IT’S MIDNIGHT but books remained scattered across the desk, each page filled with highlights and post-its. This was how Neill Cachuela described his usual grind—his study routine.
Cachuela, who graduated last May 31 with a degree in medical technology, emerged as the valedictorian for Batch 2017. His general weighted average of 1.059 was the highest in the past five years.
Cachuela was also a recipient of the Rector’s Academic Award, UST’s highest academic excellence award.
“My goal before was just to do my best and maintain my scholarship. For me, ‘yong naging number one ako, it’s just a bonus. I just didn’t want to have regrets, so I gave my best effort,” Cachuela said in an interview with the Varsitarian.
Cachuela initially thought of studying in his native General Santos after graduating high school, but an opportunity for high school valedictorians like himself awaited in Manila.
“I think I have the ability to do more, so I would not limit myself just to pass the scholarship, just to pass the exam, na parang half-baked lang ‘yong outcome,” he said.
When Cachuela first came to Manila, he struggled with culture shock and homesickness.
“They have given me tips beforehand that in Manila, there are adjustments I’d have to make – iba ‘yong culture, iba ‘yong traffic, iba ‘yong food,” said Cachuela.
“I try not to think too much about [the distance] so ang challenge sa akin doon is ‘yong pakikisalamuha ko with other people,” he added.
Cachuela owed his dorm-mates for helping him adjust in his new environment.
The 19-year-old Cachuela might have graduated with flying colors, but he admitted that getting on top was not an easy climb.
Cachuela allotted more time for studying but made sure to attend social gatherings, which he considered as rewards for his hardships after examinations.
“[We all] have that study habit that celebrations would come after the practical examinations or any major activities,” said Cachuela. “So I enjoy every social activity like a celebration for what we have done for the past few days.”
Despite his perseverance, Cachuela bared that he was no stranger to pressure and the occasional breakdowns.
His fear of losing his Santo Tomas academic scholarship barred him from joining organizations and extra-curricular activities.
But that does not mean that Cachuela does not engage in leisure activities.
“If wala naman talagang quiz or exams so wala akong iisipin, ayoko ma-burn out na aral pa rin kahit wala naman gagawin,” Cachuela said. “It’s up to you to make time for other things – what come’s first, what comes next and how you would juggle all of those things all at the same time.”
Road to med school
Cachuela spent only 10 days of vacation his hometown. Not even a month after graduation, he returned to Manila to prepare for the medical technology licensure exam before entering the UST Faculty of Medicine and Surgery next academic year.
“Hindi ko masyadong iniisip na bata pa ako, na since graduate [na ako], okay [na ako], but since I’m pursuing med, I said I’ll continue studying para ‘di sayang ‘yong time,” Cachuela said.
“You have to look ahead because there’s a goal waiting for you and every time, you need to constantly remind yourself of that goal,” he added.
Cachuela might not have expected to achieve batch valedictorian but his admirable determination, which pushed him to the top, is definitely one for the books.