Mehol K. Sadain
School graduates are known by their class batches. This year’s class, however, will be known by its uniqueness. The Class of 2020 is the only class to have graduated in the midst of a global pandemic that has changed people’s lifestyles across nations.
This batch, whether they are graduates from elementary, secondary or tertiary levels of education, will transition in a unique manner, from completion of their academic requirements to their online graduation, and to the attainment of a new stage in their mundane lives. It will seem difficult as all sudden transitions are, but when you look closely, it is actually a transition that simplifies what we have complicated in the past.
The graduates this year did not get to be fully evaluated according to numerical or alphabetical grades, where one is either higher or lower than others, and honors are conferred on that basis. Instead, they were evaluated according to the knowledge their teachers felt was successfully transferred to them, which is simpler and more facilitative than before.
Graduations this year are mostly online, and shorn of the usual group fanfares which tend to be loud and expensive, but scarcely ensure a bright future for the graduates. There is no need for huge auditoriums, long marches to Verdi’s Aida’s grand march and the individual conferment of rolled blank papers fastened with red ribbons. There is no dressing up for the occasion; there is only a dressing up of the mind for the real celebration of knowledge acquisition.
The transition to a new stage in life is the most trying because this time many of our life’s luxuries have been snatched away, our mobility has been severely impaired and social gatherings are prohibited. Those who graduate to another educational level will have to get used to online classes from laptops and other gadgets. Those who graduate to become professionals will compete for lesser jobs, and work in the constant shadow of covid19. There will also be fewer opportunities abroad, due to travel restrictions and the global spread of the disease.
The challenge to our present graduates, therefore, is one that will make sense of this pandemic and how it has affected them. It is actually a challenge that faces all of us, but the graduates of 2020 have to confront them with more urgency and resolve. To my mind, the key is to find a single motivating value that best describes how our graduates should feel about their graduation. This is the simplifying and underlying frame of mind that the graduates of 2020 need to have in these difficult times.
This value is Gratitude or Shukr, and among Muslims, it is also an esteemed virtue. In the chapter An-Naml (The Ants) of the Glorious Qur’an, Nabi Sulaiman prayed: “Oh my Lord, so order me that I may be grateful for Thy favors, which Thou has bestowed on me and my parents, and that I may work the righteousness that will please Thee, and admit me by Thy Grace, to the Ranks of Thy Righteous Servants.” [27:19] Further on, Allah in the Qur’an provides us the perspective of this gratitude by the words uttered by Nabi Sulaiman: “This is by the Grace of my Lord — to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (a gain) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly thy Lord is free of all needs, Supreme in Honor.” [27:40] Gratitude to God, then, should be our natural reaction every time we surmount the tests of life!
Graduations are occasions for gratitude, and in this time of the pandemic, they have also turned into a test of the graduates’ gratitude to God. Gratitude for succeeding in their academic pursuits, and gratitude in the potentials that lay ahead, no matter how limited they are right now. The important thing is to show gratitude because as Allah says, “wa man shakara fa innamaa yash-kuru li nafsih,” or “if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (a gain) for his own soul”. For indeed, the transition of graduation is a favor from Allah, bestowed on the graduates and their parents who persevered in supporting their studies. To paraphrase Nabi Sulayman’s prayer to the Lord: order me that I may be grateful for Your favors to me and my parents. In return, the graduates, just like Nabi Sulayman, should “work righteousness that will please” Allah (an ah’mala saalihan tarzaahu) so that they will be in the ranks of Allah’s Righteous Servants (Ibaadika s-saalihiin). Even if the graduates — as well as all of us — cannot yet discern the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, the gains our souls derive and our inclusion among Allah’s Righteous Servants, are more than enough incentives for gratitude and thankfulness.
Hence, if this pandemic has taught us — not just the graduates, but all of us — to simplify our lives, the good that comes upon us during its onslaught, should also simplify our response to that of gratitude: Our gratitude for life, resources, honor, that Allah has given us in these difficult times.