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Summa Olympics

We’ve been holding college commencement exercises lately, rain or shine, and as usual, the media picked up on the number of summa cum laude from UP Diliman, 29 this year.

Some people, especially older UP alumni, find the numbers high and ask if we are not seeing “inflation” with the Latin honors (cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude) but I’ve always argued that the higher numbers reflect improvements in our educational system.

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I know there’s more to education than grades but we should honor those who do well. In the US, many universities automatically give Latin honors to between 25 and 50 percent of their graduating classes. Our Latin honors in UP Diliman this year totaled 684 out of 2,099 graduating students, which means only about a third, still below US criteria. (In the Philippines, we peg a certain grade point average for each of the Latin honors. A summa for example must have a weighted average of 1.20 on a scale of 1 to 5.)

College has become more and more challenging, with so much to learn and yet we are seeing generally higher grades because students have more access now to the learning materials they need, including the internet, although that includes so much more misinformation as well. Enter our parents and our faculty, with new teaching philosophies and methods, and empowering the students, enabling them to be more discerning, more quick at synthesizing what they learn.

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In recent years I’ve also looked at how the patterns of Latin honors, especially the summas, have been changing, and how they reflect, again, positive changes in education.

Until about 20 years ago, the summas tended to come from math, science, and engineering, the so-called nerdy fields. In more recent years we’ve seen many “firsts” in terms of summas coming from the social sciences, the arts and letters, music, sports. Just as an example, it wasn’t until 2006 that anthropology, in its 89th year as a department, had its first summa, Frances Mae Ramos. The summas in anthropology remained sporadic but this year we had two of them — Anton Raphael Santiago Cabalza and Maria Margarita Reyes Magbuhos.

The professional schools remain difficult when it comes to summas. My first college, veterinary medicine, hasn’t had a summa in its 113 years, but does have cum laudes and magna cum laudes.

The College of Law has had mainly cum laudes, sporadically. These included Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor Santiago and yes, Ferdinand Marcos. Win a few, lose a few, and no, apparently he didn’t pass on his genes for academic achievement.

This year the College of Law has reason to celebrate with Danica Mae Godomes, a working student graduating magna cum laude, the first since 2007.

I thought I’d share some news on the more recent UP Diliman summas, some of whom I’ve been in touch with.

There was Tiffany Grace Uy who graduated in 2015 with the highest GWA in UP’s history: 1.004. All her grades were 1.0 except for a single subject. A biology major, she went on to UP’s medical school, finished at the top of her class last year and ranked fifth in the November 2020 medical licensing exam.

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Kathy Bersola, perhaps known better for her stellar performance as a varsity volleyball player, graduated summa in 2017 with a degree in Sports Science and went on to UP medicine, due to graduate next year.

Then there’s Arman Ghodsinia who graduated Bachelor of Science in molecular biology and biotechnology in 2017. He was the first Filipino Muslim to get a summa cum laude in UP and is now doing a Ph.D. in cancer biology in Cambridge on a full scholarship.

In 2019, we had Jamie Berberabe Lim, who finished mathematics with a summa cum laude while competing in national and regional karate competitions. Last year she brought home a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games.

Finally, there’s Michelle Mariel Mariposa, who graduated Bachelor of Arts in psychology in 2016 and, because of an interest in music therapy, went on to get a bachelor’s degree in Music, which she finished this year, and with a second summa cum laude. I have bragging rights here, Michelle having worked with me as a research associate all through her years as a music student. She has made her name as a soprano and has been granted a teaching assistantship in the US, to do a master’s in Voice and Opera Performance.

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TAGS: college graduation, Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi, summa college graduates
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