Meet the University of Toronto’s youngest ever graduate: ‘I am 16’

Click to play video: '‘It’s crazy:’ Ecuadorian teen becomes University of Toronto’s youngest graduate'
‘It’s crazy:’ Ecuadorian teen becomes University of Toronto’s youngest graduate
An international student from Ecuador is among the thousands of graduates walking the stage at University of Toronto's convocation this year. The student says he's overwhelmed with joy to be getting his degree ... and making history. Global's Noor Ra'fat explains. – Jun 12, 2024

Post-secondary graduates know a cluster of emotions can pile up once their academic journey comes to a close.

“It’s really a lot of emotions that are hard to say,” said Daniel Honciuc Menendez. “Really proud of my achievements. Really excited of course. Honoured to be graduating.”

Among the thousands of students set to walk the convocation stage at University of Toronto this summer, Honciuc Menendez has captured the attention of his campus community.

The international student from Ecuador is getting a degree with high distinction in mathematics and a specialty in physics later this month.

Although impressive as is, the soon-to-be-graduate will be getting another nod to his success on convocation day — a spot in university history.

“I am 16 years old,” admits the teen.

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That makes Honciuc Menendez the youngest student to graduate from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 1979, the year the university started tracking such data.

Daniel Honciuc Menendez describes being very drawn to puzzles, numbers, and physics since he was a child. Credit: Diana Tyszko

If you’re doing the math, yes, that means the teen began his post-secondary journey at just 12.

“When I was four years old, I got into grade school early in the U.K., so that was my first ‘grade-skip’,” he told Global News.

11-year-old Honciuc Menendez at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Via Daniel Honciuc Menendez.

At six, Honciuc Menendez was back in Ecuador with his single mom, applying to take advanced courses at John Hopkins University’s Centre for Talented Youth. (Spoiler: he got in.)

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At ten, he took the SATs, and used his results to skip four grades and go right into junior high.

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At 11, he took a theoretical physics summer program in Waterloo.

Then, at 12, he graduated high school, and got an acceptance letter and scholarship to University of Toronto.

“I didn’t realize how special he truly was, until he asked me to write a reference letter, and I got to see his resume,” said Ania Harlick, associate professor of physics with U of T’s teaching stream.

Honciuc Menendez attended classes in his first-year virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, he flew to Canada alongside his mum to resume his studies in-person, eventually enrolling in Harlick’s class.

Ania Harlick met Daniel Honciuc Menendez when he was 13 years-old at her lab course. Mark Bray/ Global News

“I first met him in a second-year lab course. I saw him coding one day. It made me realize the way his brain works is the not the same as the way my brain works,” said Harlick.

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“What stands out the most about him, is how little he actually stands out … He was on the executive team of the Physics Society, where everyone else was 5-6 years older than him, and he belonged.”

Looking back at his journey, Honciuc Menendez says it never really registered that his life was different than other kids his age.

He still played video games, went to the movies and sang karaoke with friends.

In fact he didn’t know he was making history, until a month before his graduation date.

Honciuc Menendez, pictured at 12 years-old, attending his first day of university virtually from Ecuador. Courtesy: Daniel Honciuc Menendez

Although his journey was largely fuelled by his passion for physics, Honciuc Menendez admits he couldn’t have come this far without the support of faculty, friends, and accessibility resources provided by U of T.

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And one special person that never left his side.

“My mum, she’s really been an inspiration. She’s been my emotional support during these past four years.”

As the teen gears up for his graduation ceremony in late June, he looks forward to his future ahead.

He’s earned a full ride to pursue his Masters in Quantum Science and Technology in Italy, France, and back again at U of T.

Afterwards, comes his Ph.D., where he hopes to become a mentor for other students in the same stream.

“Reading his CV made me feel inadequate, and wonder what the heck I did with my life,”  Harlick laughed.

But Honciuc Menendez says he hopes his story will inspire, rather than discourage.

“Sigue haciendo lo que te inspira,” he smiled.

In other words: “Keep doing what inspires you.”

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