Sunflower Fields Forever: The Yellowing of UP Diliman
By IVY LISA MENDOZA
June is the season of sunflowers in UP Diliman. It used to be in April, but since the academic calendar shifted in 2014 (school year is now from August to May), the planting season for sunflowers has also been adjusted — mainly in time for the much-awaited June graduation.
Today, graduation in UP Diliman is not just a sea of maroons and greens, it is also awash with bright yellows, care of the sunflowers in full bloom. Graduates will not leave the campus without having their photos taken with two UP iconic symbols – Guillermo Tolentino’s Oblation, and the lovely sunflowers facing Quezon Hall, along University Ave.
During my time at UP-D, sunflowers were not even a seed of an idea to be a UP symbol. Even the sablay (UP graduation sash) was nowhere, we had instead the traditional black toga. So it was just a sea of black – not even maroons and greens – at the university ampitheater during graduation.
But in recent years, the sablay and the sunflowers have given UP graduation a new, colorful twist in tradition, a bright, welcome change at that.
The planting of the sunflowers is said to have started in the summer of the 1990s from some sachets of sunflower seeds, planted as an experiment by the Campus Landscaping Office and Arboretum (CLOA), the office in charge of greening the already green UP. Without much maintenance, but with a generous dose of sunshine, the seeds bloomed into sunflowers – tall, huge, yellow, beautiful sunflowers. It helped that it lined the long University Avenue for everyone to take notice of and appreciate!
Pretty soon, the planting of the sunflowers became an integral part of preparations for graduation in UP-D. The UP administration earmarks a generous amount of about Php400,000 a year to support this now beloved tradition. The planting also became more scientific, with much care and consideration given to the variety of sunflowers, the timing to make sure that they are in full bloom during graduation (45 to 60 days from planting), and the maintenance to make sure they last until they could.
With the academic year shift, it was a cause of worry that the sunflowers would not thrive during the rainy season which covers the month of June. But the people in charge of the sunflowers take their jobs seriously, researching and discovering sunflower varieties that thrive in the rain (and of course, plus the sun). They seem to have found it because every year since 2015, the sunflowers never fail to amaze the public – even in June.
My friends and I, all UP alumni, went back to the campus we so love last Saturday (June 24), a day before the university commencement rites, just to bask in the glory of the sunflowers we never had during our time. We came out, ready to tackle the 8 a.m. sun to make sure we g0t the good pics. By 10 a.m., we were done for the day – we had our pictures, we toured the grounds, including the ampitheater where the 36 summa cum laudes would be sitting, saw Chancellor Mike Tan checking the area for last-minute details, and had our taho for breakfast!
Here come the sunflowers, and UP Diliman is making sure that they are here to stay – rain, shine, or sun!