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[Y-SPACE] The Sudden Shift: Student Leaders’ Journey amidst the Pandemic

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

By Mitch Costales

It was midterms week at our school. The hallways were full of either industrious students reviewing last-minute or unbothered ones who talked about the latest chika. Despite being separated by their priorities, I felt my classmates’ anxiousness in the atmosphere as we were about to take an exam for one of the challenging subjects that a Communication student must face – Communication Theories. When we were about to enter our room, the announcement came in. The class was suspended.

Everyone cheered as we were literally saved by the bell. Instead of going home, students went out in groups. Some rushed to the mall, some did road trips, some ate at the nearby Samgyeopsal place, and some just went to their friend’s house. Little did we know, it was the last day of our freedom—A date we would never forget.

9th of March in the year 2020, classes were suspended in the middle of the day. The national government decided to extend it until the 14th. What was then a week-long off from school became a nightmare when it was extended in the following weeks…then months. The next thing we knew, schools were announcing their system for the online classes.

In the first months of the pandemic, not even one soul had any idea of handling it. Globally, you can see the various COVID-19 responses that different countries had, like lockdowns, healthcare priorities, donation drives, safety precautions, government assistance, and blended education set-ups. Being in this pandemic for more than a year, we have heard and read stories of many frontliners, politicians, artists, business owners, institutions, students, marginalized groups, volunteers, and ordinary individuals.

On a personal note, I think the stories of student-leaders are not heard often. We also do things voluntarily with nothing in exchange. What others see is the outcome of our actions and not the struggles beneath them. It is our story, the student-leaders of today who have also adjusted to this pandemic, with no blueprint on how to cope in this set-up nor any guidebook to act in the new normal.

I have been a student-leader ever since I stepped into high school. I started as an officer in our class, then on our club, the volleyball team, and our high school-based party list.

With the experience I had, I wanted to level it up. I continued that path on college, where extracurricular involvements are far different from high school. During our freshmen to sophomore year, we were urged to know the ins and outs of student leadership, including the system of our school’s student organizations. We are considered the 'experimental' batch as we are the first graduates of the K-12 program. The unwritten duty of being a senior is overwhelming. Professors, colleagues, employees, and other students look up to us, but in reality, there are a lot of things that we all don’t know.

With the bags of pressure we are carrying, we needed to pile them up on top of a chest while having full of questions. As we open that chest, we see each other’s uncertainty.

One trait I noticed and loved with my fellow student-leaders and youth leaders, in general, is we are empathetic. We may come from various educational institutions, and we may have different social statuses, but we have the heart to serve.

As we go along this global pandemic, we slowly discovered that privilege does speak. The first months of quarantine were chaotic. Stores had long lines while grocery supplies were empty.

The government, both at the national and local level, were urged by the mass to give out their ayuda as it is the only thing they can depend on to avoid hunger. The distribution of ayuda is still an issue up to this day, but a youth leader helped changed that by creating the first Community Pantry in Quezon City. Individuals, groups, and organizations duplicated this initiative in which the Filipinos are likely to forget the incompetencies of the government.

Despite the distance, student-leaders still made sure that their voices are heard. For more than a year, seminars became webinars, and protests became online petitions and movements. Two of the well-known clamors of students and student-leaders, especially on social media, are the #JunkTerrorLaw and #LigtasNaBalikEskwela. These tackle serious issues, such as violations of our right to privacy and the right to quality education.

Student-leaders have stepped up, but since we are part of Gen Z, we are labeled as overly sensitive; that our stance and advocacies on the issues that we find pressing are something that they believe we shouldn’t be bothered about.

Among all of this, we still stand tall and firm about our beliefs. Student-leaders are also struggling, yet they still choose to fight. I do hope that this could also serve as a call to educational institutions to listen to their student and to not look at them as if they are the problem.

We are never the problem. We will never stop until there’s a change in the system.

Mitch Costales is an upcoming 4th year AB Communication student. His experience as a student leader both at the high school and collegiate level has helped him become a better individual.

YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.

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