closed its classrooms, faculty and students had to act quickly by adapting their teaching and learning methods.
“I’ve taken online classes before, but I would only take one online class and the rest would be in-person. Transitioning to online definitely took a toll on me because I’m the type of student who needs to physically be in a classroom with a professor teaching me and other students alongside me to learn,” Acob said. “With school being online, I had to learn to be more self-disciplined and make sure I was keeping track of the work I needed to get done and the due dates to have them done by. Overall, I am extremely grateful for the understanding, flexibility, encouragement and help that my professors continued to provide for me throughout the semester that pushed me to finish this semester strong.”
HPU cancelled it spring 2020 commencement ceremony. Even plans for a virtual ceremony had to be altered.
“On May 9, which was supposed to be the day of our ceremony, HPU had a virtual send-off called ‘A Hui Hou’, which each college of study hosted separately,” Acob explained. “So for the College of Liberal Arts, we joined together through Zoom and had a meeting that included our dean, program chair, faculty and graduating students who wanted to attend. They went around to give their ‘goodbyes’ for now and even put together a quick slideshow of the graduating students that everyone was able to watch via screen-share.
“At the end, they allotted some time for each student on the Zoom meeting to quickly introduce themselves, what they majored in and if they had any upcoming plans for what’s next or any last thoughts to share about their college journey,” Acob said. “It was definitely a bittersweet moment that obviously can’t compare to a traditional ceremony, but nevertheless a once-in-a-lifetime and intimate moment that I got to experience in celebrating yet slowly closing this chapter of my life.”
Social distance celebration
Graduation parties during a pandemic pose plenty of health risks, so Acob’s family surprised her with a nontraditional social distance celebration on what would have been the night of her traditional commencement ceremony.
“They prompted me to get ready so we could just take pictures. The moment I stepped out of my house, I saw some family members and friends drive up to my house with their cars decorated, honking their horns. They got to ‘lei’ me as they drove and stopped by. It was something I was not expecting at all, but so grateful and blessed for my family,” Acob said.
She shared that instead of being stressed about her graduation not going as planned, she still cherished the intimate celebration with them, adding that “being quarantined at home, I got to spend more time with my family instead of always being on the go between school, work and personal life.”
The real world of work
Though many are facing unemployment during the coronavirus crisis, Acob was fortunate to go out into the real and find work. She said it was hectic after graduating from HPU but kept the faith. She believed that if God still allowed her to finish school strong, even through a global pandemic, “there will be no situation that is too hard that He can’t get me through in the future.”
Acob said, “In the midst of going back to my part-time job at Daiso and feeling anxious about finding another job, the more I just trusted God with whatever would come next, I actually got a full-time job opportunity to work at Pearlside Church in their media department. So I’m extremely blessed to be given this opportunity, especially in a time like this.”
Putting her JMC education and skills to use, she now manages their digital media [social media platforms, website, app and other forms of (print and broadcast) communication] by capturing stories and documenting events that go on in the church, publicizing the information and graphics and sharing the “good news” with everyone.
Facing the future
Learning does not end after graduation; the pandemic offers many teachable moments, as Acob and her peers face the future.
In this experience of unexpected change of plans, I learned that although we will always have plans, goals and dreams in mind, sometimes they won’t always go the way we expect and that’s okay—that’s the beauty of life,” Acob said. “Sometimes things can turn out better than we planned. In those moments, we learn a lot about ourselves and grow in character, wisdom and knowledge that will actually prepare us for what’s to come in the future.”
A generation like no other
She advised students who are still in college during the pandemic “to keep going, push through enjoy the journey and never stop dreaming…. You have a plan and purpose for your life that not even a global pandemic can take away. Honestly, there will be tough and challenging times, but if you continue to work hard, do your best and surround yourself with people who are going to encourage and support you, you can get through it and finish strong. You’ve come too far to give up now and I know this generation will be like no other!
“One of my professors told our class that we have the opportunity to have an impact and make a difference in this world that few generations get to,” Acob said. “My heart and prayers are with you all. Continue to stay safe, take care and we’ll get through this together.”