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Sunflowers and sablay: UP symbols of  ultimate rites of passage

Dennis Gorecho - Kuwentong Peyups

I visited this week the Diliman campus of University of the Philippines to run and see if the sunflowers are still in full bloom.

Social media recently has been flooded with photos of two UP graduation icons—sunflowers and sablay.

The bright yellow sunflowers lead the way for graduates towards the iconic Oblation statue and behind it the Amphitheater where the commencement exercise is held.

Sunflowers bloom around the same time the students graduate—it used to be around April. When UP shifted their academic calendar, the people in charge of the sunflowers found a way for these flowers to bloom even during the rainy season around June or July.

The Diliman campus was my solace for a decade as a student at the UP School of Economics from 1987 to 1991 and later at the UP College of Law from 1992 to 1998.

After engaging in graphs, formulas and laws of supply and demand as an Economics major, I crossed the street to pursue my law degree.

However, I do not have any recollection of blossoming sunflowers during my two graduation ceremonies.

I also did not wear a sablay as the amphitheater was just a sea of traditional black togas.

The emergence of sunflowers and sablays gave UP graduation a new and colorful twist in tradition.

Sunflowers have become the symbol of the ultimate rites of passage in the university, as graduates hurdled every academic requirement through sleepless and restless days and nights.

As a parting gift for graduating students, sunflowers symbolize devotion and loyalty. In the various stages of growth and decay, these flowers become succinct reminders of the various cycles of life and death. As one blossom inside the campus, there will come a time that one will have to leave.

Sunflowers, in order to grow, need full sun, just as every student treat every experience inside the university as necessary for their individual growth.

Sunflowers also always follow the direction of the sunlight. Graduates should always follow the light, a light that calls them to serve the country.

“Sablay,” translated from tagumpay, or “triumph,” is just a fitting sash for the students that have completed their studies, which became the official academic costume of UP officially adopted in 2000.

The sablay gets its inpiration from the Muslim malong, a loose garment made from a seamless bolt of cloth. It incorporates various traditional elements found in other Philippine cultures.

Running through the sablay are geometric motifs of indigenous Philippine tribes. The university colors of maroon and green frame the initials of the University rendered in yellow gold alibata characters, the ancient Philippine alphabet.

The sablay is worn initially over the right shoulder. After the President has conferred the degree, it is moved from the right to the left shoulder without being taken off.

There are 1,433 students who graduated this year with Latin honors: 147 summa cum laude, 652 magna cum laude, and 634 cum laude.

This is the highest recorded number of honor graduates not only in the history of the Diliman campus but also of the entire UP System.

A Latin phrase that translates to “with the greatest honors,” summa cum laude is the university’s highest academic distinction for graduates with a weighted average grade of 1.20 or higher followed by the magna cum laude (1.21-1.45) then cum laude (1.46-1.75).  

Former vice president Leni Robredo, who spoke during the UP Law Batch 2022’s graduation rites, encouraged the law graduates to continue fighting for a just and humane society, and not to lose the will to fight for what is right.

While she believes that historical distortion and lies will end, Robredo also called on the law graduates to be there in the “battlefield” so that the “war for justice, for dignity, for truth, inclusiveness, and solidarity be ultimately won.”

UP, as an educational institution, must remain a safe haven for civilized and intelligent discourse of all beliefs and forms of democratic expression, where students and teachers can discuss freely without fear of censorship or retaliation.

The campus molded us to fight for the causes we believe in, trained us for the skills we need to communicate ideas and rally others to effect changes in society.

The university teaches what textbooks cannot capture, the state education curriculum avoids, or the military censors erase or prohibit.

UP’s mission is aptly couched in a quote from my UP Law professor and Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen: “Serve the people. Do not betray your humanity.” 

An academic community all too easily fractured by politics and personal interest, the cheer “UP FIGHT!” reverberated during the past UAAP games as the UP Fighting Maroons fought UP style.

To the new UP graduates, savor the brightness of the sunflowers and be true to the lyrics “Humayo’t itanghal, giting at tapang. Mabuhay ang pag-asa ng bayan!.”

Peyups is the moniker of University of the Philippines. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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