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

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.”

Can a marriage survive a gender transition? Yes, and even thrive. How these couples make it work

Marissa Lasoff-Santos and the person she would marry quickly fell head over heels in love. Lasoff-Santos was a gay woman. Her girlfriend was a bisexual woman — or so they thought. Now her partner has become her husband, and they both identify as queer. And things are better than ever.

“We’ve always just had this deep connection, so that’s why, like, I never stopped loving him throughout any of this,” says Lasoff-Santos, a 33-year-old librarian in Michigan. “I’ve become more attracted to him. I guess part of it is just, like, that confidence in him and, like, he just seems so happy.”

Lasoff-Santos’ relationship and others like it show that a partner’s gender transition does not necessarily mean a death sentence for a marriage. Data is scant, but couples and therapists say that in many cases, a relationship grows and flourishes under the light of new honesty.

Such marriages, when they do prevail, can underscore the resilience of love, the flexibility of sexual identity and the diversity in LGBTQ2S+ relationships 20 years after the first same-sex marriages in the U.S. and with Pride Month in its sixth decade.

“Even though he was the one transitioning, I felt like I was going through my own transition,” Lasoff-Santos says. “It was definitely hard to not, I guess, come across as kind of selfish, because I was going through all these emotions, and he was going through his own journey.”

Kristie Overstreet, a sexologist and psychotherapist who says she has worked with trans people for 18 years, says about 2 in 5 relationships survive a transition. And Kelly Wise, a sex therapist in Pennsylvania, estimates that about half of relationships in his practice that experience a gender transition end — for many reasons.

“Gender identity milestones often arise around times that many things are evolving within people and their relationships,” Wise says in an email.

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report on same-sex households doesn’t reflect marriages in transition because the bureau doesn’t ask questions about gender identity.

Avril Clark operates Distinction Support, an online network that helps supportive partners of trans and nonbinary people. Her spouse, a soccer referee at the time, came out as transgender in 2018, changed her name to Lucy and brought the couple much attention. Before then, Avril says, they had kept their arrangement private and “lived a double life” for 15 years.

“I needed somebody to talk to that knew how I was feeling,” Avril says. “And I looked around, and there weren’t any groups that were for me. They were full of people that were very angry and bitter and didn’t want anybody else’s relationship to work because their relationship hadn’t worked.”

Lucy Clark says Avril had been pressing her to come out for years, “but I didn’t because I thought it would affect football. And I loved football and had it in my mind that I would give it up.” She didn’t, and she now manages Sutton United Women in south London.

Avril Clark says that when she took over Distinction in 2017, it had about 50 members worldwide, but now there are “way over 500.”

“I’ve got this group with all these people on it, all fighting, some of them fighting to make their relationship work,” she says.

The Reddit group r/mypartneristrans, which describes itself as “a supportive, educational, and safe space for the partners of trans and gender-diverse people,” counts 61,000 members.

Topics include questions about how to handle Mother’s Day and Father’s Day; unwelcoming relatives; sex and pregnancy; and how to categorize a cisgender partner’s sexual orientation. In other words, now that I’m a woman married to a woman, does that make me a lesbian?

Clark says some people call themselves “heteroflexible.”

“It doesn’t mean ‘I am a lesbian’ or ‘I’m a gay person,”‘ she says. “It just means, ‘For this one person I am prepared to be flexible.”‘

She estimates her group is 90% cisgender women and 5% transgender or nonbinary people who may also have a partner in transition. The remaining 5% are cisgender husbands, she says.

For people already in a same-sex relationship, a partner’s gender transition can bring angst but also self-discovery.

Lasoff-Santos says she had previously wondered if she could ever be married to a man. “And I always said no. And I think it’s hilarious just now that I am.”

Couples in transition find different ways to address life from “before” — trips, memories, weddings, anniversaries, family events, photos.

“The partner that isn’t transitioning may want to display and still share all of these versus their partner who may not want these visible or talked about,” Overstreet says in an email.

Lasoff-Santos and her husband married in 2018 as he was beginning his transition. They had a son in 2020. When her husband shows their son pictures of himself pre-transition, it’s just “Papa with long hair,” Lasoff-Santos says.

One partner may sense a shift the other does not. Emily Wilkinson, 33, who lives near Seattle, says she doesn’t doubt “that I love Cameron and will continue to love Cameron.” But her vision of their love has changed since her spouse began transitioning last year.

For Cameron, 39, “Our love doesn’t feel any different to me, but I’m not the one who has to adjust in our relationship.” They spoke on the condition that their last name not be used to avoid potential consequences at work, where they are not out.

There can be joy in coaching a partner in their new identity.

Rhiannon Rippke-Koch, 45, lives in a small city in Iowa with Sophia Koch, her recently transitioned wife of the same age. She recalls the first time Sophia got to be herself for a whole weekend, during a trip to Des Moines.

“I took her to Victoria’s Secret and had them measure her for a bra,” Rippke-Koch says. “And I took her to Sephora, and they did, you know, the whole makeup thing where, you know, with colour palettes, and showed her how to do her eyeshadow and foundation and all that sort of stuff. So –”

“It was awesome,” Sophia finishes, beaming.

The couple also bond over experiences Sophia previously denied herself because of notions about masculinity — musicals, flowers. Rhiannon says they’re now “much more intimate, and not even in a sexual way. But we talk about things more. We have more things in common now than we did before.”

——

Associated Press video journalist Kwiyeon Ha contributed to this report.

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 Deciding on Your Focal Point
Do you have a magnificent bay window with an incredible view?  Is there an ornate mantle that is the reason you fell in love with your home? Or is there something you absolutely MUST HAVE in the room? Situate your furniture around your chosen focal point to create balance and equilibrium. If your room does not already have an existing focal point, create one with oversized art or add an accent point like a free-standing fireplace, they come in a variety of sizes and styles. Symmetrically balance the room evenly so that both sides mirror one another.  This will help your chosen focal point stand out all the more! Use matching accent tables to flank your sofa or use different pieces of furniture to create a copacetic visual impact, like two similar armchairs to balance a sofa.
Repetition for Rhythm
Rhythm creates a flow and helps direct the eye to the differing visual elements in your room. Just as the notes of a favorite song repeat to create the rhythm, repetition in decor will create a rhythm throughout a home. Establish visual interests with a rhythm throughout your space by placing similar colours or patterns at intervals and repeat in artwork, cushions or area rugs.

Perfect Proportion and Suitable Scaling
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Have your room humming harmoniously
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What is the focal point in your room?  What is your best tip to find harmony and balance through your home?