No typical nerd: Meet Dane Calica, summa cum laude


He regularly plays DoTA, watches cartoons on television, spends long hours with his barkada, and nurtures a vibrant love life.

But Dane Mikhael S. Calica is no ordinary boy. He will lead the 1,926-strong Mariano Marcos State University Class of 2013 in the Commencement Exercises to be held, April 3, at the university’s Sunken Garden. Making history, he is only the second MMSU Summa Cum Laude since the university’s birth in 1978. The late Gemma Ulep, who finished accountancy in 1999, was first.

Calica obtained a General Weighted Average of 1.1994. His transcript of records, peppered mostly with 1.0s and 1.25’s, shows that his lowest grade was a 2.0 in Invetebrate Zoology from Prof. Wilnorie Rasay. He has 1.75 in three subjects: Entomology and Comparative Anatomy, also both under Mr. Rasay, and English 2 under Dr. Aurora Reyes.

In 2009, Calica graduated as first honorable mention at the Ilocos Norte National High School-Special Science Class. When this Laoag City native took the MMSU College Freshmen Admission Test, his score of 156 was highest among around 5,000 hopefuls from various provinces in Northern Luzon.

An advice

In his speech during the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Graduation Ball, March 21, Calica shared that an unsolicited advice given him early on helped define his college life. He was referring to this writer who did a story on the CFAT topnotcher. I was sure that Dane is intelligent but, because he shunned extra curricular activities in high school, the reason why he graduated only third in rank despite having the highest grade average, I had doubts as to whether he would fully enjoy what a university education has to offer. After the interview, I told Dane that there is so much to learn outside the four-cornered classroom and that he should aspire for a well-balanced college life. I also told him that our people expects him to do great things and so he should use his gifts well. He did not say anything. The incoming nursing freshman just let out a shy smile.

Little did I know that Dane would take my advice seriously. Only on his first year, he became business manager of the College of Health Sciences Student Council. When he decided to shift to the BS Biology program and moved to CAS, he was elected as president of the Biological Circle for two years, and then as president of the CAS Student Council in his senior year. Under his leadership, the Biological Circle was adjudged as best academic organization in the university.


Despite his tight schedule in school, carefully striking a balancing act between academics and org leadership, Calica has kept a close bond with longtime friends. While many parents advise their kids to avoid “barkada,” Dane takes pride in having a solid peer group.

He considers Phidelle Andres, who took up medical technology at the University of Sto. Tomas, as his best friend. “They have the same wavelength and interests,” TJ Ruiz, self-proclaimed “substitute best friend” of Dane, concedes. For instance, TJ recalls, Dane and Phidelle once argued on the Chicken-and-Egg problem while aboard a jeepney. They used highly scientific jargon in their animated debate that other passengers began to look at them “like they were aliens.” TJ is one of Dane’s four closest friends at MMSU. The other three are Fardin Mangapit, Clifford Tabares, and Michael Gapero. All of them were high school classmates and, save for Clifford, were grade school buddies at the Divine Word College of Laoag. TJ and Fardin are graduating under the management accounting program; Michael is graduating cum laude in accountancy while Clifford is going on his fifth year in computer engineering.

Solid Barkada bordering on “bromance”: (clockwise from left) Clifford, Fardin, TJ, Dane, Michael, and Phidz



These guys love M-M-S-U.
Proud sons of M-M-S-U.

The group often hangs out to play computer games, watch movies, and do “tambay” until late night or early dawn. Dane’s name has become an instant password for his friends’ parents. Saying “Kaduami ni Dane,” (Dane is going with us) always results to instant permission when they go out.

Ian and Dane
Kabs: Ian and Dane

In the biology department, Ian Greg Tapac is Dane’s closest friend and classmate. They call each other “kabs,” an abbreviation  for the Ilocano word “kabsat” which means “brother.” Ian says Dane is very flexible. He can work individually but is also efficient at group work.

Of Love and asthma

While working individually on his thesis research (bioprocessing of sweet sorghum bagasse to cellulose ethanol and other value-added products), Dane fell in love with his classmate Bea Juico, a DOST scholar.  Interestingly, even Dane’s teachers are said to have encouraged him to have a love life so he can deal better with stress. And it was effective, says Dane. Having a girlfriend made him jollier and more composed even under tremendous pressure. It’s a perfect example of love serving as an inspiration.

First Love: Dane and Bea
First Love: Dane and Bea

While Bea takes his breath away, there’s another that does so and in no good way: chronic asthma. Dane is well-known in the university infirmary where he has been rushed several times due to difficulty of breathing and fatigue. Dr. Leonisa Silvestre, the university physician, and CAS Dean Prima Franco are not taking chances. They have recommended that Dane skip the graduation march, usually held under the harsh sunlight, to be sure that Dane could deliver the valedictory address and receive his diploma on stage. Hot weather, dust, nervousness and stress are known precipitants of asthma. Dane is following the doctor’s advise, and he dreams of becoming a doctor, too.

To be or to be

Bent on taking up medicine, Dane has obtained an NMAT rating of 99. He has received scholarship offers from a couple top medical schools. But Dr. Shirley Agrupis, his thesis adviser and closest mentor, shows him other options, including taking the scientist route where Dane would take advanced studies in the sciences and get involved in groundbreaking research.

Dr. Shirley Agrupis: Proud Adviser
Dr. Shirley Agrupis: Proud Adviser

Fortunately, Dane might just find a perfect role model in their commencement speaker, Dr. Pedro Jose. A medical doctor who hails from Dingras but is now based in the United States, he teaches medicine and physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He is also an adjunct Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology at Georgetown University. Highly respected in scientific circles, Dr. Jose’s works have been cited over three hundred times in professional papers and journals.

At present, Dane is interested to pursue neurosurgery, one of the most difficult fields of specialization.

Suportahan ta ka

“Whatever he wants to pursue, we will support him,” says his Mom Marilac, adding that they have never pressured Dane to bring home awards. In fact, no one among Dane’s relatives has ever graduated with academic honors. “But all that we ask of him is that he do his best.”

Grade School Graduation: Third Honorable Mention
Grade School Graduation: Third Honorable Mention

The full-time mom recalls one incident when Dane was in high school sophomore year. Her attention was called by teachers when his son frequently cut classes to play computer games. “I was really mad at him then,” she shared. Dane eventually curbed the habit and bounced back to the top of his class. Aside from that, the proud mom of three does not recall any other incident when Dane gave him serious problems. She is happy that Vincent, 16, and Noah, 12, have a very good role model in their kuya.

He cut classes to play DoTA.
Early in high school, he cut classes to play DoTA.
high school grad
With mom during high school graduation as first honorable mention
Daddy Gary and Baby Dane, 1992
Daddy Gary and Baby Dane, 1992
Medals reaped at INNHS-SSC
With brothers Noah and Vince
With brothers Noah and Vince
With other members of the family: aunts and cousins
With other members of the family: aunts, cousins, and dog Shobe

His dad Gary, who has been working as a seafarer even before getting married, will miss the momentous occasion on April 3. He has, in fact, due to his working conditions, never attended any of Dane’s graduations since he entered school as a toddler. Three days before graduation, they talked over Skype. Currently aboard a ship sailing somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, the father expressed pride for his son, the rising star.

Rockstar Status… Summa Mania!

In his first meeting with this writer, Calica described himself as a "nerd rockista."
In his first meeting with this writer, Calica described himself as a “nerd rockista.”

Back in high school, Dane joined a band named DIME and played the lead guitar, but with little success. The group disbanded faster than they could shout “Rock On!” Today, he enjoys “rockstar” status in the university, though in a non-musical way. Even strangers shake his hand and express their congratulations. Some even ask for his autograph. There is excitement, the intensity of which has not been seen in many years, to listen to the valediction. Dane says he has not gotten used to this “rockstar” status, and strongly doubts if he ever will. He feels shy when people call him “summa,” “sums,” or, as his close friends tease him, “suman.” For all his achievements thus far, he looks at himself as a simple guy with simple ways. Driven by curiosity, people have been asking him about the food he eats or what vitamins he takes. Some inquire about his study habits. Others wonder if he still has a life.

Obviously, Dane has. And what a beautiful one.

Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

15 thoughts on “No typical nerd: Meet Dane Calica, summa cum laude”

  1. Congratulations Dane, you showed them you are really an awesome kid. A step lower grade in english could have spelled the difference. It’s nice you made a mark on that english subject. The prof was the one who gave a higher grade to me than my more intelligent classmate.

  2. Congrats from your Cousin Cindy Daughter of Rudy Calica,i am very Proud of u and so would b my Dad! He is still watching us with your Lolo..I have pics of u and ur sisters when u were little,Gary would send them to us and we would add them to the Family wall! way to go..Keep it up! Sending Hugs and Kisses to all.

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