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This 16-year-old is U of T's youngest graduate since at least 1979

16-year-old international student from Ecuador, Daniel Honciuc Menendez, will become the youngest to graduate from the University of Toronto's faculty of arts and science since at least 1979. (Diana Tyszko)
16-year-old international student from Ecuador, Daniel Honciuc Menendez, will become the youngest to graduate from the University of Toronto's faculty of arts and science since at least 1979. (Diana Tyszko)
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Honciuc Menendez is barely old enough to get a driver’s licence but on Friday he’ll officially graduate from the University of Toronto with distinction.

In doing so, the 16-year-old international student from Ecuador will become the youngest to graduate from the university’s faculty of arts and science since at least 1979, the year the institution began tracking such data, the university states on their website.

Another 16-year-old - Vivian Xie - did graduate from the school in 2021 but Menendez is believed to be a bit younger. 

He will earn a specialist degree in physics to go along with a major in mathematics.

“I’m really proud and excited to be graduating from U of T,” Menendez told CTV News Toronto ahead of his graduation. “I’m excited for convocation on Friday because it’s the culmination of four years of hard work and research.”

Menendez said his interest in science began when he was very young. He travelled a lot with his mother due to her career as an engineer, and he was constantly surrounded by books.

“I was surrounded by books like math books, puzzle books, encyclopedias and atlases,” he said. “Even before starting school, I was captivated by educational videos, websites and apps. I loved going to museums. I loved going to science festivals”

Sometime between one and two years old, Menendez said he was able to read. At four years old, he started grade school and began an interest in programming and robotics. He took advanced classes Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Centre for Talented Youth and at 10 years old he skipped four more grades and entered Grade 11. He graduated from high school at 12 with a full International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

A year before he graduated, he took part in a summer program in theoretical physics at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, which helped cement his future plans.

"That's when I started to get interested in quantum information and where I also solidified my interest in pursuing research in physics as part of a career," Menendez said.

16-year-old international student from Ecuador, Daniel Honciuc Menendez, will become the youngest to graduate from the University of Toronto's faculty of arts and science since at least 1979. (Supplied)

It was that experience that also drove his decision to accept an admission offer from the University of Toronto after he was accepted to 12 universities across the world.

“The reason why I also applied to universities in Canada is because I really liked the environment. The openness of the people,” he said. “Also because of the research opportunities that were given by the department of physics at the university.

Menendez took part in various research projects at the university, including his first with Professor Miriam Diamond, which looked into dark matter detection with the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search experiment at SNOLAB, an underground research facility near Sudbury for neutrino and dark matter studies.

"Daniel has a grounded 'big picture' view of life and is mature beyond his years. He also has this sense of childlike wonder that many of us unfortunately lose over time,” Miriam Diamond, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Toronto said in a statement provided to CTV News Toronto.

“This enthusiasm for research and discovery will take him far and I can't wait to see what the future holds for him."

Menendez plans to continue pursuing higher education and researching quantum information and high-energy physics. He has received a full scholarship from the European Union to pursue a master’s of science in physics with a concentration in quantum science and technology.

The master’s program will take place over two years at the Sapienza University of Rome in Italy, then at Université Paris-Saclay in France, and lastly at the University of Toronto. He said he eventually wants to pursue a PhD in physics to further investigate the intersection between quantum information and high-energy physics.

Menendez said he’s very grateful for his friends, professors and mentors at the University of Toronto who helped him navigate the “complexities of academic life and the personal challenges of being a young student.

He also expressed gratitude to his mother who moved with him to Toronto when he was just 12 so that he could attend the university.

“I’m also very thankful for the unconditional support from my mother. She really taught me perseverance and resilience,” he said. “She was a working single mother, and she really helped me a lot and supported me throughout this process and supported me throughout this journey in my life.”

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