education in the Philippines

Juan Paolo Santos: From UPCAT struggle to UP Cebu summa cum laude

Maverick Avila

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Juan Paolo Santos: From UPCAT struggle to UP Cebu summa cum laude

DREAMER. BS Math graduate Juan Paolo Santos is UP Visayas Cebu's first summa cum laude since it became a constituent university in 2016.

UP Visayas - Cebu

The Parañaque City resident's valedictory address shows how grit led a failed UPCAT taker to become UP Cebu's first summa cum laude since it became a constituent university

CEBU CITY, Philippines – The University of the Philippines Cebu’s first summa cum laude graduate since it became a constituent university came to the Visayas Queen City all the way from Parañaque City, in Metro Manila.

Juan Paolo Constantino Santos, 22, a Mathematics major, scored a cumulative weighted average grade of 1.187 – the highest grade ever recorded in the university since it was elevated to a constituent university on 2016.

As the class valedictorian, Santos addressed the 83rd commencement exercises on Friday, July 29, on behalf of 391 graduates with bachelor’s degrees and 194 graduates with master’s degrees. 

Among the graduates, 31 received magna cum laude and 135 received cum laude honors.

Santos, who ended his valedictory speech during commencement rites on Friday, July 29 singing an excerpt from “I Believe”, the debut single of American Idol 2004 winner Fantasia Barrino, focused on holding on to personal dreams.

“Dapat pangarap nyo, hindi pangarap ng parents nyo, hindi pangarap ng mga kaibigan nyo. Pangarap man yan para sa bayan, o para sa pamilya, dapat pangarap nyo,” he said. (It should be your dream, not your parents’ dream, not your friends’ dream. Whether it is a dream for nation or for your family, it should be your dream.)

Santos’ journey to UP Cebu is an example of grit and perseverance.

“A lot of you are probably wondering, bakit nga ba ako nasa Cebu? Bakit ako nag-aaral sa UP Cebu? My dream was to study BS Math in UP. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pass any of my UPCAT courses and campus applications. When the UPCAT result was released, my name wasn’t there,” he said.

The UPCAT commute from his home to UP Diliman in Quezon city tired him.

“Around the Mathematics part of the exam, I fell asleep because I was so tired,” Santos shared with Rappler. He also found the reading comprehension and language portions very difficult.

Of four universities he applied to only UP did not accept him.

He enrolled in a Metro Manila school but applied for reconsideration in campuses offering BS Math: UP Diliman, UP Los Banos and UP Baguio and UP Cebu.

Only UP Cebu accepted the Parañaque resident.

Santos could not speak the Visayan language, he did not even understand it.

“Wala akong kapamilya, wala akong kamag-anak, wala akong kaibigan, wala akong kakilala, wala akong kahit ano. Ang meron lang ako ay isang pangarap.” (I did not have family here, no relatives, no friends, no acquaintances. I had nothing. The only thing I had was a dream.)

Holding on to dreams
YOUR DREAM. UP Cebu BS Math summa cum laude Juan Paolo Santos speaks during commencement rites on Friday, July 29. (Screencap from UP Cebu)

Santos’s family, while of modest means, supported his dream. While their finances allowed only for the basics of life, a scholarship from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) helped with other education expenses.

Santos did not expect to graduate summa cum laude. He was more focused on learning thoroughly than having it as the end goal.

It was a “clutch grade,” as he did not find out until the last few weeks of the semester.

In his speech, Santos reminded fellow graduates of the university’s motto.

“Honor and excellence, not excellence and honor, not excellence only,” he said. “Honor before excellence.”

“Of course, I am happy to graduate as a summa cum laude. Still, the happiness I feel for helping other people in Math, especially my classmates, is incomparable to having this kind of achievement,” Santos shared before graduation.

He attributes this success to his parents, who supported him throughout, and his significant other, Angelica Jane Reyes.

“She was there for me for as long as I can remember. It was very difficult since she is from NCR and I study in Cebu, but she was still there through my breakdowns and problems,” Santos told Rappler.

The math major channeled lessons in precision and accuracy.

He said, “0.00001% is not equal to 0,” urging peers to strive until all unmet goals are whittled down to zero.

“One plus one is not always two,” Santos said, adding, “Do not go for the obvious solutions; define your own operations, your ways and your actions.”

UP Cebu became an autonomous unit in 2010. It produced a summa cum laude named Michael Angelo S. Joaquin of BS Mathematics, with a cumulative weighted average of 1.166 in 2011. 

UP Cebu became a constituent university in 2016 and Santos its first summa cum laude under that status.

Hundreds of graduates from batch 2020, 2021, and 2022 gather for the University of the Philippines Cebu’s first face-to-face graduation rites since the pandemic at the UP Cebu Grounds on Friday, July 29. Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler
Pandemic, disaster

Santos’ stay in UP Cebu was not easy.

He only attended face-to-face classes for about a year and a half. He had a hard time joining organizations because of the online setup and language barriers.

“I believe we were the batch who faced the most challenges. From the first batch to take the K-12 curriculum to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in having the online classes. We also experienced Bagyong Odette, which caused physical and mental damage to us students,” he told Rappler.

During face-to-face classes, Santos slept for only around three to four hours daily because of the academic workload.

He learned the hard way to prioritize his health over academics.

“I realized that healthy living would also lead you to manage your time very well. That is the reason why I was able to manage my time during the online classes,” Santos shared.

He committed to sleeping before midnight and relied on habits and discipline. To him, motivation is just the starting engine of your productivity.

“Sa simula lang yun magiging maganda pero pag may habits ka na and discipline, madalas kahit wala kang motivation, mapipilitan ka pa rin gumawa dahil naging habit mo na siya kahit hindi pa deadline,” said Santos.

(It will help you at the start. But once you have gotten the habit and the discipline, even when motivation flags, you will find yourself doing tasks because of the habit of doing these before deadline.)

Love for math

Mathematics always fascinated Santos even as a child in elementary school. While he was not an academic achiever during that time, he was already set on a career related to mathematics.

He graduated high school valedictorian from the Manresa School – Hijas de Jesus, where he was awarded best in general mathematics, statistics and probability, pre-calculus, basic calculus, trigonometry, physics, and chemistry.

“I love the proving and theory world of mathematics more than the computations and applications,” he added.

This was where he took the inspiration for his thesis topic about the number system, called the p-adic numbers and p-adic integers, where he “…proved in detail some of its properties, such as being a profinite group, compact, and disconnected.”

Santos plans to apply to UP Diliman’s MS-Mathematics program. While hoping for another DOST scholarship, he is also willing to work while taking up higher education. –

Maverick Avila studies Communication specializing in Creatives and Journalism at the University of the Philippines Cebu. He was a Nation News intern for Rappler during the 2022 National Elections. Now, he’s working as a film producer for an independent feature film in Bohol while contributing stories to Rappler.

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