We ask secondary school and college graduates graduates about their hopes and dreams, despite this year’s unprecedented challenges.

For today’s youth, their future has never been more trying and uncertain. Classes and graduation celebrations were put on hold, and made into digital ceremonies - yet another ‘new normal’ forced upon us. These wide-eyed, eager Generation Z’s have graduated into a tumultuous unprecedented college or work-force experience. Hear what these 10 recent graduates have to say about their future:

Liam Ramos

Age: 19

Graduated From: International School Manila

Going to: Stanford

My class graduated at the start of a new decade, at a time when the world is testing our grit and resilience. There are hundreds of problems worthy of our attention—from large- scale racial tensions and the Covid-19 pandemic, to depression and economic inequality. I dream of helping to create a constantly improving and unified society, strong enough to endure any challenge.

Technology has pervaded every aspect of our lives and can be a means of addressing many of the problems plaguing us. Some things easily come to mind such as more efficient renewable energy sources to battle climate change, but I also hope to see technology help alleviate more complex problems such as social conflicts. As we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible, we should also consider how new developments in technology can be made accessible to everyone.

University is the perfect place for me to experience first-hand what individuals are doing to effect change in their own way. At this point, I have accumulated some experience in the field of materials science as many hours of my high school were spent in the laboratory. My team successfully published a paper in the American Chemical Society that showed the benefits of combining graphene oxide with methacrylate to create durable 3D prints. Whether I pursue this area further or investigate a new topic, my end-goal will always be to discover novel ways of helping others. 

Many of our world’s issues are deeply rooted in our society’s core and thus not easily solved. My high school has always focused on collaboration as an essential skill in all aspects of life, making me believe that if we stand together, we can confidently push forward into any unknown.

Audrey Pe

Age: 19

Graduated From: British School Manila

Going to: Stanford: 

I am part of a generation known for having technology at our fingertips. Social media platforms and video chats are our standard means of communication, eliminating the geographical barriers experienced by those before us. As I’ve engaged with the non-profit sector and explored the Philippines tech scene, I’ve come to see one striking truth: that technology can be divisive due to the saturation of resources in upper-income groups, heavily contrasting the lack of basic tech access in low-income areas. 

Start-ups anchor on the promise of building new, efficient technologies that can make our lives better. While it would be nice to see the next Philippines unicorn, it would be even better to be part of a future with universal access to technology. After all, if technology is the future, isn’t it unjust that it is concentrated in high-income communities? Future tech-based solutions should arise from multiple socioeconomic levels and backgrounds, each equipped with perspectives needed to help eradicate some of our country’s most pressing problems.

In my lifetime, I aspire to witness the digital divide broken down. The work I’ve engaged with throughout high school—teaching basic CS + technology literacy to students without prior experience and organising events geared towards gender diversity—is rooted in my belief that with increased access comes extended educational opportunities.

Covid-19 has evidenced that now, more than ever, technology is a privilege when it should be a right. Schools around the country are at a stand-still, struggling to adapt to online learning as students with no WiFi connection at home traverse mountains just to submit assignments. The struggle for education should not be glorified; it should be deemed as a sign that we need to pool our collective resources and efforts to close the digital divide. If we don’t, we run the risk of leaving our students—along with their education and their future—behind.

Paulo Luzuriaga Alvarez

Age: 22

Graduated from: New York University

No one will leave this global pandemic without some sense of loss: careers and futures, loved ones and, in my view the most worrying, one’s sanity. Personal concerns should not be trivialised if they are within reason.

Being stuck at home with a special child, missing regular time with a support group, unable to pay bills and to plan for the future are all concerns not to be taken lightly. Com- pounded altogether, it is a perfect storm for mental health crisis. My hope is that we who are privileged to have platforms to speak our minds not only raise awareness but work together to weather this storm.

Easy access to quality mental health counselling and treatment should be a goal worth supporting, in tandem with physical health—mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body). In preparation for the psychological fallout of the pandemic, we need to give serious attention, logistical support and financial incentives for current or aspiring psychiatrists and psychologists. According to the WHO we only have about 500 psychiatrists in the Philippines, or 2.12 for every 100,000 people. Worse, most psychological care is in urban private practice.

I am not an expert in mental health, but I know that this problem requires a collective effort from the government and the people. Toward this end, however, there are simple everyday acts that we can immediately do: compromise instead of demanding; establish and respect boundaries; be kind and tactful to one another. Let us not abandon those who suffer in silence and heed the ancient Delphic maxim: “Give a timely counsel”.

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Beatriz Elizalde

Age: 22

Graduated from: Boston College

We are living in a time where healthcare concerns, major injustices and different forms of oppression are besetting the world. I am proud that individuals like my relatives, peers and educators are beginning to emphasise the importance of topics that are deeply rooted in society such as: racism, sexism, classism and homophobia, among many more. Starting such conversations is the first step.

Sometimes we gloss over these issues as they can be tough to grasp. Many opt out of the discussion in fear of being perceived as too assertive, or of being judged. We dismiss our subtle micro-aggressions and often do not realise how they negatively affect others because of how ingrained these issues have become in our culture. Our job now is to change the dialogue into one that provides open-mindedness and inclusivity. Speaking up and politely correcting our friends should be our norm so that we are able to acknowledge where we have been wrong in the past, and challenge ourselves to create a culture that encourages empathy, compassion, confidence and awareness for the future.

Our generation plays a powerful role in pushing society into a world that embodies equality and collectivity. It is not only the job of victims of oppression to speak out and educate others—it is ours as well. We all have a voice that should be used during critical times like now. Speak- ing up for what is right will affect the world we live in.

I feel it is my duty to let others recognise their own rights and help them use these to continue productive conversations about these matters. The statement, “I understand that I will never understand, but I stand” is crucial to reflect on as we do not need to be direct targets of oppression to join together and do something about it.

Luke De Ocampo

Age: 18

Graduated from: Xavier School

Going to: University of The Philippines

My family enjoys discussing current affairs at the dinner table, but the topic of Covid is unlike many we have come across. Covid is a global crisis with no jurisdiction. It attacks humanity as a collective. It also made me face the futility of life and of living for oneself.

When people must make compromises and change the life they have been used to, they deserve our empathy and recognition of their struggles. I hope and dream of a more empathetic and inclusive Philippines, where our differences are not the subject of judgement but of celebration.

I intend to start my first year of college this September. I realise that I have such a great opportunity to learn and educate myself. Even if some unconventional learning methods will be applied, I will maximise these opportunities to the best of my ability. I recognise that I hold this opportunity because I was fortunate to have benefited from different structures in society that others did not have access to. Thus, I feel motivated to use my abilities to make these structures more accessible. Muhammad Ali once said, “The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” In line with my dream of greater social empathy, I want to help other people maximise their full potential to help build a greater Philippines for everyone. 

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Carmel Limcaoco

Age: 18

Graduated from: International School Manila

Going to: Stanford

I have never considered myself an optimist. I tend to favour logic and pragmatism over seemingly romantic ideals. So, when our graduation and other senior traditions were cancelled, I was devastated. The pandemic had rid the Class of 2020 of any hope of experiencing senior class traditions.

Frustration and disappointment eventually faded as we celebrated these (now virtual) milestones. But globally, nothing has changed. In fact, the state of the world seems to have sunk deeper into devastation, with increasing civil unrest and economic downfall. We have graduated into a world where corruption, hunger for power and pessimism run rampant.

But the global climate will not erase our youthful ambitions. Our college applications brimmed with the desire to make an impact on the world through education, a passion cultivated throughout high school. These passions will not simply disappear.

For us STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) kids, we see how the search for a COVID-19 vaccine has forced healthcare corporations to cooperate, towards increasingly globalised research and revolutionary biochemical discoveries. The budding activists among us imagine a future where normalised microaggressions toward marginalised communities are eradicated through civil activism and real legislative change.

Covid-19 may have battered millions of youth across the globe, but in doing so, also showed how essential the youth is in the coming decades. I used to be a pessimist, but 2020 has allowed me to seek, and even foster optimism, even when
it seems impossible.

Emilio Preysler Dizon

Age: 22

Graduated from: Ateneo de Manila University

Going to: Ateneo Law School

“Never in peaceful times stand idle,” said Nicolo Machiavelli, an Italian Renaissance diplomat and philosopher, in his work The Prince. Preparation has been a major factor amid these turbulent times that have raised effective governance and policy implementation from the ineffective. We have seen governments that have been able to roll out measures that contained the pandemic due to decisive leadership, efficient implementation and healthcare systems that are readily in place; and we have also seen governments caught flat-footed because they lacked all of the above.

My hope for the future is that world leaders make the most of “peaceful” times by preparing for situations that may blindside us. They must be ready to make the necessary adjustments in life-changing times, such as schools transitioning to online learning, medical facilities being able to handle increased capacity, and governments setting aside adequate budgets for stimulus packages. Crisis preparedness lessens the impact of disasters on nations, prepares organisations for an increase or decrease in activity and lays down a plan that reduces the loss of time, resources and lives.

The adversities our world is facing in 2020 have shown me that what I had been taught growing up applies in real-life situations. My parents instilled in me that one should never be too complacent, as we will end up losing the sense of urgency and hunger for intentional growth, personal improvement and initiative. When we are challenged by trying times, it is important to have a sense of proactiveness and the leadership to not only be able to protect ourselves, but to help our fellow countrymen as well.

As a recent graduate, my fellow batchmates and I are entering a world very different from the one we once knew. In fact, it is like the whole world is part of Class 2020. We are now transitioning into a future so uncertain, a “new normal” wherein we are all being given a fresh start on an unfamiliar playing field. We do not know what the future holds or what comes next, so we must deliberately prepare, while still pursuing our dreams and passions that will drive us to thrive and make a difference.

Arianna Borromeo

Age: 18

Graduated from: British School Manila

Going to: Princeton 

Growing up immersed in the Philippines’ diverse architectural landscape influenced me to pursue architecture, which also interests me as a blend of functionality and aesthetics.

I hope that by studying the theory and applications of design, art and science, I can contribute to improving infrastructure in developing countries like the Philippines. I hope contribute toward changes in our built environment that promote sustainable growth and development. Green building materials, natural ventilation strategies, the integration of clean technologies—it would be great to see more of these employed here in the Philippines, especially given our rich biodiversity and biological resources. I feel that our youth today are becoming increasingly vocal about climate justice, so I hope that this activism continues and gains momentum not only on social media but on other mainstream news platforms.

As the grim disruptions of the current Covid-19 pandemic affect our lives, it’s unequivocal that the future remains increasingly uncertain. I feel responsible to use my education and skills to make an enduring contribution to impacted communities. I hope to see architecture used as a means of mitigating the effects of this current health crisis, and as a way of facilitating safe, social interactions. Hopefully, these innovations would alleviate isolation, restoring a sense of community in a post-Covid society.

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Liana Samson

Age: 22

Graduated from: Wesleyan University

Halfway into 2020, the world barely resembled the one I envisioned just four years ago.

It was not ideal for a fresh college graduate like me to move to New York City amid a global pandemic and enter a now challenged US job market. So I used my time in quarantine to reflect and discover new things about myself. My attention turned to the larger issues beleaguering my generation.

From the Black Lives Matter movement in the US to the Anti-Terrorism Bill in the Philippines, the responses of my peers using social media platforms amazed me. I am watching my generation stand up for change. I am seeing my peers speak up and have their voices heard, helping me to find mine. Although these problems are not new, what makes a difference is that our voices are louder than ever.

This is an exciting time to rethink how education can adapt in the Philippines through virtual systems, which could eventually address the injustices that are being protested today. My access to elite institutions has shown me the importance of an education that addresses social inequalities. It is the responsibility of my generation to dream bigger for our country because if we do not, nothing will ever change.

Where I see myself in a couple of years has never been this unclear, also never been more excited about my future. I can- not tell you my hopes and dreams because if 2020 has taught me anything, it is that the future is unpredictable. However, I continue to be optimistic as we can recover from these global issues stronger than ever. It is my hope that we continue to seek truth and change towards a sustainable future for our entire nation, not just establishing a new normal, but a new future. 

Patrick Peterson

Age: 18

Graduated from: International School Manila

Going to: Cornell

Computer coding is my passion. In my early days of coding, writing and solving programming challenges were enough motivators. But I have grown beyond this single-dimension vision to a multi-dimensional horizon that provides me with the drive to expand my passion and, hopefully, deliver change in our rapidly evolving techno-societal world.

My internship at The Coding School (TCS), an after-school educational programme for children in Manila, made me realise that I also enjoyed helping others develop coding skills. Whether it was teaching elementary and middle schoolers how to code or developing Computer Science (CS) curricula for local schools, I discovered my knack for sharing my passion for CS with others. 

Beyond traditional CS knowledge, I realised that Computational Sustainability is another “CS” that fits into my life plan. It is a field that utilises mathematics, computer science and big data to evaluate and optimise societal, environmental and economic needs for sustainable development. This is a cutting-edge technical arena that merges technology with the most basic of human and environmental factors.

As an 18-year-old, I envision completing my undergraduate and graduate degree in CS at Cornell University and pursuing a career in academia where I can engage in research and teaching. Through research I would have the flexibility to work on innovative CS-led or CS-supported solutions in the realm of sustainability. Beyond using innovation to help industry, government and non-government organisations with these sustainability-based advancements, I see the opportunity to also teach and bring advanced CS skills to Filipinos, thus multiplying these developments through the education of many.

I can only imagine how my passion will grow over the coming years of study, and how I can direct it towards building a sustainable future at home and around the world.

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Annelisse Siempo Sunga

Age: 19

Graduated from: International School Manila

Going to: University Of Pennsylvania 

High school has shaped me into who I am and who I want to be. ISM has blessed me with a platform for global discussion with young people from all types of backgrounds and experiences.

I’ve always loved literature, economics and history. Through them I gained a deeper understanding of different cultures and societies. I dream of becoming a pioneer in shaping the modern narrative of Asia. As our world becomes smaller, a holistic understanding of the varying contexts of converging societies becomes paramount.

I dream of learning more about Asia as a whole and the Philippines’ role in its growth and integration. I dream to be an advocate for the reconciliation of political, economic and cultural incongruencies within Asia to encourage greater cooperation among its countries. At UPenn, I hope to work with civic organisations such as the Penn Philippine Association in unifying the growing Filipino diaspora within the US to uphold Filipino pride and leadership.

As a Filipino scholar, I have a unique opportunity to understand and transcend academic, cultural and socioeconomic barriers that face the modern Filipino teenager. Through my internships with ADB and the Ayala Foundation, I saw that the youth has and always will be humanity’s greatest driving force. As such, I am excited to continue my work with Project PUNO, a youth-led environmental conservation NGO that aims to empower through nature-based solutions and learning. I’d like to bring its initiatives to my university and work with leading researchers and institutions in studying and innovating sustainable living in the 21st century and in emerging countries like our own. 

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