- Los Angeles Unified School District
- Honoring the Class of 2019
Meet Our Outstanding Graduates
From now through June 7, we will be presenting stories of some of our many exceptional graduates from around Los Angeles Unified. Read stories about members of the Class of 2019 who have shown grit and perseverance in pursuit of their dreams.
Outstanding Graduate: Algernon Jackson of King-Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and SciencePosted by DARYL STRICKLAND on 6/7/2019
Piling On the Difficult Classes Leads to UCLA
Algernon Jackson displayed rare tenacity in pursuing academic achievement. He completed some high school requirements over the summer so that he could enroll this school year in tougher courses at King-Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science. He flourished.
Algernon was among eight students out of 60 who passed the AP Biology exam; among the 20 students of 70 who passed AP English. What’s more, he scored very high on the SAT college entrance exam. Unlike many students who lighten their schedule as seniors, Algernon took on a rigorous course load. He took AP Statistics; AP Environmental Science; AP Government/Economics; and Honors Expository Composition/World Literature.
His academic success bolstered his reputation as a scholar. His English and social studies instructors, for instance, describe him like this: A deliberate observer, an analytical thinker, a thoughtful writer.
His interests, however, extend beyond the classroom. Algernon loves to act, direct and create stories that evoke retrospection and promote tolerance. He also enjoys a variety of musical genres. Combining his artistic and academic strengths, Algernon’s essence resides in his integrity, and compassion for others.
Overcoming adversity has been, perhaps, the biggest factor in making him the person he is today. A person who makes those who know him, proud. Starting in September, Algernon will attend UCLA.
It will take neither Westwood nor those around him long to realize that he is a gem.
Outstanding Graduate: Rocio Ibanez, Woodrow Wilson HSPosted by MONICA CARAZO on 6/6/2019 11:35:00 AM
First in her family to finish high school and headed to Dartmouth College
For four years, Rocio Ibanez has never missed a day of school at Woodrow Wilson High School Administration of Justice and Law Magnet. For four years, her grade point average has remained above 4.0. She’s also maintained perfect attendance and exceptional grades, including in honors classes despite handling major responsibilities at home, caring for two younger siblings, running the household and doing chores while her mother works long hours as a housekeeper.
She will head to Dartmouth College in the fall to double major in human science/public policy and sociology/political science.
Rocio will be the first in her family to go to college. She also will be the first in her family to graduate from high school.
“I am scared of leaving home and the environment that I’m used to,” Rocio said. “However, it’s a good opportunity to learn.” She is also afraid of the cold and snowy weather in New Hampshire, where the Ivy League university is located. “I am definitely scared because I am from California, and not used to that weather.”
Dartmouth was her first choice. “Even though I only visited once, I knew where I wanted to go. What I really liked about the school and students was their modesty. I felt welcomed and there was diversity on the campus,” Rocio said.
Despite shouldering adult responsibilities and earning high grades, Rocio also participated in extracurricular activities in athletics, school clubs and community service. She played on the Junior Varsity Girls Basketball team, and was co-captain. Since her freshman year, she has participated in the mock trial competition, serving as the prosecuting attorney and also the defense attorney and earning the MVP award twice for her outstanding performance. She has served on the Los Angeles Mayor’s Youth Council, representing Boyle Heights. And, she is currently the Associated Student Body leader for the school’s leadership program.
Outside of school, she has volunteered to coach elementary-age children at her local recreation center, and she has tutored younger students at the local library.
Rocio is a hard-working, vibrant, insightful, self-driven, determined, resilient young woman, according to her guidance counselor.
Rocio has a message for her younger siblings: Never be discouraged by rejection or failure, and step out of your comfort zone!
Even if that means braving 10 degree weather in New Hampshire.
Outstanding graduate: Matthew Vasquez, Monroe High SchoolPosted by BARBARA JONES on 6/5/2019
Monroe High leader seizes every opportunity enroute to UC-Berkeley
When you consider that UC-Berkeley awards its Fiat Lux Scholarship to high-achieving freshmen who embody resilience serve as a beacon for their school, it’s easy to understand why the prestigious university chose Monroe High graduate Matthew Vasquez as a recipient.
With a 3.8 GPA and a portfolio of Advanced Placement courses, Matthew will be the first in his family to go to college. He serves as the student representative on Monroe’s School Site Council, competes on the Vikings’ football and track teams, and is a peer college counselor for his classmates.
He also has a good head start on his desired career in sports medicine as a volunteer at Monroe’s school-based wellness clinic at Monroe and a leader in the Youth to Youth (Y2Y) summits organized by the L.A. Trust for Children’s Health.
Raised with his two older brothers by their single mom, Matthew says he’s been inspired by their hard work to do well in school. He’s also been mentored by his teachers at Monroe, who showed him what can be accomplished with a college degree.
“My brothers are working two and three jobs, and I see how tough it is,” he said. “Then I see my teachers and the example they set and that motives me. I realize what I can do within my own interests.”
Monroe High Principal Chris Rosas said he’s been impressed not only by Matthew’s hard work, but his varied contributions to the school community.
“With his active leadership, high grades in challenging classes and support for our school, he’s a pretty amazing guy,” Rosas said. “There are always a lot of opportunities out there, and it’s the student’s choice to take them or not. Matthew is one of the students who seized every opportunity and took advantage of it.”
Outstanding graduate: Nicole Kim, from Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High SchoolPosted by MONICA CARAZO on 6/4/2019 2:30:00 PM
Making a Tough Choice to Reach a Goal
In her freshman year at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School, Nicole Kim had a question for her counselor. She was taking Algebra I, and asked what she needed to do to take the Advanced Placement Calculus BC class in her senior year? She set that goal and began working toward it.
Nicole took six math classes, including three at a local community college. The rigorous and difficult courses prepared her for the Advanced Placement class, and forced her to make a painful choice: The calculus class was only offered at the same time as her dance class. Though passionate about dance, she made the sacrifice to complete her goal.
Focused on academics and a member of the National Honor Society, Nicole also danced for three years, and played badminton in high school.
“I am grateful for my experience at Bravo Medical Magnet,” Nicole said. “The school’s competitive spirit helped me prepare for my college experience.”
She is now headed to the Ivy League. In September, she will attend the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“When I was growing up, I always thought I would attend a local college, UCLA or USC. I never thought I would go far away,” Nicole said. “But, when I visited the campus in October, I loved the campus. I knew it was the place for me.”
At Penn, she plans to major in biology—and of course, set new goals.
Outstanding graduate: Juan Cardenas, John C. Fremont High SchoolPosted by ELLEN MATSUMOTO MORGAN on 6/3/2019 1:20:00 PM
Headed to University of California, Berkeley and Paying It Forward
Juan Cardenas listened as his older sister told him about her experiences as a student attending University of California at Berkeley, where she is a sophomore. The stories encouraged him, as did the thought of choosing a school known for its prestige.
“It’s such an amazing school and one of the top in the world,” he thought, but had no intentions of attending until she was accepted.
“That really intrigued me.”
Given she’s one of his biggest influences, Juan, who graduates next month as valedictorian from John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles, was resolved to also attend Berkeley. A strong student, he became even stronger. He took advanced science and math courses, and involved himself in more activities, like school government and the National Honor Society, to further burnish his academic credentials.
Though he applied to other in-state schools, like UC Irvine, UC Riverside and UCLA, nothing motivated him more than Berkeley, which is often cited as the nation’s top public university.
Juan plans to major in engineering at Berkeley. He said he hopes to complete internships, study abroad and find a top employer before finishing his studies there. His academic foundation was built at Fremont High. He describes Fremont as a “melting pot” of cultures and a second home. Typically, he stays at school well-beyond dismissal, participating in student leadership meetings, and finishing homework until about 5 p.m. “Fremont has been an amazing school, a second home,” he said.
At home, he says, there is little for him to do but to help his youngest sister with her studies, which he does. His mother works an overnight shift, and leaves about the time he arrives home from school. He has access to neither cable television nor Internet spending his nights quietly at home.
His father serves as his greatest motivator, whom he visits whenever the family can scrounge up enough money for a rental car. Currently serving a prison sentence about two hours away, Juan says his father’s pride in him drives him to excel in the classroom. “He tells me he’s proud of me, and can’t wait to see me having a degree.” And he determined to do just that.
Juan also plans to spend his career giving back to generations of younger children in his South Los Angeles neighborhood. After finishing college, he plans to start a mentoring program that inspires children to pursue future careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM. He wants to provide them with afterschool tutoring and to find internships.
In other words, paying forward what he learned over his four years at Fremont is what he has in mind. “The teachers here are welcoming, know their subjects, and communicate with students to attract their attention,” he said. “That makes learning easier for students, and they offer afterschool tutoring, if you don’t understand the material.”
Outstanding graduate: Fernando Carrillo, Francis Polytechnic High SchoolPosted by BARBARA JONES on 5/31/2019
Inspiring mom propels Polytechnic High School valedictorian to success
Fernando Carrillo loved creating with Legos as a kid and coding with robotics as he got a little older.
He spent a summer at UCLA’s High School Tech Camp, and tackled MOSTEC, a rigorous online science and technology program offered by MIT.
Now that he’s headed to the University of California, Berkeley, Fernando plans to use his love of gadgetry to jumpstart a career as a bioengineer, designing prosthetics and other high-tech medical devices.
“I’ve loved technology and science since elementary school,” Fernando said. “I want to pursue this and use it to help others.”
With a grade-point average of 4.6, Fernando is first in his class at Francis Polytechnic High School. He’s also been a leader in other areas, such as spearheading a voter registration drive at the Sun Valley campus and serving as treasurer of the National Honor Society. As quarterback on the Parrots’ varsity football team, Fernando won a Scholar Athlete award from the National Football Foundation.
Everyone on our campus – students and teachers – describes Fernando as well-rounded, but it goes beyond the academics and athletics in which he excelled,” said Principal Elidia Vazquez. “Fernando is respectful, funny, compassionate and genuine. UC Berkeley is fortunate to have Poly's valedictorian Fernando as part of their incoming class.
Fernando said he’s been inspired to excel by his mom, who earned her own engineering degree while raising his sisters and him.
“She is my hero. She went back to school and worked so hard, and I want to work as hard as she does,” Fernando said. “My whole family has helped me so much, and I want to pay them back. One day, I want to help those who helped me.”
Outstanding graduate: Christopher Gonzalez, Marshall High SchoolPosted by ELLEN MATSUMOTO MORGAN on 5/30/2019 3:00:00 PM
Improving Student Wellness and Mental Health in High School
When he graduates, Christopher Gonzalez will leave John Marshall High School with a better social climate than the one he experienced his first year on campus. Back then, most students hung with their own cliques or kept to themselves. Today, more of them mingle and no one sits alone at lunchtime.
The fancy name for all of this is student wellness, social emotional learning, school climate and culture. The result at his school: More students are happier and feel like they belong. More students gather together regardless of race, ethnicity, family income, favorite subject or passion. And, more students speak to each other in the hallways.
Chris has been instrumental in that change. During a recent student wellness appreciation luncheon, a power-point presentation quantified the results: 75 percent of students reported they are happy at school, up from 64 percent from last year; 92 percent of students feel that LGBTQ+ students are accepted on campus, up from 75 percent; 92 percent of students feel comfortable in school, up from 71 percent, and 63 percent of students feel as if they are a part of school, up from 54 percent. Because of the mindfulness initiatives on campus, the overwhelming majority of the students also reported being less stressed and more focused.
“I began my work with the administration and mental health two years ago,” Chris explained. “This was a direct result of seeing many mental health issues on campus and seeing the prevalence of health inequalities within my community.”
He joined a social-emotional wellness committee. As he reflected on his time on that committee, he said, “The prevalence of mental illness is everywhere, especially affecting high school students where resources are limited and stigma prevents important dialogue. My goal with student wellness is to bridge the gap between students and professionals to develop a safe, equitable learning environment.”
Chris plans to continue this work at Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles.
“At the moment I’m hoping to work in the medical field and do advocacy work in trying to erase the boundaries that limit access to health care and develop mental health literacy,” he said. “I want to work to create equitable learning environments that are conducive to learning and absent from stress and other barriers that limit learning.”
Just like he did at John Marshall Senior High School.
Outstanding graduate: Jocelyn Velasquez Baez, University High School CharterPosted by SAMUEL GILSTRAP on 5/29/2019
Family helped illuminate the pathway to her goals
Among the many valuable lessons our students learn is that with a clear vision and hard work, you can achieve anything. Jocelyn Velasquez Baez, a senior at University High School Charter, has taken this to heart.
"I want to be a leader in global health care," she said. "Based on my family's experiences and a lot of my own research, I've come to realize that the successful practice of medicine involves an understanding of the geography, the peoples and cultures of the world."
In the fall, Jocelyn will attend Wesleyan University, her top choice among 19 schools to which she applied. She was attracted to the school because of its Science and Society Program, which marries the study of bio-sciences with technology and cultural anthropology.
She told the story of her father, who grew up in rural Guatemala, having to travel far and wide to find the care he needed for a life-threatening disease. The wealth of diverse indigenous cultures and languages in the region meant there were a lot of obstacles he had to overcome before his life could be saved.
She spoke of her own upbringing, being a care-giver to her two younger brothers while her mother worked long hours. She says that moving across the country to attend school has her feeling excited but also anxious.
"I was hesitant to commit, because I felt like my family still needed me nearby," she said. "But, they are the ones cheering me on to go. Go pursue your dreams, they tell me. You have done enough for this family."
Like many of her classmates, Jocelyn is the first in her family to attend higher education. She insist she didn't accomplish this on her own, crediting her family as well as the University High faculty – in particular, her college counselor, Debra Van Norden – for providing the clarity she needed to move down the right path.
"We all come from different backgrounds," she said. "And, while those backgrounds are important, they are not what define who you are. It's what you do in your life that defines you."
Outstanding graduate: Haesung Jee, Cleveland Charter High SchoolPosted by BARBARA JONES on 5/28/2019
Love of learning propels Cleveland scholar to Harvard
The youngest daughter of immigrant Korean parents, Haesung Jee grew up with a thirst for knowledge and the ambition to seek out opportunities.
She attended Balboa Elementary Gifted Magnet and Sepulveda Middle School Gifted Magnet before enrolling in the Humanities Magnet at Cleveland Charter High School. She has taken 13 Advanced Placement classes at the Reseda campus, ranging from Physics and Chemistry to European History and English Literature. She earned straight-As at Cleveland, and is a valedictorian for the Class of 2019.
Although interested in the fields of public health, medical sociology, and medicine, Haesung is multifaceted. She is witty, studious, and humble, and is highly regarded by both peers and faculty. She is active in the church where her father is pastor, serves as editor-in-chief of the Cleveland school paper, and knows multiple computer programming languages.
On her own initiative, she contacted UCLA professors in public health and sought out a research internship, using her talent in calligraphy to conduct image-data analysis on the cell images of mice. She also observed and participated in surgeries at UCLA, and co-authored a research paper. As a junior, she participated in the Telluride Association Summer Program and attended a six-week seminar led by college and university scholars for students who were simply eager to learn.
Haesung also started an organization called Code Buddy that connects Cleveland volunteers with students in 11 local elementary schools, who learned computer coding in weekly lessong. Further, she is an officer in Expressive Asians, a school organization for students to discuss Asian American issues.
A recipient of National Merit, Milken and Gates scholarships, Haesung will attend Harvard University this fall. She plans to pursue a career in public health.
Submitted by Cleveland Charter High School Principal Cindy Duong
Outstanding graduate: Josselin Villagran Lopez, Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High SchoolPosted by ELLEN MATSUMOTO MORGAN on 5/24/2019 7:00:00 AM
Silent No Longer, She Will Take Her Powerful Voice to Cal Berkeley
Incredibly quiet, shy and introverted as a child Josselin Villagran Lopez lacked self-confidence. She chose to stop speaking in class in elementary school.
“The fear of public judgement first started in third grade when I was yelled at a teacher for not speaking English fluently enough. As a Hispanic-American, I had grown up speaking Spanish at home and therefore had to adopt English at school. I remember the teacher telling me that I was ‘stupid’ for not knowing what should have been my native language,” she recalled.
“Though I did eventually master English, I still carried with me the weight of her demeaning words for so long that they eventually turned into an oppressive fear,” Josselin said. “It was so stifling that I couldn’t even ask future teachers for help when I needed.”
A middle-school teacher did not wait to be asked for help. Worried about Josselin’s silence, the teacher consulted her parents. Her father responded that Josselin had a bright mind but she chose to deprive others of it through her silence. Motivated by the genuine concern of her parents and teacher, she began working to find her voice.
“I began to take advantage of programs that would help me overcome this challenge,” Josselin said.
During an internship at the California Science Center, she made presentations to large, diverse crowds, about how various aspects of science relate to the world around us. She developed lesson plans, and taught children.
At the Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High School, in addition to excelling in Advanced Placement classes, she became a member of the National Honor Society, joined the Academic Decathlon honors team and competed against other high school students. A member of the Girls Build LA club, she organized events and made presentations to the entire school. She gained a mentor in the College Bound Club. In the Skills to Success Club, she specifically worked on ways to improve her communication skills.
“Through experiences like these, I came to realize that our voices wield power.”
Silent no longer, Josselin will attend University of California, Berkeley.