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#RoadToIntramuros2021: A Thomasian Graduation Pictorial

Graduating online is a muted affair compared to the grand ceremony it invokes. It never lives to the grandeur of getting the diploma, the medal, or the memories with one’s batchmates. Rather, it becomes a painful reminder that this pandemic doesn’t discriminate.



Photo courtesy of Jpigfile's Facebook page

Nothing beats reaching the same heights together with peers despite years of trials in the academe. Unfortunately, the pandemic had halted on-site graduations and any room for closure. 

But these four best friends went an extra mile, 2.7 miles to be exact — from UST to Intramuros — to capture what was lost. 

“Since Senior High is once in a lifetime, and lahat naman po is like, once in a lifetime—for me, parang po in exchange for all the robbed memories from us, and parang eager na ‘ah, push natin ‘to,” said Fionah Villalobos, now a first-year legal management student.

Fionah Villalobos is one of the thousands who graduated in front of a screen since the start of the pandemic. For her and her friends — Loraine Sumaylo, Jersey Ann Francisco, and Hanna Tabaquen — a virtual send-off wouldn’t be enough if they couldn’t be with each other. 

So when they saw the opportunity to meet and bond again, they grabbed it and never let go.


Photo courtesy of Jpigfile’s Facebook page

Due to them living in different places and the amount of COVID-19 cases increasing, the group had difficulties in scheduling. Initially, the plan was to shoot in August, but it was delayed until December.

“Isang araw lang talaga yung nakalaan to meet up and napag-isipan namin nung na-cancel– na nalaman namin na walang slots for DMD, napag-isipan namin if itutuloy pa ba natin since it will take up time kasi if sa DMD,” Sumaylo told TomasinoWeb.

Luckily, a local photographer had messaged Sumaylo a few months back, offering his services. At first, she was shocked at how he contacted her but realized that his offer to do a free pictorial was real. 

The group had planned to do it inside UST from the get-go, but after months of failed communication, they had to pivot. Intramuros was never in the plans and was only considered when the studio they contacted was already occupied until January. 

However, what the studio lacked, Intramuros made up for in a big way. It was an open space and had relatively fewer crowds. For them, it was the perfect space for a post-graduation pictorial. 

Fionah and Lorraine shared that they met the day before seeing each other for the first time after two years of on-screen meet-ups. Despite the years apart, they reconnected almost instantly. 

“Noong nakita ko siya, parang sobrang saya, tas tumatalon-talon kami kasi it’s like the feeling na ‘finally nakita na kita, physically like, I can hug you na’, after almost two years of seeing them through my screen lang,” Sumaylo said. 


Graduating online is a muted affair compared to the grand ceremony it invokes. It never lives to the grandeur of getting the diploma, the medal, or the memories with one’s batchmates. Rather, it becomes a painful reminder that this pandemic doesn’t discriminate. 

“I want my parents to see me doon po sa QPav and to celebrate it with my friends parang we deserve this na instead of picture lang sa bahay with the TV,” Villalobos said. 

Every high school student wants something to commemorate all they’ve worked for all those years of stress. 

Kahit in grade 11 pa lang the goal na talaga in mind was #RoadToQPav2021,” Sumaylo recalled. “‘Yun na talaga nakaset na ‘the big goal’ for senior high.”

These lofty expectations came crashing down, and the road to the Quadricentennial Pavilion has closed yet again. The group bonded online, making up for the lost time. 

“From time to time naiisip ko rin na sobrang sayang like you were really robbed of a full high school experience,” Sumaylo added.

And even when she transferred to another school, leaving her other friends in the University, their story still has not come to an end. 

“Nandoon pa din naman ‘yung connection so, really, nothing was lost,” she said.


So when their photos were posted on Facebook; it garnered the attention of their classmates and even the University itself.

“While large in-person gatherings remain suspended, this barkada of Senior High School graduates found a way to don their Thomasian colors in a post-graduation shoot in the place where it all began for UST: Plaza Santo Tomas in Intramuros,” the University wrote on its post. It has garnered 2.4k reactions as of writing.

The group was shocked that the University shared their post. In fact, they did not expect the photos to go public. 

“Ganito pala feeling mag-ka clout,” Sumaylo said, citing her surprise when they found out the post had gone viral. 

Though a pictorial on campus or otherwise sounds tempting, the group cautioned against it, saying that people should consider their safety before trying to emulate them. 

“The photographer told us na he got like inquiries from students and marami nag-follow sa page niya and his account. Even with all things considered I hope na people still think about their safety,” she further said.

Xander Ceballos
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Christine Nicole Montojo
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Thomasian transwoman proudly wears AB women’s uniform in 2022 baccalaureate mass

After having compulsorily worn the Faculty of Arts and Letters’ official polo barong paired with black slacks and leather shoes during her college years, Marnella Ferro could not contain the joy she felt when she fulfilled one of her dreams during the baccalaureate mass: wearing the Faculty of Arts and Letters’ (AB) women’s uniform albeit being the first and last time to do so.



Thomasian transwoman Marnella Ferro proudly holds her 'pride' flag. (Photo courtesy of Ferro).

It is already June, which means pride month has already arrived. But no one is prouder than Behavioral Science graduate Marnella Ferro on the day of her awaited baccalaureate mass.

After having compulsorily worn the Faculty of Arts and Letters’ official polo barong paired with black slacks and leather shoes during her college years, Ferro could not contain the joy she felt when she fulfilled one of her dreams during the baccalaureate mass: wearing the Faculty of Arts and Letters’ (AB) women’s uniform albeit being the first and last time to do so.

“’Yung puso ko nun is ‘di ko ma-explain kasi parang sobrang sasabog na siya sa sobrang tuwa dahil sa feedback nung tao. Natuwa sila sakin, and sobrang proud nung friend ko nung nakita nilang suot ko yung uniform na para sakin,” Ferro said in an online interview with TomasinoWeb.

Even Assoc. Prof. John Manuel R. Kliatchko, the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies Chair, greeted Ferro with glee after seeing her. 

“Marnella? Ano na? Ang ganda ganda mo! Ang ganda mo sa uniform mo ng pambabae. Ano na Sofia Andres? Nahanap mo na yung uniform na para sayo!’” Ferro said, quoting the associate professor’s words. 

Hearing those words brought tears to her eyes, which she hid away as they took a photo together.

Ferro (left) and Assoc. Prof. Kliatchko (right) together in a photo. (Photo courtesy of Marnella Ferro).

Being a Thomasian transwoman

Ferro, 25,  said she felt lucky because her professors were open and accepting of who she is. However, her stay at the University as a transgender woman is not without its share of difficulties.

During her college years, she had to endure wearing AB’s barong uniforms because the University’s policies do not allow crossdressing. Because of this, she was given the nickname “Konsehal,” according to her Facebook post.

She also had to constantly cut her long hair because of the Faculty’s haircut policies.

Carrying her identity outside the campus was not so easy for her either. She said that people often misgender her. Despite looking and dressing like a woman, some people still address her as “sir.”

Snatching of pride flags

In the same Facebook post, Ferro wrote, “Di ko nga lang po naitaas ang bandera ko, baka kasi hablutin,” alluding to the incident on June 3 when marshals snatched rainbow-colored pride flags held by the seniors while exiting the Arch of the Centuries. 

Ferro heard of the incident from one of the behavioral science student leaders telling her not to raise the pride flag when she exits the Arch, or it might get grabbed by the marshalls since the same incident happened the day before. 

The student leader sent her the video, and she was shocked to find out that the senior holding the pride flag was her friend. Ferro was perplexed because it was not stated in the rule book that no student should bring any kind of flag. 

“‘Di naman kabastos-bastos yung eksena nung paghawak ng flag. Nakasabit lang sa likod [tapos] bigla mo hahablutin. Ano yung reason? Ayun, nakakabastos lang, parang inaapakan yung pagkatao namin,” she said.

Dress code restrictions

Ferro was in the middle of a job interview when her professor called, telling her she was being prohibited from wearing a dress at the Solemn Investitures 2022.

Her Facebook post, which garnered  6.7k likes and 1.1k shares as of writing, was enough for Philippine Star, a national newspaper, to publish about it. She said this may have caught the attention of the Student and Welfare Development Board (SWDB) and the Office of Student Affairs (OSA).

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“[P]ag nakita daw ako naka-dress bukas it’s either ipu-pull out ako or tatanggalin sa pila. Like wala daw silang pakialam kung andun ‘yung parents or what. Ang sabi sakin sumunod daw ako sa dress code,” she said, further saying that the dress code consisted of a slacks, long sleeves, and a neck tie. 

She added that the Artlets Student Council and the Central Student Council were helping her and had written a letter to the Office of Student Affairs (OSA).

On the day of the said event, Ferro was only able to wear a dress after the graduation ceremony. On her Facebook post on June 11, she wrote: “Thank you, UST! Kahit di niyo talaga ako pinayagan mag dress, maganda parin naman ako.” 

TomasinoWeb tried to contact the Office of the Secretary-General regarding the matter, but the organization has yet to receive a response.

Despite this, many friends were still supporting and encouraging her to fight for her rights as a Transgender woman.

[M]arami rin nagsasabi sakin na ilaban ko ‘yung dress kasi karapatan ko ‘to,” she said.

Embracing changes

Her family and friends were always there for her throughout the changes she had on her body.

However, Ferro stated that because of the activities she participated in, she cannot fully transition during her college days. For one thing, she could not see the medication taking effect because she was busy participating in the AB Goodwill Games, a sporting event in the faculty.

Due to this circumstance, she decided to just continue her transition after graduating in 2020.

Two years later, she is slowly achieving what she always wanted: to become the woman she is.

“[S]obrang saya kasi unti-unti ko natutupad ‘yung pangarap ko, ‘yung gusto ko […] sobrang saya talaga nung feeling ng pag-transition ko,” Ferro said.

“Iba na ‘yung Marnella sa nakilala nilang Marnella before nung mga 2017 pababa,” she added.



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Miles away from home, a baccalaureate mass, and a graduation ceremony

“There were only two options: either go home to the Philippines to attend the graduation and to stay there permanently or stay here in Dubai and pursue a career here,” Thomasian Alexandra Perez said.



Photos from Alexandra Perez

After waking from the confines of the sofa bed, Alexandra Perez sets up her laptop on the kitchen table, checking if her audio and video are working. It’s 5 a.m in Dubai, but in the Philippines, it’s already 9 a.m. 

The first Zoom class is about to start in an hour. 

Other than the four-hour time difference, Perez’s problem is not just the lack of personal space or the two nephews that might wake up at any moment. It is the fact that she can’t go back home, not even on the days of her awaited baccalaureate mass and graduation. 

Hard decisions

The Baccalaureate Mass marks the end of a Thomasian’s journey. However, Perez can not go through the Arch of the Centuries in person. 

Perez is a graduating student pursuing Creative Writing at the Faculty of Arts and Letters, but she is 7000 km away from home. 

“There were only two options: either go home to the Philippines to attend the graduation and to stay there permanently or stay here in Dubai and pursue a career here,” she told TomasinoWeb

Deciding to stay was not easy. In fact, it caused Perez great anxiety. Her future was at stake here—if she left Dubai, she would not be able to come back. Luckily, her family was more than willing to support her.

“I guess with the help of people din who affirmed me in my decision to stay here, it really helped me gain a better headspace or mas natulungan ako sa thought process ko,” she said.

A world away

She was supposed to stay for three months, but it extended to a whole year. 

“It was all of a sudden, dapat yung mother ko lang yung pupunta ng Dubai, but thinking about the circumstances, iniisip namin na pwede na din ako sumama para mag-alaga ng mga nephews ko dito,” Perez said.

Being with her nephews changed her perspective on the world, saying that she got closer to her family when she stayed in Dubai. 

Though she was a lot calmer, one could hear the longing in her voice with every word hidden in polite chatter. UST was more than an academic institution—it was home. A home she wouldn’t be able to come back to. 

“Ngayon ko mas narealize na hindi talaga siya madali, yung being far away from your homeland,” she said.

“So ayun, homesickness, and yung nostalgia, over things changing in the Philippines while I’m still here,” the aspiring writer added.

“I remember asking one of our counselors in UST on how to manage my emotions,” she recalled the counselor saying that, though graduation is a momentous occasion, it’s still just a ceremony. 

Change, though inevitable, feels worse when alone, and Perez experienced it firsthand. 

“Parang ‘yon lang sinabi niya sa akin which really helped. But siyempre hindi maalis yung lungkot, kasi ayun nga, momentous occasion nga siya tsaka ang tagal ko na hindi nakikita yung mga kaibigan ko and yung block of course,” she said. 

The most anticipated Recessional March, held after the mass, is the time when graduates will line up to “exit” through the historic Arch of the Centuries. The two-day ceremony held on June 3 and 4 was the first since the COVID-19 pandemic began, hosting the batches of 2020, 2021, and Perez’s batch, 2022.

On June 3, Perez posted an Instagram story about her watching the Baccalaureate Mass livestream thousands of kilometers away. She lit her own candle during the Ceremony of Light. 

Perez lights her own candle all the way from Dubai as she watches the live stream of her awaited baccalaureate mass. (Photo from Alexandra Perez).

Peace without regrets

Despite this, she still believes she had a great UST experience. 

“I guess UST and 4CW taught me to not navel-gaze, to really see people and the world around me on a grander scale. I know na medyo lofty ng thought. Pero, I think I wouldn’t have had it in another way kasi it really taught me to continue on a scale na hindi ko alam na kakayanin ko pa lang magpatuloy.” Perez said. 

Despite the “insurmountable challenges” that went by, she said it was worth it. 

She recalled with fond laughter that she was supposed to shift to a different course during her sophomore year. But after a while, she eventually realized that she was in the right place.

“I enjoyed the journey nonetheless. Ang daming missed [opportunities]. But we’re here, we’re about to finish,” she said.

Along with the support of her family and friends, what pushes her to continue and push forward is her connection with Christ.

Super important sa akin nung spirituality or yung relationship ko to the Lord. Siguro isa ‘yon sa mga bagay na really kept me in moving forward,” Perez said.

Future endeavors

“Actually, I’m one of the graduates na wala pa ring clear na path. So ngayon, ang alam ko lang, I’ll just look at any job that will accept me. Pero wala pa akong step A, step B, and so on and so forth,” she said 

There were no long-term plans, just short-term goals. Perez said, “Alam ko lang na, in my mind right now, I just have to look for that job, whatever that is.” 

Perez is currently a fellow at the 19th Ateneo National Writers Workshop, which will be held virtually for the entire month of June and the first week of July this year. 

Her message to herself is, “I don’t usually say this, but I laud you, self, for making it,” tapping her shoulder afterward. 

Graduating as a Magna Cum Laude, the aspiring writer belongs to the University’s pioneer batch of the Creative Writing program.

With her block’s incoming Solemn Investitures this June 11, Perez said her family planned an outing at a hotel “to curb the sadness of not attending the ceremony itself.”  

There are two quotes that she remembers dearly from one of her professors, Assoc. Prof. Chuckberry J. Pascual. Perez remembers this quote well: “Just stay the course. No need to rush, no need to compete.”

The 23-year-old quoted him saying, “Huwag tuldukan ang buhay. It will get better, promise.”

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Christine Nicole Montojo
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Chat with astrologer shapes the fate of a UST bar exemplary passer

For bar passer and exemplary performer Portia Wynona Soriano, turning to astrology is one last resort.



Artwork by Wendell Adrian Quijado/TomasinoWeb

A saying goes, “When in doubt, dance it out.” But for bar passer and exemplary performer Portia Wynona Soriano, turning to astrology is one last resort.

Having finished the first day of the historic 2020-2021 Bar exams, Soriano was doubtful about the accuracy of her answers given her struggles with the exam. With all the worries coming in waves after the first day of the historic 2020-2021 Bar exams, Soriano enquired about the fate of her dreams with a virtual astrologer, setting the direction of her success today.

“Noong first day kasi, wala na talaga akong confidence so nag-download ako nung app na parang may astrologer tapos tinanong ko siya, ‘Will I become a lawyer this 2022?’” Soriano told TomasinoWeb laughing as she recalled the moment.

In response, the virtual astrologer said that she would indeed become a lawyer this year, allowing her to sigh in relief.

Screenshots of Soriano’s conversations with the virtual astrologer

“Medyo kumalma na ako, nag-ready na ako for the second day tapos yun na lang yung pinanghawakan ko and aside from that syempre nagdasal na rin ako,” she stated.

Law school journey

The divine prophecy was just a small portion of the entire journey towards the Bar. As a student in the Faculty of Civil Law, Soriano faced numerous challenges that added fuel to her fire to becoming a lawyer.

During her first few years in law school, Soriano became susceptible to fevers just as she was asked to recite the Lagman vs. Medialdea case. Her sickness, however, did not stop her from studying the case, which she said is about 70 pages long.

“Doon ko na-realize na gusto ko talaga maging lawyer kasi after kong mag-recite parang naka-ginhawa ako,” Soriano said. “Parang nawala ‘yung sakit ko […] parang nag-enjoy ako nung nag-recite,” she added.

Soriano also shared how the UST Law Review became a “turning point” in her law school journey. 

“Feeling ko doon ko na-level up ‘yung recitation skills ko, and also how to make case digests kasi through that training, I learned how to properly read the case,” Soriano said.

After graduating cum laude in 2021, Soriano went straight for the gold. She started preparing for review right after the list of graduates was released. On those days heading to the Bar exams, she would enroll in Magnificus Juris and follow the syllabus given by the Supreme Court.

But those days made Soriano that the actual preparation starts on the first day of law school.

“Kasi kung sobrang nag-aral ka talaga nung law school days mo– when you are reviewing– mabilis lang ma-refresh sa’yo lahat,” she said.

The rewarding aftermath

After the Bar, Soriano tried doing things that would make her avoid the thoughts of the results. She tried doing jump ropes, among other things, which she said was a “big part” of her life.

She also said staying fit and healthy has gold benefits for those taking the Bar exams. “You have to stay fit for the bar kasi kung hindi ka healthy, baka mahirapan ka.”

When the results were announced on April 12, Soriano learned that she had passed when she was packing her things for Nueva Ecija. And as if the cherry wasn’t already on the cake, she also learned that she is an exemplary performer, a recognition beyond her expectations.

“Hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala, parang ‘di ko inexpect talaga yung exemplary kasi feeling ko sobrang dami kong mali sa questions sa bar,” she said.

Moving forward and persevering 

Now working in a private firm, Soriano said she wants to work in government but clarified that she still has a lot of work to learn about its “ins and outs.” 

Na-realize ko ngayong nag-w-work na ako parang sobrang theoretical nga ‘yung natutunan mo sa law school, parang andaming other skills na kailangan mong matutunan, how to interact with your clients,” Soriano said.

For Soriano, such success took a lot of hard work and dedication to her craft, and quitting is out of the question. 

“Fake it ‘til you make it, parang don’t quit. If you have a dream, don’t quit,” the lawyer said.

“Whatever comes your way, it will make you better din naman, so just learn from those adversities kasi those are the things that will make you stronger and prepare you for your dream,” she added.

Xander Ceballos
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