SUMMA-bit: The insecurities of a summa who made it, but barely

‘Yuri, send mo na yung thesis mo sa department email!” reminded Ate Erika, our department library staff. I was in the library writing some letters. I looked up from my laptop and nodded assent. A few minutes after I’ve sent what I thought was the PDF copy of my thesis, she came up to me in confusion, “Bakit six pages lang ‘to?”
It turned out that I had only sent the title page and table of contents – the actual content of my thesis remained unsent.
“Ikaw ba talaga ang summa natin?” Ate Erika joked, as I scurried to send the complete version of my thesis. I laughed.
“Sa dami ng pagkukulang ko, ‘di ko rin sure. Pag-send na lang nga ng thesis, di pa magawa ng maayos,” I thought to myself.
It felt surreal to hear that I finished my undergraduate degree as a summa cum laude. When I first found out, I was beyond ecstatic. Graduating as a summa has long been my secret dream. I rarely ever say it loud because I feared I would jinx it. When my average came out, I literally had tears of joy running down my face at the realization that I had achieved my ultimate college dream. To top things off, I was also the first ever summa cum laude in my department’s history.
The graduation festivities happened in quick succession after the news broke. I, along with the other summas, received invitations to make graduation speeches, to join the yearly summa photoshoot and to attend the graduation practices.
Personally, I was most excited about the shoot because it was my chance to meet the other summas. I was curious to find out what they were like. Are they emotionally intense? Are they unassuming? Have they been my classmates before? As the shoot neared, I realized that I had some apprehensions.
My weighted average was exactly 1.20, which was the minimum score required. It was surely the lowest among the group. In my heart, I harbored the irrational fear of being out of place because of my average.
On the day of the shoot, I sat in the holding room with the other summas. My fears quickly dissipated as we got to know the quirks and statistics about being a summa cum laude. I was seated near the only summa for the college of science. I was sandwiched between two out of five summas from chemical engineering. I was lined up next to the second ever summa cum laude from college of human kinetics. My fellow College of Arts and Letters summa, my tandem in many of the graduation pomp, was the first of his department as well. There was no air of superiority around the room, only mutual admiration.
We were all summas. There was a certain parity to that. During one of the graduation practices, one of the summas brought up that we were arranged by averages on the UP website. He mentioned that the summas last year did not agree with being arranged by their averages on the UP website.
How could one compare apples and oranges? We came from different disciplines. Our strengths and weaknesses were vastly dissimilar. Our professors are almost selected through sheer luck. Was it really fair to compare?
We came to the conclusion that ironically, our grades didn’t matter. We were summas just the same and the gravity of our achievement cannot be measured by our averages alone.
On the day of my college graduation, I remembered standing nervously at the side of the stage. We were arranged in such a way that I was the first person to walk across. I almost tripped as the usher motioned me to walk up the stage.
When our department chair called my name, the audience erupted in cheers. My professors, even those who were not from my department, stood as a salute as I walked across the stage to receive my medal.
I burst into a wide, confident grin. It hit me then: the professors did not care that my average was the minimum score; neither did my department and fellow graduates.
“Nakuha ko na. Ayan, 101 pages yung thesis mo di ba?” Ate Erika peered at her computer to double-check my thesis. “Jusko, kung nabasa ng mga future students ang thesis mo, tapos hanggang table of contents lang ang meron…”
I recounted to her about the typo errors on my thesis, especially those on the cover page that had resulted from the carelessness of the printing services I had availed of and commented, “Feeling ko, ‘di rin sila maniniwala na ako talaga yun.”
Until the very end of my thesis writing process, I felt that I had driven my adviser nuts because I always had a bunch of typo errors lurking around my work.
Earlier on during the graduation festivities, I felt that being summa meant that there had to be a certain level of perfection. A summa, in my mind, was a student who never had typos, who could send the PDF copy of their thesis without blunders and who was a naturally brilliant writer.
Now that the festivities are over, I realized that being summa is not about reaching that ideal perfection. It is a combination of avoiding/surviving terror professors, boosted by the comfort of privilege of a financially stable socio-economic class and, of course, hard work. In my case, it was the ability to do well despite my clumsy tendencies.
Will the future graduates of our department believe that I really was the first summa? Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. I hope they will though, because the story of the department’s first summa is the story of a girl who overcame her insecurities and pagkukulang to graduate.