Written by UP Media and Public Relations Office

Photo courtesy of Nixie E. Serna.

Nixie E. Serna
Magna cum laude
BA in English (Creative Writing)
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of the Philippines Mindanao


I am Nixie E. Serna, 23 years old, from Surigao City. I studied BA in English (Creative Writing) at the University of the Philippines Mindanao and graduated Magna cum laude. As a creative writer, it is given that you have to be interested in reading and, of course, writing. At a young age, I had always been drawn to books. I usually spent my free time browsing in the library from the time I was in grade school. I would also spend the little money I saved from my ten-peso allowance to buy those booklets sold by visitors in school back then. Eventually, reading compelled me to write because I also wanted to create my own stories.

My undergraduate thesis was an essay collection titled, Seismic, for which I received the Thesis with Distinction award. The essay collection was on disasters, particularly the 2017 earthquake in Surigao, the 2019 earthquake swarm in Davao, super typhoon Odette in 2021, the effects of the pandemic, and other personal disasters I have experienced. Some of my works have also been published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Youngblood column, Life UPdates of Likhaan: UP Institute of Creative Writing,, and Mindanews.

Sinews of Syllables. Photo courtesy of Nixie E. Serna.

Aside from reading and writing, I also draw in both traditional and digital media. I run an art account on social media; and you can find me on Instagram and Twitter by the username @nikushiisan. Most of my drawings are fanarts of media I like such as anime, K-pop, movies, or TV shows. I rarely upload drawings nowadays because of my busy schedule, but I try my best to draw every now and then to keep my skills sharp. One of my goals is to one day improve my art so that I can also illustrate my own stories and characters or produce illustrations for Filipino writers.

In addition to reading, writing, and drawing, one of the hobbies that take my mind off the stress of academics and other matters is listening to K-pop songs, particularly the group EXO. I am an EXO stan or an EXO-L which is the official name of their fandom. I follow this K-pop group because of their diverse and great discography, artistry, and dedication to their fans. I also always keep in mind this quote by Kai, one of the members of EXO, about studying to motivate myself, “If you’re not good at studying, don’t even think about liking me. . . . Focus more on your studies than us and meet us again proudly in the future.” I do hope I can meet them at their concert in the future.

Overcoming financial constraints

My parents primarily supported me in my studies. However, there are four of us siblings in the family and their minimum wage is not enough to send us to school. As the eldest child, I had to find ways to fund my education. The Free Tertiary Education Law greatly helped me in achieving a higher education. Otherwise, it would have been difficult for me to enroll in college, especially in UP, considering that UP Mindanao is very far away from my hometown.

Since my first year, I applied to the Student Learning Assistance System of UP so that I could receive a stipend to help me with my studies. Through the stipend I saved, I was able to buy a laptop and pay for the internet bill, both of which were necessary not only during face-to-face classes but especially during online classes due to the pandemic. During my second year, I applied for a scholarship sponsored by the UP Mindanao Foundation Inc. They were meticulous in accepting their scholars by checking their academic standing and economic background, but thankfully, I was accepted. Every semester, I would renew my scholarship by submitting my grades. Even during that time when we were devastated by super typhoon Odette in 2021, I persevered in completing my requirements so that I could renew my scholarship. I am immensely grateful to UPMFI and the taxpayers who helped me finish my education. I would surely use what I have learned in the University by giving back to the people.

Dealing with disasters

Aside from financial constraints, my college life was nothing short of disasters. Like my fellow batchmates, I had to endure the challenges brought by the pandemic in 2020, including the shift to online classes which took a toll on our mental health because of isolation. My parents were laid off from work and we had to rely on the cash assistance and ayuda from the government to sustain us. Around the height of the pandemic on September 2020, our house was also demolished since the lot it was standing on was sold to a new owner. We are temporarily living right now in a house that was intended for the stay-in employee of my mother’s employers. To sum up, we currently have no fixed abode because we do not have our own house.

In October 2021, my father suffered a mild stroke and had to stop working to recover. We were able to get by and buy his maintenance medicine through the support of our relatives and family friends. As if we were not struggling enough, my hometown was leveled by super typhoon Odette in December 2021. Our roof was blown away and everything under it got soaked. For more than a month, we had no electricity, mobile signal, and we only had an intermittent water supply. I was in my third year at that time and it was around finals when the super typhoon struck. To comply with my remaining requirements, I went to charging stations to charge our flashlights and devices while I read my readings. At night by candlelight, I would write my papers by hand and then type them on my phone when I was able to charge the battery. I also contacted my professors once the mobile signal returned and relayed to them my situation. Despite the setbacks, I was able to submit my requirements on time. One of my professors told me that it was miraculous how I surpassed those challenges. Looking back, I sometimes cannot believe how I survived all of that. I was driven by my desire to win against my situation and I succeeded with the help of the people around me.

The aftermath of super typhoon Odette. Photo courtesy of Nixie E. Serna.

Although my family was not financially stable, I was not pressured and dictated upon to become anything they wanted me to be, which probably helped me to do well in my studies. There are expectations of me as the eldest daughter, but they never pressured me, which I greatly appreciate. My parents let me choose what path to take and only reminded me to focus and study hard so that I could achieve my dreams.

Study habits and survival tips for students

Regarding my studies, I always make sure that I have enough rest before I do my work. I listen to my body; if I am already sleepy then I take a break before proceeding again. A 30-minute to an hour nap will work wonders. I found myself more productive if I had enough sleep than when I did without it. Another thing that helped me with my studies was figuring out the type of environment that I thrived in. I am an introvert and I work best when I am alone and in a quiet area. I cannot do that with the crowded area we have in our house during the daytime so I work at night when everybody else is asleep because I easily get distracted by noise. Even when I was living in a boarding house with my classmates for my final semester, I tried looking for a spot where I could work peacefully or I asked them to keep it down when I was working. Knowing what environment works best for you can change the game in your studies.

If I feel down in the dumps or when I am at an impasse, I always think of the quote by John Green in his book Turtles All the Way Down, “Your now is not your forever.” Whatever bad situation I am in, it will come to pass. The disasters I have experienced are a testament to that; those disasters were not forever. The same also goes for happy moments; so it is important to cherish them. Life is too fleeting to keep overthinking. The change you are looking for will find you if you carry on. Padayon.

Speaking at the Recognition Program of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Photo courtesy of Nixie E. Serna.

Plans after graduation

Now that I have graduated, my priority is to be employed so that I can help my family, particularly my siblings who are still in school. I would like to work in the government or to teach because I would like to give back to the people. I would also like to pursue graduate studies so that I can further my education and be updated with the trends in my field.

I know I have already mentioned this but I would like to say padayon to my fellow UP graduates and alumni as a closing note. I really like this binisaya word because it encapsulates the feeling of hope and the motivation to carry on in a single word. Wherever you are and wherever you will be, I hope you continue to padayon and never forget to serve the people. The people are counting on you.
Written by Nixie E. Serna for the UP Pagtatapos 2023 microsite.