As the International School Manila class of 2017 leaves the hallowed halls of their second home, a new journey with abundant opportunities awaits

Untitled-1.jpgFor the Bearcats seniors, International School Manila was where they shared countless memories filled with laughter, tears, embarrassment, and accomplishments. Their high school graduation marks an end to a significant chapter of their lives. As they branch out into different paths to achieve their goals, 11 outstanding seniors look back on their fondest memories and achievements, and look forward to what their uncertain—but definitely bright—future holds.

Romnick Blanco

Five years ago, Blanco didn't  even know that ISM existed. All he wanted to do was learn English and finish high school, but as the seventh out of nine children of a farmer and a housewife living in the foothills of Sierra Madre, access to quality education was extremely difficult to come by. Aside from regular classes at the local public school, he attended English and computer literacy programmes since the sixth grade conducted by the GreenEarth Heritage Foundation, an organisation that aims to restore forests, alleviate poverty in organic agriculture, and battle illiteracy. The foundation’s learning centre was two hours each way by foot from Blanco’s house. He had to cross a river and walk unpaved roads—many times on an empty stomach—yet he was always the first one to arrive. Witnessing Blanco’s determination to learn, the foundation’s leadership sent his application to the International School Manila for a five-year scholarship. He passed all his entrance exams, and the rest is history. “It was my David and Goliath experience. What happened to me was nothing short of a miracle.” He was cared for in Metro Manila by the foundation’s visionaries for five years and participated in numerous environmental projects at GreenEarth. He plans to take a gap year before leaving for Harvard University next year, leaning towards economics and environmental studies. “I want to use my education to be of service to those who are buried deep in destitution in my rural community.”

Samantha Borja

For Borja, her high school life was the perfect mix of hurdles and triumphs. “I am glad to have graduated without any regrets,” she says. She will forever treasure the annual Battle of the Bearcats, a fun-filled day where every grade competes in various sports and activities (such as Minecraft and Quidditch), which she helped organise and execute as a member of the Senior Class Council. She also led the Battle of the Bands Executive Board, ISM’s largest student organisation, towards a record-breaking event with the most number of attendees and raised Php1.6 million for their 13 charity partners. She  was also inducted into the Cum Laude Honours Society, but Borja’s activities outside the school are as vibrant as the ones inside. Foremost among them is her work with Promoting Rural Education in the Philippines (PREP), an organisation that provides resources to help children’s schools in rural Tagaytay. On going to Northwestern University for her Economics degree, she says, “The independence will be refreshing. It will be interesting to try and traverse this completely on my own, and while it is daunting, I’m excited to take on the challenge.” Borja believes in the strength of economic opportunity and its application to help escape the poverty cycle and wants to carve her own path in developmental economics for NGOs in the Philippines after 10 years.

Jessica Cuadro

Cuadro stepped into the posh halls of ISM as an eighth grader, having transferred as a sophomore from Makati Science High School. She was afraid to speak and would avoid conversations during her first year at ISM, but through the guidance and support of her teachers and counselors, she was able to step out of her comfort zone and flourish. She joined numerous organisations, honed her writing and public speaking skills, learnt to play the guitar, and sang in public. But the best things she gained from all these were the people she bonded with. “My most memorable experience was making friends with different people from all sorts of backgrounds. I will never forget the connections I made at ISM.” The apple certainly did not fall far from the tree. Cuadro, whose father is a policeman, wants to play a significant role in creating and enforcing laws in the country, specifically on women’s rights and promotion of quality education. She will study Sociology at Columbia University on a full scholarship, and is looking forward to living in New York.

PT_08012017-1240.jpgSofia Jimenez, Jessica Cuadro, Lileya Mariae de la Fuente Santos, Samantha Borja

Sienna Alexandra Hagedorn

Hagedorn finished her senior year as captain and MVP of the school soccer team and is now set for another kickoff, this time on a much bigger field—the New York University of Abu Dhabi with a full scholarship for her degree in Political Science. “I find myself constantly inspired by the country I grew up in. Despite the suffering and injustice, the spirit of the Filipino people is what inspires me to explore a field that will eventually allow me to advocate for their rights.” She established the Youth Enrichment Sponsorship fund which grants financial aid to deserving Filipino students in different schools, which she considers her biggest achievement in high school. She was also the vice president of the Philippine Cultural Club that helped foster an appreciation of the Filipino culture inside the campus and the surrounding communities. Throughout her high school life, she developed a keen interest in film, where she explored her creativity through hands-on production. She credits her participation in soccer and the life-long friendships she made for shaping her life in ISM, although she does regret one thing: “Not taking more time to learn the local language. Now I see that it would be extremely helpful to learn the language of the place where I hope to establish a career in, but it’s not too late to start.”

Sofia Jimenez

“Because Brown University doesn’t have a core curriculum, I have the opportunity to choose my own academic adventures. I want to take advantage of this by taking a range of interesting classes.” Jimenez has immersed herself in different extracurricular activities in high school, mainly focusing on modern media, music, and philanthropy. She created The Hive, an archive for the works of many talented ISM filmmakers, and sat as president  of the Service Learning Council and Promoting Rural Education in the Philippines (PREP) for which they were able to raise Php300,000 to build a stage and drainage system for Bulalo Elementary School in Tagaytay. Jimenez captained the softball team in her senior year and also played electric bass for the school’s jazz band and her own band, Argent, during the Battle of the Bands. “My high school fulfilled necessary clichés like attending fun prom nights and winning a championship game with my softball team, to winning Battle of the Bands two years in a row.” She plans to study Modern Culture and Media with double concentration in Business Entrepreneurship and Organisations at Brown and aims to someday maximise the power of multimedia to advocate for truth, justice, and creativity.

PT_08012017-1241.jpgSienna Alexandra Hagedorn; Sammy Westfall; Alejandro Miñana

Josh Albert Heredia Miller

“I’m most excited about the unfamiliarity of the next few years. It thrills me to spend the next four years in a completely new place.” For Miller, furthering his tertiary education at Vanderbilt University will give him a chance to have a clean slate. He will take with him to college his love for engineering, and hopes to return to the Philippines with ideas and methods that can help his countrymen. Challenges pumping with adrenaline are not new to him. Miller started playing soccer when he was four, and began playing in national teams when he was 13. He fell in love with rugby when he came to ISM, and represented the country’s U18, U19, and U20 national for both Sevens and Fifteens. He considers acing the first semestre of his senior year, known to be academically notorious, as his biggest achievement in high school. The chance to get into universities with financial aid hinged on the said semester’s results. Simultaneously, he was summoned to play for five international tournaments for three Philippine Rugby teams and a Philippine Football team. Despite missing classes and dealing with the physical exhaustion of his sports, Miller continued his studies in between games and managed to not just maintain his academic standing, but also make it his best semester in terms of academic performance.

Alejandro Miñana

Aside from academics, Miñana busied himself with playing rugby and joining philanthropic projects in high school. He fondly remembers an outreach project he conducted with his classmates at a public school in Taguig, which opened his eyes to the reality of the need for drug reform. Along with a couple of friends, he organised Project Pasulong, a service organisation that provide soccer clinics and help troubled boys through peer mentorship. “It was my biggest achievement in high school because it showed the young boys that a dream is achievable so long as they work hard towards it.” He will head to Boston College to major in Economics, but he has no specific destination yet, career-wise. “Economics can be applied to different contexts, which gives me the flexibility and different directions to go to.” Inspired by his parents and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, he hopes to help create inclusive growth in the Philippines and lessen the wealth disparity between the rich and the poor.

Noah Ramos

Right now, Ramos is only sure of two things: he will do his best at Harvard University, and will return to work in the Philippines to continue developing the country where he was raised. The roster of impressive activities and organisations he joined in high school speaks volumes of his future. From his administrative roles in the Student Body Association, the Academic Bowl Team, and the National Honour Society, to his presidency at the Forensics and Debate Council, Ramos has continued to exceed expectations. A fan of the spoken word, he competed in numerous public speaking competitions and established SpeakUp, a public speaking workshop outside ISM. He wants to enter the field of business as an entrepreneur and create something new to help the community, thus his interest in economics and computer science. Ramos is already preparing for a tougher and more competitive environment in the US. “We lived in a bubble and were sheltered from a  lot of the world by family and other factors. This protection will disappear from our first day in college, which is necessary for us to grow as people and mature.”

PT_08012017-1243.jpgRomnick Blanco, Noah Ramos, Joshua Albert Heredia Miller

Lileya Mariae de la Santos

Santos engages in diverse advocacies and hobbies. She founded Project Wheelchair and raised funds to buy more than 500 wheelchairs for the less fortunate in Tacloban, Cebu, and Davao. With ISM’s Astronomy Club, she contributed to the Beamline Project of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN). During her free time, she occupies herself with archery and learning to play new musical instruments. As she leaves the country to study computer science at the University of Southern California, Santos is filled with excitement for the opportunity to be exposed to a new environment and see the world from different perspectives. She knows where she wants herself to be in 10 years. “I hope to inspire girls to develop an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)-related topics, as well as to continue to raise awareness for disabilities and mobility. I’ve been so fortunate in my life, I hope to be able to give back in the future.” Additionally, she wants to contribute to the progress of infrastructure and access to education in the country through the use of computers as a conduit to inform the youth and the general public about global matters.

Sammy Westfall

“Inaction and being idle are some things that I can’t stand. My constant need to be productive, to create, learn, and keep my mind occupied has helped shaped my identity in high school,” says Westfall. She has picked up many causes and hobbies inside and outside the school campus, all of them pointing to the same goal: to create a meaningful and lasting impact on the community and the people she meets. She was chosen to be the graduation speaker of her batch, received the Moon Koo Lee Outstanding Senior Award, and played for different sports team for 11  seasons. But perhaps the endeavour closest to her heart is Ate Academy (ate means older sister in English), a project she founded in 2014 that conducts weekly classes at the Museo Pambata on Saturday mornings for the street children living in Roxas Boulevard. She teaches them math, art, and how to read and write. “I witnessed first-hand the power of education to ignite an imagination, to instill the motivation to learn, climb out of poverty, and reach for the future.” She will take another big step towards making a change as she goes off to Yale University this month, with plans to major in Global Affairs and Political Science. She is aiming for a career in urban development and improvement of the education sector.

PT_08012017-1242.jpgYvette Ysabel Chua Yao

Yvette Ysabel Chua Yao

Yao has her eyes set on joining the medical industry. She will study Neurobiology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her interest in neurodegenerative disorders led to her involvement with the Philippine Cerebral Palsy Incorporated (PCPI) where she conducted art therapies, a form of sensory-integration therapy that greatly help the patients. “It is fulfilling and honourable to directly assist those who are suffering. Neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field, and I’m sure that more career options will emerge, but for now, I will investigate the wonders of the human mind and see where that leads me.” Her first two years in high school were spent at Kambala School in Sydney, Australia, before transferring to ISM to finish the remaining two. She was a member of the ISM National Honours Society, has interned at different hospitals, and is active in many philanthropic projects. Years of perseverance in learning to play the trumpet has landed her in a number of orchestras, jazz bands, concert bands, and even a solo. But she couldn’t have done all these without her biggest supporters and inspirations: her parents. “My parents inspire me to remain humble and be grateful for the blessings in my life.” As she steps toward a brighter and bigger world, she is prepared to reach outside the bubble and learn from a diverse group of thinkers.

Photography by Shaira Luna | Creative Direction and Styling by Monique Madsen | Location: Mirèio of Raffles-Fairmont Hotel