Biology major from Ilocos Sur is UP Baguio's second summa cum laude grad
Kenworth Bryle Bal-iyang is UP Baguio's second summa cum laude graduate and the Biology department's first.
via Artemio Dumlao
Biology major from Ilocos Sur is UP Baguio's second summa cum laude grad
Artemio Dumlao ( - June 23, 2019 - 5:33pm

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — A young visionary who dreams of using the natural sciences to help reform the country topped this year's graduating class at the University of the Philippines in Baguio, which will hold commencement rites on Monday.

Kenworth Bryle Bal-iyang (B.S. Biology) bested 351 of his batchmates to be class valedictorian, graduating summa cum laude with a general weighted average of  1.141, the second in the history of the university. 

UP Baguio had its first summa cum laude in 2007 in BA Communication student Jahzeel Abihail Cruz, who had a GWA of 1.15. 

Five other students will graduate as magna cum laude on Monday at the CAP Trade and Cultural Center at Camp John Hay before Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Mario Leonen while 54 other students will also graduate with honors.

Bal-iyang, who grew up in Gregorio del Pilar, Quirino and in Candon City, all in Ilocos Sur, describes himself as an 'Ilocano” and "Bag-o Igorot". 

His influence: Marie Sklodowska-Curie

He said he has always looked up to strong women in history, citing Marie Sklodowska-Curie, famed revolutionary physicist and chemist, as a significant influence on his life.

"Growing up, she inspired me to pursue excellence in the sciences and to live life in the service of others... The life of Sklodowska-Curie showed me how one can rise above limitations and defy the odds in a constricting society," he said.

Bal-iyang originally dreamt of working for a degree in Chemistry or Physics, "because I excelled better in the physical sciences when I was in high school."

His parents influenced him to take up Biology instead.

His mother is  Dr. Rachel Duque, a dentist, from Gregorio del Pilar, Ilocos Sur while his father is Santos Bal-iyang, a high school principal from Quirino, also in Ilocos Sur. "My biological parents are annulled and now have their separate families," Bal-iyang said.

"Although difficult at first, I eventually learned to love Biology. [It] provided me with an avenue to understand and appreciate the origin, beauty, working, and intricacy of life here on Earth," he explained.

"It also allowed me to have a peek into the past, the present, and the future of life from an evolutionary perspective."

Molecular Biology, but also maybe Law

The UP Baguio summa cum laude and valedictorian plans on taking a graduate degree in Molecular Biology or Molecular Medicine. But, he hints,  “I am also considering pursuing a degree in Law.”

He said, though, that "the condition of science and technology in the Philippines is dire" and he wants to address this "by contributing to various fields such as research, academe, healthcare and policy-making."

Professor Ronan Baculi of UP Baguio's Department of Biology, upon learing of his student's feat confirmed that "the Department of Biology, UP Baguio will be having its first ever summa cum laude graduate since the program was established in the 1970s."

Eldest among three, Bal-iyang’s younger brother—Saint Jandec—is also a Biology student at UP. He has a brother from his mother’s second spouse: Jeuzh Uhriel.

Critical thinking and grit

Life was sort of rough for the valedictorian, he said.  

"I grew up in Gregorio del Pilar, Quirino, and Candon City Ilocos Sur... As a child, I was raised in Gregorio del Pilar and Quirino, Ilocos Sur. When I entered the second grade, our family moved to Candon City, where I finished the rest of my primary and secondary education," he said.

Despite challenges, Bal-iyang excelled in school. He graduated with honors from the Saint Joseph Institute in 2011 and was valedictorian in the Special Science Class when at the Candon National High School in 2015.   

At UP Baguio, he had been gathering steam in the natural sciences field, placing second in the Chemistry Quiz at the National Science Quest in 2014, ventually placing first in the same contest the next year. 

In 2018,  he placed third in the Biology Quiz during the National Biology Cup.

"More formidable than the pressures of the external environment, I honestly see myself as my greater enemy," he said, adding he constantly doubted himself as an undergraduate.

"I believe that critical thinking and grit have allowed me to achieve excellence and overcome challenges in my four years in UP," he said, adding critical thinking allowed him  to go beyond traditional learning conventional theory. 

"And, with grit—which combines hard work, determination, and aspirations—I was able escape from my old self and grow as a well-rounded individual, working on realizing the best version of myself," he continued.

For his family, and for the Filipino masses 

Finishing four years in UP Baguio at the top of his class, Bal-iyang is offering his feat to his family. 

"I am fortunate to have lived a privileged life. My father is a high school principal who used to teach math while my mother is a dentist."

He acknowledged that before his father and mother, his grandparents lived an impoverished life. "My lolos and lolas were farmers, who have endured the elements, the monsoon rains and the scorching heat, just to provide for our family," he said.   

"Before I left for my last semester, I told my Lola Saling: 'Sino koma mangipagarup nga kastoy kaadayo ti madanonta?” (Who would have thought we will reach this far?).  If it were not for them, this feat would not have been possible," the proud young valedictorian admitted.

"To my parents and grandparents, I am forever grateful," he said.

Beyond his immediate family,  Bal-iyang offers his feat "to the Filipino masses", saying "the real problems of the nation lie outside the boundaries of our university." 

"As I leave the university and pursue my own goals, may I never forget my obligation as an 'Iskolar ng Bayan'," he said. "I hope to serve the people by contributing in the creation of a Filipino society that nurtures the underprivileged and the underserved."

Bal-iyang at was a peer mentor of the UP Bagiuo's Learning Resource Center.  He became an elected member of the Phi Sigma Biological Sciences Honor Society and also the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

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