Mr Riccardo Swanepoel was awarded Stellenbosch University's (SU) Chancellor's Medal for 2016, yesterday (7 December) during the graduation ceremony of the Faculties of AgriSciences and Engineering. This is the highest honour the University bestows on a student.
The Chancellor's Medal is awarded annually to a final year or postgraduate student who has excelled. Prof Eugene Cloete, who read Swanepoel's commendation, said that "in a university nearly 100 years old, it is an almost impossible feat to achieve something no one else has done before", but that Swanepoel indeed "literally made history at Stellenbosch University". He described Swanepoel as "an eminently worthy recipient".
Swanepoel, who hails from Port-Elizabeth and former learner of High School Framesby, made history at Stellenbosch University when he received 100% for his final-year capstone Design project - a mark never achieved before. Not surprisingly, his Design project has been described as "perhaps the all-time pinnacle of undergraduate achievement" in the faculty.
This is by no means the only achievement for which Mr Swanepoel will be remembered. In another first for engineering at Stellenbosch University, he earned 93% for his final-year project, also the highest mark ever. So outstanding was his work on this project that he will submit it as an invited paper for a special edition of the international Journal of Chemical Engineering Data.
Swanepoel completed his four-year BIng degree with an average of 94.1%. This is the second-highest mark ever achieved in this programme at Stellenbosch University. Only 0.9% separated him from the highest mark to date, 95%. During his four years at Stellenbosch University, Mr Swanepoel received distinctions for all but two of the 44 modules he took.
Mr Swanepoel was also editor of the Eendrag Men's Residence newspaper from 2013 to 2015, as well as manager and founder of the residence's language and translation committee.
It would be a mistake to consider his talents as purely cerebral. On the dance floor, he has skills that are second to none, having held gold-level honours for ballroom dancing from 2008 to 2011.
Swanepoel described the award as an "enormous honour" and that he only fully processed the news when people on the street congratulated him on his achievement. He attributes his academic success to "a lot of nights without sleep" and perseverance. Swanepoel will continue his master's studies at SU next year, and hopes to later convert it to a PhD.
Caption: Mr Riccardo Swanepoel with the SU Chancellor, Dr Johann Rupert. Photo: Stefan Els