Teenager’s grade best in post-war UP
MANILA, Philippines—When he addresses fellow graduates of the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City, this Sunday, John Gabriel Pelias, 19, knows that he is living proof that poverty is not an obstacle to dreaming and earning a degree in mathematics.
The teenager will be graduating summa cum laude with a general weighted average (GWA) of 1.016, which appears to be the highest garnered in UP history after World War II.
Pelias, who has no “family income” to speak of as he and his grandmother live on their meager savings, said he never considered poverty a hindrance to doing his best.
His is an inspiring story of how a poor boy once dreamed of making it to the premier university and ended up setting an academic record.
Pelias graduated high school valedictorian on a scholarship from the National College for Business and Arts. He took only two entrance exams at UP and Technological University of the Philippines. The former was obviously his choice and he enrolled in 2007 as a BS Math student.
Only child, scholarship
An only child, Pelias supported himself with scholarships as his Lola Sandra had no job and only savings to get them by.
“I live with my lola in Quezon City and we have no family income, technically. I believe that kind of background reinforced the character I have now,” he said in a phone interview.
Clarifying an online report, he said he did not walk to school to save on money, though he would sometimes walk around the campus for different reasons.
“I took the jeepney to school naman. But sometimes if the Ikot jeep takes too long, I’d walk to the buildings if it’s near. Or I walk if I’m annoyed,” Pelias said, laughing.
The summa cum laude graduate was chosen to deliver the valedictory address both at the college and university commencement rites because of his feat.
Jose Wendell Capili, assistant vice president for alumni relations, first posted Pelias’ achievement on Facebook on Sunday, claiming the boy beat a 1948 record by professor Emerenciana Yuvienco Arcellana who graduated with a GWA of 1.193.
“He (Pelias) has unwavering focus, maturity beyond his years and he is not difficult to get along with,” Capili said in an interview.
Mistaken for freshman
University registrar Pamela Constantino said she mistook Pelias for a freshman when UP officials were choosing from among the summa cum laude students who would deliver the valedictory address.
“He looked so young, so I thought he was a freshman,” Constantino said.
One of Pelias’ mentors, the associate dean for student affairs, Marian Roque of the College of Science recalled that she came to know Pelias upon hearing of a student who always got a 1.0, the highest grade, in all his subjects upon entering UP in 2007.
“He was my student in a math subject. We began from there. He’s not shy, actually very makulit. And very diligent as well and a very nice kid,” the professor said of the teenager.
His math solutions were always “very clear, very thorough, and very complete,” Roque added.
Pelias counts among his other mentors Institute of Mathematics director Joey Balmaceda, professor Fidel Nemenzo and his father, former UP president Francisco Nemenzo, and professor Noli Reyes.
Even with the age gap, Pelias said he had no problem relating with them and his teachers came to know him because he was “performing so well” in their classes.
He, however, acknowledged that he was unable to get the coveted 1.0 in three subjects—English 1, Filipino 40, and a math subject. He only got 1.25 in the courses, but his final GWA turned out to be 1.016.
Not grade conscious
Pelias did not see himself as a “grade conscious” student in the sense that he was not the type who would do anything just to get a high grade.
“I just always do my best. I don’t like the term ‘grade conscious’ because it has a negative connotation, like a student would do extra projects for a higher grade. I’m not like that,” Pelias said.
He had two scholarships—the Jose Ma. Feliciano scholarship, which gave him a P20,000 stipend every semester, and one from UP which took care of tuition, allowances, etc.
Pelias spends his time writing short stories, watching TV and playing the piano.
Asked if he was able to watch movies, Pelias said he wasn’t fond of movies. “If there’s a new movie and I want to watch it, I won’t have the money for it. But it’s OK. I’m not fond of going to the cinema anyway.”
He is also fond of animé, preferring romantic comedies as he named several titles.
Pelias—“John” to his many circles of friends—has a reputation as the “go-to” guy among fellow math majors, the one being asked for help on exams and homework because of his prowess in math.
His favorite field in math is algebra and his thesis: “Linked Circles and Qubits: The Hopf Fibration in Topology, Geometry and Quantum Mechanics” was described by Roque as very advanced for his level that aims to merge math and physics.
Pelias said he spent his summer vacation studying the subjects for the next semester instead of having fun.
“I’d study the math subjects for the coming year! So I guess it’s better that I don’t have much money so I can study ahead,” he said.
The honor graduate thanked the people who sent him to school. “Whatever achievements I had are based on hard work and my passion for math. In math, there is always one answer. False cannot be true and true cannot be false,” he said.
He never thought of poverty as a hindrance to his dreams and even saw it as a challenge to do his best.
“The lack of money should never be a hindrance, especially to your academic dreams. Money should not be a hindrance to the inborn intellect of a person. It shouldn’t determine if a person will be given a chance to study in UP,” Pelias said.
His immediate plans after graduation still involve his alma mater. Pelias is applying to teach at the UP Institute of Mathematics this coming semester while he pursues higher studies.
Roque said the graduating student’s mentors planned to look for a scholarship for their ward for higher studies abroad once he finished a master’s degree.
“We do that for our faculty, and Pelias wants to stay in the academe,” she said.
Pelias said his continued involvement with UP was his way of “giving back” to his school which had allowed him to achieve his dreams despite several drawbacks.
“I want to teach and continue what I do. Hopefully, I’ll be a longtime professor at UP. This is where I find fulfillment, and it’s my way of giving back,” he said.