The Best and the Brightest: Brilliant Minds From the Class of 2017

Young, smart, and full of hope, some of the best and the brightest from the class of 2017 hope to return and make a difference.

Bianca Catoto
Princeton University

“I’d wanted to apply to Princeton since I explored the campus when I was 10 years old,” Bianca says. “I eventually grew to love math and science during my time at International School Manila and thus became interested in engineering in the past few years.” And, like it was meant to be, Princeton happens to offer one of the most outstanding engineering programs in the United States. A well-rounded student, Bianca’s achievements were not all related to math and science: in high school she worked with two UNESCO organizations, Project Nest, and Project Mind Movers, at the same time serving as both the editor in chief of Kawayan, the high school yearbook, and as the managing editor of Newsflash, the school’s magazine.

Farrell Eldrian Wu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In 2013, an article in Business Insider named then 12-year-old Farrell one of the 10 smartest kids in the world. Now 16 years old and a graduate of Makati Gospel New Life Christian Academy, Farrell has been accepted to 12 highly competitive universities, including Princeton, University of California-Berkeley, and Stanford, which offered him a full scholarship. He will, however, join Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s freshman class with the hopes of completing a joint major in mathematics and computer science with a minor in economics. “Ultimately, I chose MIT because I feel it is the best fit for my personality and interests,” Farrell says. “I am completely in sync with its vision to serve the world through science and technology.”


While the math prodigy has taken part in a number of local and international competitions since he was young, Farrell counts taking home the Philippines’ first gold medal at the 57th International Mathematical Olympiad, the world’s largest and most prestigious mathematics competition for pre-collegiate students, his most significant achievement—a goal he set for himself four years ago at the age of 12, even before Farrell became a Filipino. Though born and raised in the Philippines by his Chinese parents, Farrell was only granted Filipino citizenship through Republic Act No. 10672 in 2015, which recognized his contributions to the country and future potential as a Filipino. “It is my personal advocacy to dispel the stigma that mathematics is hard,” says Farrell.

Joselle Panganiban
University of Pennsylvania

The valedictorian of Immaculate Concepcion Academy’s Class of 2017, Joey was also a member of the ICA Dance Troupe and the social committee, where she took the lead in organizing her class’ graduation ball. “Growing up in a Chinese school made me interested in economics. By learning more about resources and the laws of supply and demand, I might be able to help alleviate our country’s economy and help me in future businesses.” Of her decision to attend UPenn, Joey says, “I have chosen to become a Quaker because philosophy, politics, and economy are subjects I am highly interested in, and being able to combine them all at UPenn really pulled me towards the school,” Joey says. “After UPenn, I hope to be able to bring my ideas and experiences to the Philippines for her betterment.”


Bianca Catoto, Farrell Wu, Joey Panganiban, and Jacob Wee

Jacob Wee
University of Pennsylvania

As president of the Xavier School’s Debate Team, Jacob led a talented group of students to develop a deeper understanding of psychology, economics, philosophy, and politics. Through this club, he honed his skill as a public speaker by learning how to interact with his audience and use words to elicit certain emotions. With this strong foundation, Jacob intends to major in Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was accepted early-decision. With this major, Jacob says, “I can integrate my diverse interests in philosophy, policy, ethics, and sustainability with quantitative disciplines such as computer science, chemistry, technology, and even medicine. I can also use this broad major to discover and experiment on my own interests and strengths.” Jacob also co-founded and participated in various social initiatives while in high school, including Ethnos, his entry to Harvard ’s Village to Raise a Child Competition, and Student League Against Marcos, a protest group against the controversial burial of the former president, in addition to teaching basic math and English with Gawad Kalinga in his junior year.


Kyle Gaisano
Claremont McKenna College

“Ateneo has nurtured me in more ways than I could have imagined and has become my second home,” Kyle says. “There, I met lifelong friends, learned that academics come second to being a good person, and found who I truly am.” A member of Ateneo de Manila High School’s prom committee, basketball organization, Film Critics Circle, and his batch’s grade level council, Kyle says his most enjoyable experience was “learning how to serve without counting the cost.” As a former intern at the brokerage firm AB Capital, Kyle learned to analyze inflows and outflows of the stock market and tracked foreign buying and selling. “I’ve always been interested in math, world events, and the stock market, and economics is everywhere,” he says of his decision to major in economics at Claremont McKenna.

Joshua Tan
Stanford University

Josh is headed to Stanford, where he is considering studying chemical engineering. A contributing photographer for Philstar.com, Josh was team captain of the table tennis team, head photographer of International School Manila’s Kawayan, media director of the annual student-led music fundraiser Battle of the Bands, and co-founder of Nature Guard, a social enterprise where he formulated, tested, and sold insect repellent, donating one bottle for every two sold to help counter dengue outbreaks. Josh also conceptualized the MEALenium Project, a feeding program and fundraising organization supported by the Jollibee Group Foundation, Department of Education, and the Quezon City government. “We are now feeding over 1,000 children with a constant supply of funds from the government and our sponsors,” he says. “With this support, the project is transitioning to complete sustainability.” He hopes to one day start his own company in an effort to contribute to the local economy and create more jobs. “Succeeding this, given sufficient exposure to the Philippines’ economic and political systems, I would also want to work for the government, aiming to patch up the inefficiencies and loopholes inherent in our systems.”


Sofia Jimenez
Brown University

The vice president of International School Manila’s National Honor Society and softball team captain will soon head to Brown, where she intends to study Modern Culture and Media and possibly double-major in Business and Entrepreneurship. “Many would say that I had my foot in every door ISM had to offer and thrived in the many opportunities the school provided,” Sofie says. “However, my biggest contributions and most enjoyable experiences came from my service work.” As president of ISM ’s Service Learning Council and an out-of-school club, Promoting Rural Education in the Philippines, Sofie led the fundraising for public schools in rural Tagaytay. She was recently inducted into the Cum Laude Honor Society and received the Moon Koo Lee Outstanding Senior Award, which recognizes students who have displayed integrity, service, and merit during their senior year.

From far left: Kyle Gaisano, Josh Tan, Romnick Blanco, Sofia Jimenez, Samantha Borja, Noah Ramos, Lileya Santos, and Paby Garcia. Carl Hansen & Son dining chair, Sancal Mosaico table, Ligne Roset Goodie stools, Sancal Tea chair, and Carl Hansen & Son chair, used throughout, MOs Design, Bonifacio High Street, Bonifacio Global City, 403.6620.

Samantha Borja
Northwestern University

Sam’s fascination with economics first stemmed from home, where both her father and brother held degrees in the field. This fascination was later cultivated and expanded in the classrooms of the International School Manila, where Sam took IB Higher Level Economics. “I was enthralled by the laws it created, and how these simple laws began to explain much greater concepts,” Sam says. “It was quite remarkable to see how classroom conversations fit just as easily at the dinner table.” While she experienced much success in the classroom, Sam also planned one of ISM’s largest student events, Battle of the Bands. Under her leadership, the 15th year of this event had a record-breaking number of attendees and raised 1.6 million pesos. While economics has been a big focus in her life, Sam is also excited to attend Northwestern University for its diverse range of classes.

Noah Ramos
Harvard University


A member of the International School Student Body Association, Noah also kept himself occupied with the Forensics and Debate Club, the Academic Bowl team, and Model United Nations. He counts public speaking as one of his strengths, having represented ISM at the English Speaking Union public speaking competition, and organizing a series of workshops named Speakup, promoting interpersonal communication and neurolinguistic programming for non-profit organizations such as the Tuloy Foundation and HeCares. While he expresses interest in the fields of economics and computer science, Noah has yet to decide on his major at Harvard. “My perspective is that there is still so much to learn. The field of business is compelling to me, especially entrepreneurship—I dream of passionately working with a team to create something new,” Noah shares. “Right now, however, I’m not entirely sure what type of company that will be. I’m hoping my college experience can teach me that.”


Lileya Santos
University of Southern California

With technology now touching billions of lives all over the planet, more graduating high school seniors are intent on joining the technological effort to change the world, and Lileya is one of them. While at the International School Manila, her interests ranged from mathematics and literature to philanthropic work. Lileya plans to join the Engineering program at the University of Southern California, where she hopes to gain knowledge and “understand the different realms of engineering.” Lileya is also intent on finding out more about computer science, the field she believes will allow her to “make the most impact on improving our future world.” While her aspirations are admirable, her high school achievements are just as significant. Lileya founded Operation Wheelchair, an organization focused on raising funds to provide wheelchairs for the handicapped community across the country. Under her leadership, the organization provided over 500 wheelchairs for beneficiaries in Tacloban, Cebu, and Davao.


Pablo Garcia
Claremont McKenna

Despite being heavily involved in athletics during his time at Brent International School, Pablo is putting his soccer and volleyball prowess behind him. After captaining both teams in high school, his mind is firmly set on pursuing Financial Economics and Political Science at Claremont McKenna. Pablo is hoping to use his Financial Economics major to begin “bringing conceptual ideas to life and presenting them beautifully to the world.” He shares, “Campaigning for my father, Pablo Garcia, in the deepest crevices of Cebu and sharing ideas with the youth made me realize the enormity of the responsibility that we hold as opportune Filipinos.”

Jessica Cuadro
Columbia University

When Jess says she wants to “play a key role in crafting and implementing legislation for the betterment of the Philippines,” you better believe her. The International School Manila scholar is the recipient of a financial aid grant that will cover all of her college expenses at Columbia University. Jess was also chosen as a John W. Kluge scholar, which grants her additional funding and support for research opportunities within and outside the university. At Columbia, Jess hopes to major in Sociology so that she can “fully understand the relationships between people in different social sectors and conditions and analyze the nature of the problems that we currently face as a society.”


Martin Tan, Jessica Cuadro, and Alexis Uy

Alexis Uy
New York University

While many incoming college freshmen are already sure of the career they hope to pursue, Alexis’ experiences in a range of fields have left her undecided. However, she believes that the famous liberal arts foundation at New York University will aid her in discovering her future passion. While in British School Manila, Alexis advocated global issues such as climate change, feminism, cultural diversity, and animal conservation. The cause she took most to heart was climate change, leading Alexis to co-found The Green Initiative group, which aims to promote environmental sustainability within the school. “We wanted to help both the school community as well as the environment,” Alexis says. She is excited not only to begin her college experience but to also start anew in New York City, which she believes will push her to explore and learn more about herself.


Sammy Westfall
Yale University

“I am someone who never wants to be idle,” Sammy says. “If there’s something I can learn or do or create, I’d rather be doing that.” Sammy immersed herself in various fields while at International School Manila, playing soccer, touch rugby, and softball for 11 seasons, participating in her class council, working as managing editor of ISM’s news publication, and founding Ate Academy, a weekly program at the Museo Pambata where Sammy and her peers teach reading, math, and art to street children. She was chosen to be her grade’s graduation speaker, granted the Moon Koo Lee Outstanding Senior Award and the Chris Capinpin Award, and inducted into the Cum Laude Society. Sammy’s goodwill and talent lead her to Yale University, where she has applied to major in Global Affairs, Political Science, and Sociology. “Career-wise, I am very interested in urban development and education,” Sammy says. “After college, I want to come back to Manila and help incite lasting change.”


Hendrik Uy
Imperial College, London

Understanding objects only to disassemble them and improve on them was a skill that Hendrik honed from when he was a young boy all the way to the present as a British School Manila graduate. The desire to build and improve allowed Hendrik to successfully lead BSM’s Tech Team. His high school experiences and lifelong desires to build have led him to take up Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London. “I’m hoping that studying Mechanical Engineering will provide me with the knowledge and competitive advantage to succeed in my chosen field,” Hendrik says. “I hope to explore and fully develop my skills in order to design and conjure processes and products that engineer effective solutions to real-world problems.” The 18-year-old is also a talented musician, having been a member of his school’s orchestra and jazz band throughout middle and senior high school.


 Sammy Westfall, Hendrik Uy, Megan Tan, and Rama Co

Megan Tan
Pratt Institute

Not many 18-year-olds discover their passions at such a young age, but that is not the case for Megan. “I realized I loved art relatively early into my high school years,” she says. “My time at BSM enabled me to participate in activities that involved using art to transcend language barriers. Art should be used as an innovative means of communication, self-expression, and knowledge attainment.” Despite finding this passion early, deciding on which university and which major to concentrate on was not a simple choice for Megan, who hopes to work in the field of architecture, perhaps as an interior designer. “Ultimately I chose Pratt Institute as it enables me to fully immerse myself in the dynamic, creative environment of New York,” she says. “I believe that this will not only extend my learning beyond the school’s walls but also inspire more interaction with art and design.”


Rama Olivares Co
Wesleyan University

The Chinese International School Manila graduate applied to and was accepted early-decision to Wesleyan University. “You’d think I’d be used to explaining to people my decision to study philosophy, but you would be mistaken,” Rama said. “The beauty of philosophy is that it spans close to three millennia, and the sheer impenetrability of the questions it has raised in that time means that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.” While his future in philosophy is certain, Rama’s participation in high school activities covered a broad range of subjects. He served as vice president of the Student Council, founded the Photography Club, and participated in the Global Issues Network. While his school activities were impressive, Rama also began writing for the Philippine Daily Inquirer at the age of 15, first writing about football and later delving into politics and environmental issues.

Martin Tan
University of Toronto


“Ever since I was young, I’ve been fascinated with the human body. The mysteries of the cell and the efficiency of the human body piqued my interest and prompted my desire to learn,” Martin says. “My passion for science and my unrelenting curiosity compels me to learn more about the subject I love.” This passion has brought Martin to the University of Toronto, where he plans to focus on Life Sciences with the ultimate goal of becoming a physician. After finishing the grueling International Baccalaureate program, Martin is excited to begin the even longer journey to become a physician. While at British School Manila, Martin presided over TEDxBSM and was elected Head of Red Cross. After shadowing several doctors throughout high school and witnessing both daily checkups and life-changing surgeries, Martin hopes that his time at university will widen his exposure to the medical world.

Miguel Luis Ochosa
Yale-National University of Singapore


Miguel graduated from Beacon Academy with three awards: The Citizenship Award, given to batch leaders, the Faculty Prize Award for his academic excellence, and the Virtus Et Ars Cup, awarded to the student who most embodies the school’s ideals. As president of the student council in his senior year, Miguel led the planning and execution of the school fair Spotlight, attracting around 800 visitors—about eight times more than Beacon’s school population—for a day on the campus. While Miguel graduated at the top of his class, he proves to be both brains and brawn, having played and competed internationally as a baseball player for over eight years. Another passion for Miguel is performing. “I act, I’m learning how to dance, and I have an intense passion for singing. During and after university, I’m 100 percent sure that I’ll still be performing, because it’s what truly makes me happy,” he says. “I’ve also said that ever since I was young, all I ever wanted to be was a superhero so I wouldn’t have fears and so I can save the world. All I want to do is make a difference in other people’s lives and in the world.”


Miguel Ochosa, Rainnyl Chiang, Yvette Yao, and Anton Lopa.

Rainnyl Chiang
University of Edinburgh

Leading the British School Manila’s student council and Model United Nations has allowed Rainnyl to experience both debating and problem solving firsthand. He believes these two essential skills will allow him to successfully pursue his intended major of Economic History at the University of Edinburgh. “Model United Nations has been a significant influence in shaping me, allowing me a forum to express my ideas and propose solutions to real, pressing world issues,” says Rainnyl, who was also a member of the varsity swimming team for seven years. Rainnyl had been interested in both history and economics separately but never considered majoring in a subject that combined both—until his internship with the Philippine Stock Exchange, an experience that opened his eyes to the financial struggles of millions of Filipinos and thus cemented his interest in economics. After learning that only a third of Filipinos have savings in banks, Rainnyl aspires to pave a career in finance, particularly in investment banking. “Investing in stocks has been a growing hobby for me as it challenges me and motivates me to take a greater interest in current affairs,” he says. “In the future, I intend to help raise financial literacy in the Philippines.”


Yvette Yao
University of California-Berkeley

“Our complex minds simultaneously disappoint and fascinate me because I am limited in fully understanding them,” says the International School Manila graduate. This medical focus leads Yvette to UC Berkeley, where she hopes to major in Neurobiology. Her interest in the brain was sparked after she witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. This brought Yvette to work at both Philippine Cerebral Palsy Incorporated and Makati Medical Center. After her work experiences, Yvette says that neuroscience had captured her “heart and mind.” At school, Yvette led the Chosen Children’s Village Council as the project coordinator and events coordinator. The 18-year-old is also musically inclined. Since beginning the trumpet in the fifth grade, Yvette’s skill with the instrument has brought her on musical tours through chapels in Milan, Vienna, Rome, and Amsterdam. The talented teenager is excited to join the Berkeley community that “embraces integration and inclusion.” Upon graduation, Yvette received High Honors and was inducted into both the Cum Laude Society and National Honors Society.


Anton Lopa
University of Pennsylvania

Also planning to study philosophy, politics, and economics at UPenn is Anton, a British School Manila scholar in his junior and senior years of high school. Prior to that, Anton studied at Ateneo de Manila High School, where he was part of his year’s honors section. A founding shareholder of a start-up clothing company, Mood Apparel, Anton also composed original music with his first band at Ateneo and took his love for music to BSM, playing various instruments for music groups. “While I do enjoy Philly cheesesteaks, I chose to go to UPenn because I believe the academic rigor of an Ivy League is unique and I wanted to challenge myself,” Anton says. “I’m certain I won’t be the smartest or most hard-working person there, but I believe in the merits of surrounding yourself with people who can inspire and teach you.”


An internship at EastWest Bank’s treasury department sparked Anton’s desire to work in finance. “There was something so enchanting about the constant phone calls, the clamor of negotiation, and the sense of achievement on the faces of my superiors as deals came through,” he shares. “But my end goal is to help in the development of the Philippines, which is why I also hope to someday pursue a career in government or policy— more specifically in helping create educational reform.”

Romnick Blanco
Harvard University

This is a story of hope. And, as with most remarkable stories, it started with a dream and many prayers—followed by hard work, patience, perseverance, and love. This is the story of Romnick Blanco, the seventh of nine sons of a farmer who grew up in a small municipality in the northern foothills of the Sierra Madre; a young boy who endured a long walk each day on unpaved roads just to get to school. Romnick crossed a bridgeless river, under the scorching heat almost every day, including Saturdays, in an effort to better himself and with the hope that through education, he and his family and their community could have a better life.


This is Romnick’s very own David and Goliath tale to tell: A poor boy who comes from a small, rural town. He describes his impoverished community as a place  “where people are living in hopelessness and despair. They believe that no matter what takes place, they will be poor forever. They see no light at the end of the tunnel.” 


Established in 2009, after receiving a land grant of over 100 hectares, GreenEarth Heritage Foundation quickly established programs in order to urgently address environmental destruction, lack of sustainable agricultural livelihood opportunities and poor quality education, in order to help farmers and their children in Romnick’s community.

In 2011, Romnick became a sponsored child of the foundation. His benefits as a sponsored child included receiving a monthly subsidy to assist with the ancillary costs of public school education as well as free access to English and computer literacy classes at the foundation's Learning Center, situated right in the middle of their reforestation site and an organic farm.The foundation noticed Romnick’s unwavering commitment to learning, and soon, he was outpacing the other farmers' children in English proficiency at the GreenEarth Learning Center.  Through the foundation’s vision, dedication, and support, he gained a highly coveted five-year scholarship at the country’s oldest international high school, the International School Manila.


A member of the graduating class of the International School Manila 2017, Rom, as he is called by his friends and family, received acceptance and full scholarships to Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Wesleyan University, and New York University at Abu Dhabi. He has accepted the offer from Harvard and will be matriculating in the fall of 2018, following a gap year. “I selected Harvard for all that it represents. Its reputation precedes itself,” he shares. “I love its motto, ‘Veritas: I will go where truth leads me.’” —ALICIA COLBY SY

Read his full story here

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