follow us on

The Future Looks Bright With These Young Achievers From International School Manila

These ISM achievers are focused yet versatile, wanting to change society and contributing to the country’s technological advancement

Some of us might not even remember high school, but we all can agree that these years are very crucial in terms of forming young minds. Outside the four corners of the classroom, students have a myriad of opportunities to discover their strengths, weaknesses, and passions, and form friendships that can last a lifetime. 

The Cum Laude Society, founded in 1906, is the highest honor society of the International School of Manila (ISM). Devoted to honoring scholastic achievement in secondary schools, the society also promotes excellence (areté), justice (diké), and honor (timé). In 1954, the ISM chapter was organized. 

Nine students are the recipients of this award and we got the chance to hear their stories. It is incredibly amazing how these kids, while doing exceptionally well in their academics, found where their heart really lies. 

Get to know these outstanding teenagers who found solace in their second home and will eventually leave the nest to fulfill the goals they have—not only for themselves, but for their beloved country as well. 

Alexis Lopez

Having to juggle a lot of exta-curriculars in high school and adjusting to a new world in the International School of Manila (ISM), published writer Alexis Lopez shares how her four-year stay in ISM transformed her into a woman who dreams of taking English at the University of Notre Dame. “I have always loved listening to, reading, and writing stories since I was a little girl,” she shares.

With the goal of bringing the school community closer, she focused on taking on leadership positions. She was the president of the Fine Arts Council and co-executive director of the Battle of the Bands Committee. Lopez believes that journalism plays a vital role in our country; she wants to start telling the stories of the Filipino people to spread awareness and, hopefully, inspire meaningful change.

She describes herself as a quiet girl who nonetheless ventured into different fields, such as theater, which she enjoys so much. For the last five years, she has been working with the White Cross Orphanage where she holds drama workshops and storytelling sessions.

This experience gave birth to her published book, Jorlie’s Journey, which follows the story of a young girl preparing to move to Spain. She believes that knowing about other people’s experiences that are similar to ours gives us a sense of reassurance that we are not alone. Right now, she is working on distributing her book to different children’s homes in the Philippines, including White Cross, Virlanie Foundation, and Hospicio de San Jose. 

Andrea Lee

The batch president of the International School of Manila (ISM) has poured her heart and soul into sharing her exceptional writing skills not only with her school, but also the community as well. While being the vice president for their school’s Forensics Club and Debate Club, Andrea Lee also worked as the editor-in-chief of their literary magazine, Liham. She did not only spend the last four years representing ISM in regional competitions, she also helped in revitalizing their magazine by starting a new podcast, having a new tutoring and editing program, and redesigning their website. Inspired by her global politics teacher, she plans on taking international relations or history at Yale University.

“I’m not too sure about my future, but I am currently fascinated by the growing culture of migration and the way it warps cultural identity, exacerbates past conflicts, and influences current policy,” she added. This driven woman has led her batch to come up with Project Jeeptree, a school wide project that raised money to purchase a custom mobile education vehicle for ChildHope Philippines. This forged an indisputable connection between the ISM community and the communities of the street children that ChildHope services.

Working with a non-governmental organization that aims to provide a creative caring space for underprivileged students, Lee’s first program in Right Start involved creating a film that is written and acted in by children. Her second program is geared towards helping the kids create Filipino-English poetry portfolios that are inspired by Shel Silverstein, photographs of the Philippines, and the children’s favorite pop songs. As her final act as president, Lee left ISM with words that ought to reflect what made her batch so unique; her speech drew inspiration from NASA’s golden record—a cosmic time capsule telling the story of humanity. 

Annika Allado 

We grew up drawing the thick line between the arts and sciences, but Annika Allado begs to differ. Shaped by her determination to put her love for dance and STEM in one lane during her stay in the International School of Manila (ISM), this student-athlete will embark on a journey at Duke University, where she will take an engineering program. “I love how the school (Duke University) puts a lot of emphasis on their interdisciplinary courses, which means I could continue my passions in the arts without having to compromise my interests in STEM,” she says.

Graduating cum laude while having a lot of extra-curriculars, Allado is an exceptional student; she was their dance group’s company captain and president of the Athletics Council. She was also able to raise over P200,000 for cleft palate surgeries during her term as the president of the National Honor Society. On top of that, she also spearheaded different sessions of math and science classes with Energizing Engineers, which she heads. These might be overwhelming for some of us, but our dancer still finds the time to destress by performing (she was the lead in their school play, In The Heights) and power-lifting in the gym. Dancing her way around high school made Allado output-oriented; the fruits of her labor inspire and motivate her. Even if she goes abroad for college, Allado’s love for the country prevails. She wants to come back to the Philippines with the goal of building an underground transportation system that would help improve the traffic situation on EDSA.

Audrey Sy

Living a life of service is what makes the class salutatorian the driven woman that she is. Dinners with Audrey Sy’s family, paired with business talks, inspired her to consider taking social entrepreneurship, but did not stop her from looking into computer science, product design, or engineering at Stanford University. “Stanford and Silicon Valley have such a unique entrepreneurial and tech-driven environment, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn from people working in the industry,” she shares.

She is on top of her academics, but ensures that there is a balance when it comes to her extra-curriculars. She was executive director (for two consecutive years) of the Battle of the Bands, their yearly musical charity event. She was also able to raise a total of P3.9 million (2017-2019) for different charities and causes such as The MEALenium Project and NVC Foundation’s Peter Project. She found a family and discovered her passion for service by being a member and president (2018-2019) of an out-of-school youth service organization, Promoting Rural Education in the Philippines (PREP). They created interactive lessons for over 300 kids and go to public elementary schools in rural Tagaytay to conduct these activities. Sy surely gives a natural-born leader vibe, but she grew up with the fear of public speaking.

Nevertheless, this did not stop her from going outside the box, pushing her to take a course in introduction to theater. She is also an athlete, having been co-captain of their varsity team for badminton, and plays volleyball for fun. Practicing calligraphy also takes up the time of our Moon Koo Lee Outstanding Senior Awardee. 

David Zhang

Should you need help with balancing schoolwork and extra-curriculars, David Zhang would be more than happy to lend you a hand. Being the student council’s president in your senior year while wrapping your head around graduating and going to college may be taxing, but this young man surely made it seem like it’s just another walk in the park. Zhang used his position to organize large-scale events for the school community, speak with the school administration on pressing issues, and lead student assemblies. Apart from student council, he also devoted his time to participating in different events such as the Battle of the Bearcats, which was an avenue for him to spend quality time with his friends, both old and new.

Zhang looks into taking a joint concentration of economics and applied math in Harvard College, as he sees himself having the potential to be a financial analyst. This career path was deeply inspired by his economics teacher; having the opportunity to see the application of economics in everyday life inspired him to take the specific degree program. Outside of school, he makes time for things that would help take his mind off the heavy workload that he has in school: playing the saxophone and piano, going for a swim, or breaking a sweat are a few things he finds enjoyable and stress-relieving. Back in fifth grade, Zhang had the chance to visit the La Mesa Watershed where he learned about tree-planting and hiking. This experience developed his passion for the environment which is, in his own words, “a defining feature of who I am.” 

Elisabeth Cajurao

Growing up in the Philippines and seeing the inequalities in the country, student- leader Elisabeth Cajurao aims to come up with solutions to different social ills such as inequality and poverty by going to Georgetown University. She wants to go to law school and is looking into political economy as her undergraduate degree. She was drawn to this school because her values are aligned with its motto, but also because, in her own words, “... it regularly interacts with its community through numerous opportunities for political internships and service outreach.”

It is clear that she wants nothing but the best for her community, as she was able to pull off various service initiatives that benefit the people around her. Hosting annual Filipiniana celebrations for the International School of Manila (ISM) community helped her raise around P2 milllion for Papaya Academy, which she is proud of.

She may have a lot on her plate, but that did not stop Cajurao from working between different extra-curriculars and leadership positions. Planning and leading an International MUN Conference with over 200 international participants as the secretary general could be taxing, but she made sure to give herself some time away from these responsibilities through her passion for dancing. Cajurao feels strongly for education, as this is what drives her to give back to the Filipino community that she grew up in. Albeit shy and reserved, she is very eager to meet and collaborate with like-minded people. 

Georgia Isabel Puyat Limcaoco

To bring joy into the International School of Manila (ISM) community by choosing to write a show was Georgia Isabel Puyat Limcaoco’s goal, and she was successful in producing and directing their own original student-run play. “I wanted to do this play to provide the ISM theater community another opportunity to participate in a production.” All tickets were sold out on opening night—the proceeds became funds for a non- profit organization. Her mother started her love for reading by introducing Limcaoco to books when she was a child. She also finds happiness in writing; from eighth grade, she began working her way to be a part of the managing team of the school paper, finally joining it in her junior year!

Writing about controversial topics such as sexism can be quite challenging, but her team was able to do so. Her experience in writing made her want to pursue an English or communications degree at Stanford University. Inspiring others through her love for the arts did not stop her from exploring different fields, as she is also interested in science and politics. She also loves to spend time in the kitchen cooking her favorite meatball risotto! Just when you think that Limcaoco is your all-around-girl, she also shares how she is very passionate about community service. Having a high affinity for education and teaching, she founded the KwentoBus program and partnered with the Institute for Foundational Learning. It is a mobile library program that is based in Cabuyao, which aims to improve children’s English literacy. 

Zachary Lopez

As artificial intelligence is fast-emerging, Zachary Lopez tries to keep up with booming industry as he widens his knowledge on robotics by taking computer science at Princeton University. What drew this tech-savvy guy to this field is how computer science plays a vital role in today’s world; the freedom he gets by being able to create just about anything is rewarding. For his whole stay in the International School of Manila (ISM), he has been a part of the robotics club, even winning first place in Maker Faire’s multi-processor division.

Having co-founded the school’s code club, Lopez was able to teach other students the basics of computer programming through tutorials, competitions, and online practice. One of their achievements was putting together and displaying the students’ creations in Maker Faire. Not only that, his team designed, built, and programmed a robot that placed fourth in ISM’s competition, which paved the way for their participation in an annual VEX robotics competition held in Taiwan. To be able to compete in the semifinals is already redeeming in itself, but what was really fulfilling was how traveling with his team made them closer.

To make things even more interesting, this techy guy also loves theater and card magic, which he has done throughout his stay in ISM. He believes that “technological progress in the Philippines is slower in comparison to other countries.” With the hope of implementing his own projects to enhance the lives of the Filipinos, he aims to come back to the Philippines after he learns more in this field.

Sofia Montinola

Sofia Montinola shares how she was at her lowest during her junior year, and with a little help from her friends and focusing more on herself, she bounced back in her last year in the International School of Manila (ISM), graduating as the class valedictorian and receiving an award from the school’s highest honor society. Although her work suffered from it, she talks about how important it is to take a break from all the pressure and just channel one’s energy into self-care; eventually gaining the motivation she needs, she successfully made her way to the top.

Montinola also shared a lot with the ISM community by working on the set of their high school production, In The Heights, and also working with the Spanish Honor Society and the WWF New Youth Council. She does different things to gain serenity—from relaxing at home by baking and watching videos, to showing her adventurous side by rock climbing. She surely is a lot of things rolled in one. Traveling to Alaska, she ran into a passenger who told her about behavioral psychology and the different ways that it can encourage others to limit their carbon footprint. Having been inspired to learn more, she looks into majoring in psychology and minoring in art (she also does graphic design) at Harvard University. To live and study abroad is a huge leap of faith and can be nerve-wrecking for some, but for Montinola, it is another exciting opportunity to discover herself, find new interests, and have a clearer look at the picture that she wants to paint in the future.

This article was originally published in Metro Society vol. 16, no.6

Photographs by Dix Perez