A Filipino student graduated with a perfect grade point average (GPA) from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the US.
Farrell Eldrian Wu, 20, a straight “A” student throughout, got a perfect GPA of 5.0, MIT’s highest grade.
Wu graduated at MIT on June 4 (June 5 in the Philippines) with two degrees: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Engineering, and Bachelor of Science in Business Analytics, with a minor in Economics. MIT does not award class ranks or Latin honors like summa cum laude.
He was one of the 1,027 undergraduate and 2,277 graduate students who received their diplomas during MIT’s online commencement ceremony. Civil rights lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson delivered the commencement address.
MIT president L. Rafael Reif announced last February that the commencement ceremony will be held online due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation in the US. This is the second year that MIT held an online commencement ceremony due to the pandemic.
“By virtue of the authority delegated by the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and on the recommendation of the Faculty, I am delighted to announce the awarding of degrees. On this wonderful day, I am proud of all of you. To every one of the members of the graduating Class of 2021: Please accept my best wishes for a happy and successful life and career,” Reif said during the ceremony.
Wu started at MIT in 2017 when he was 17 and experienced living alone, away from his family in the Philippines.
“It’s been an exhilarating four years here, and I’m simply feeling very thankful for everyone who supported me, both back in the Philippines and at MIT. I’m very glad to have had such a fulfilling experience that enabled me to explore widely and find myself, towards figuring out how I could best use my talents and skills to be of service,” he told Manila Bulletin.
Journey at MIT
Before he started his journey at MIT, Wu finished elementary and high school in the Philippines and represented the country in many international math contests.
He and another Filipino student hold the distinction of being the first to win gold medals for the Philippines at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in 2016.
Wu said he applied for admission to several universities in the country and abroad, and he chose MIT.
“Having spent my high school summers attending math Olympiad trainings at University of the Philippines-Diliman and Ateneo de Manila University, I have experienced the dedicated and compassionate teaching of the professors in both universities, so I set my goal of studying in either one of them for college,” he said.
He added, “College admission offers came in, and MIT stood out due to its well-renowned course rigor, as I enjoy learning topics deeply and thoroughly, which extends from my experience in math and informatics Olympiads back in high school. MIT’s motto of ‘mens et manus’ (Mind and Hand) resonates very well with my commitment to serve ever since I was a teenager.”
When he went to the US to study at MIT, he left his family including his younger brother but said he was able to fend for himself.
“I’ve been able to adjust well, with the help of the supportive MIT community, as throughout high school, I was already used to living and traveling alone from representing the Philippines in international Olympiads. With the help of technology, it’s also much easier to keep in contact with family and friends back home. Everyone at MIT also tends to keep themselves busy, so this culture doesn’t give much room for homesickness – I’ve always found something to occupy myself with,” he explained.
Wu said the biggest challenge he faced at MIT was “navigating MIT’s sheer volume of resources and opportunities towards finding a path that will allow me to make the best use of my God-given talents towards contributing to society. I eventually settled on having a focus in statistics and data science, while pursuing teaching-related activities, and I am grateful to have found a very supportive MIT community in both areas.”
He described his four years at MIT as “transformative, while at the same time complementing both my academic and service background very well.”
“I emerged with a deeper sense and understanding of what it means to give back to one’s community or to serve for the greater good. MIT attracts a very diverse student body with a wide range of perspectives, so I learned a lot from engaging conversations with many fellow students as well as researchers, professors, and other insightful individuals,” said Wu.
In addition, Wu said he “was fortunate to be introduced to the field of economics through my minor in the subject (which MIT also excels at), and this pursuit equipped me with a broad set of frameworks by which I could understand social issues better.”
When asked how he felt graduating with a perfect GPA, Wu said, “Throughout my time at MIT, I put little emphasis on my grades or my GPA.”
“My approach instead was to learn advanced material in areas I’m most interested in with the goal to best use the techniques in future practical applications. I later on realized that as long as I set a realistic yet high bar for my learning and understanding, typically to the point of being able to explain each concept to a peer and understanding the range of its real-life applications, good grades would follow,” he explained.
At MIT, Wu was awarded the Senior Prize by the MIT Sloan School of Management, given “to an outstanding senior student in the field of management with high scholastic standing, leadership and professional promise.”
He was inducted to the MIT chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest and most prestigious academic honor society in the US. He was also inducted to the MIT chapter of Eta Kappa Nu, an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science academic honor society.
Wu also won honorable mention at the 2017 William Lowell Putnam Mathematics Competition.
In campus teaching, he became the founder and head instructor for two for-credit, student-run classes in the MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) department: 6.S087 (Mathematical Methods for Multidimensional Statistics) and 6.S095 (Intermediate Probability Problem Solving Techniques). Each class reached over 200 students.
He also became a teaching assistant, content writer and undergraduate research facilitator for the MITx MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science (2018-2021); departmental grader and tutor for the Computer Science, Economics, and Mathematics departments (2017-2020); and lab assistant and teaching assistant for Mathematics for Computer Science (2017-2018).
Wu has received employment offers from multiple companies in the US and has decided to join “one of the world’s largest fintech companies for my first full-time journey into the world of finance.”
For Filipino students who want to study in the US, Wu said, “My main piece of advice, once coming to the US, is to be engaged with the diverse and supportive community that is characteristic of all top universities in the US.”
“These universities make it a goal to attract students from a wide range of backgrounds, in terms of their upbringing, culture, academic interests, and extracurricular pursuits, so it is important not to waste this component of a holistic education. When it comes to applying to colleges in the US, I would strongly emphasize finding a university that aligns best with one’s values and where there is an environment where one would thrive, rather than focusing on rankings or prestige,” he said.
Wu thanked all the people who helped him achieve his goal.
“I feel blessed and grateful for surviving MIT! The African proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is absolutely true as I would not be graduating from MIT if it wasn’t for the loving and nurturing individuals’ guidance and encouragement,” he said.
He added, “To this end, this accomplishment is largely dedicated to my family, teachers, mentors, friends, and the Filipino community who gave me countless opportunities to discover and develop my quantitative talents. Hanggang sa muli, para sa bayan!”