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 May-June 2012

May-June 2012

 

Agents of Change

Great Graduates Represent the Best of Their Generation

Mitch Tobias

     It seems the world needs a lot of changing. Global warming. Rising poverty. International conflicts.
     Fortunately for the world, Alameda is pro­ducing a crop of high school seniors almost certain to effect the needed change.
These 13 students represent the best of the next generation. They have the kind of intelligence, desire and awareness that’ll make you feel a lot better about the world’s future.
     Some will be medical practitioners. Others will be engineers. Others will be activists, entrepreneurs and community leaders. But judging by their accolades, their talents, their passions, you just know they will be agents of change.

Anastasia Abello, 18
Bay Area School of Enterprise, GPA: 4.0
College Options: USC, UCLA
“I tell people I’m a cancer survivor. It’s not like the first thing I tell someone when I meet them. But it’s something  where people can look at me and  know no matter what situation they’re in, they can get through it.”

     Anastasia Abello had a choice. Battling melanoma, she could go the aggressive route — intensive chemotherapy that would put her out of commission for a few months. Or, she could go the slow, drawn-out route — lighter chemo, meds and patience.
     Which one do you think she chose? Of course, the latter.
     “I didn’t want to miss school,” Anastasia says.
     Yes, Anastasia has a cumulative 4.0 GPA at the Bay Area School of Enterprise. But that figure looms even larger when you learn her freshman year was spent fighting — and beating — cancer. And since then, she’s had to endure more grief than most teenagers. Her circle of friends includes fellow cancer patients, people she grew close with through support groups and hospital visits. She knows so many who’ve lost the fight.
     Still, Anastasia presses on.
     “I feel like I can accomplish anything,” she says. “I’ve gone through a lot of stuff in my life. I’ve kept going. I know if I set my mind to it, I can do it.”
     So when she says she wants to be a pediatric oncologist, it’s hard to doubt she’ll get there. The science of it piques her intellectual interest, which she hopes to hone at USC or UCLA. But the little sufferers incite her compassion. While helping them recover, she wants to inspire hope in cancer-afflicted children by telling them her story, she says.
     She may not cure cancer, but she can certainly help others conquer it.

Jason Baskett, 17
Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School, GPA: 4.56
College Option: Georgetown
 “I know there are lots of problems and I recognize them. I want to go in and make things better.”

     Goggles. Leather bomber jacket. School flag. And a desire to uplift a community of people.
     That’s Jason Baskett, the Saint Joseph Notre Dame Pilots mascot — visible and excited at games, promoting school spirit, enjoying the atmosphere and the people.
     “At first I was nervous,” Jason says. “It was hot. I was about to go in front of the school. But the fear turned into excitement. I really took a shining to it.”
     Collared shirt and tie. Quick wit. Bright smile. And a desire to uplift a community of people.
     That’s Jason Baskett, the future politician — active in student government, abreast of current events and politics, encouraging classmates to get involved.
     “I love to be out there,” says Jason, who is in student government, theater and a saxophone player in the advanced band. “Love to give speeches. I love to be able to project myself on a larger group of people.”
     Jason just seems to thrive in a community setting. His desire to help others, his awareness of his surroundings, his willingness to be responsible and accountable, it all makes him a natural leader.
     And, of course, as a leader, he has an opinion on our nation’s leaders and what he hopes to see from the next generation of policy makers.
     “I want a leader who is not just going to do what he needs to get elected and be a politician,” Jason says. “But be a leader on a global scale. The world’s getting so small. We can’t be in isolation.”

Curtis Fong, 17
Alameda High School, GPA: 4.56
College Options: Stanford
“If you want to make big changes, you’ve got to go where things are big.”

     Sexy, to Curtis Fong, is the Cybertecture Egg building.
     The massive structure in Mumbai — 13 floors of technology, multimedia, intelligence and interactivity — is a jaw-dropping office building with a 21st century twist. For people like Curtis, it is motivation.
      “I feel like those types of buildings really inspire people,” Curtis says. “They inspire me to want to make my mark in that area. But they also inspire people to want to do their part in society and contribute.”
     See, Curtis has always had a thing for building. In elementary school, he made his own measuring stick ruler. While other adolescents  were addicted to video games, he was playing around with the engineering software AutoCAD, virtually reconstructing his house.
     Over the years, Curtis added concern for the environment and a sense of responsibility to his penchant for manufacturing. That’s how his passion for civil engineering was born, especially the green technology arena.
     Wanting to make a contribution to the Earth, he’s fascinated with the challenge to achieve sustainability. And because cities are such a big part of the economy and environment, that’s where he has his sights set.
     “Right now, our cities are expanding in such an unsustainable way,” says Curtis, captain of the water polo team and a sprint swimmer for the Hornets. “Cities are so big. Our entire world is in big trouble right now. We’re draining away Earth’s resources at such a great rate. It’s better to do whatever we can do now before those things run out.”

Carrie Huang, 17
Alameda Science & Technology Institute, GPA: 3.72
College Options: UC Berkeley, Dartmouth
“I feel like I’m really blessed for what I have, and I like to give back to my community. It sounds really corny, but it means a lot to me. It actually helps to see people benefitting, and I benefit.”

     Carrie Huang has a vision. She’s going to graduate from Alameda Science & Technology Institute, then graduate college and come right back home. She’ll start an organization for low-income kids. She’ll take them camping, help them learn the outdoors. She’ll take them to villages in Southeast Asia, so they can gain perspective and help educate even less fortunate children.
     Yup, that’s what she daydreams about.
      “That’s not exactly changing the world,” Carrie says, “but that’s changing my own community. I want to come back to my own community and give back.”
     When Carrie says she wants to give back, she doesn’t just mean in the future, but now.
     She’s logged more than 1,000 hours of community service. At the BrainChild Education Center, she tutors children in English and math. As a volunteer at the Student Conservation Association, she helps restore national parks, campsites and trails. She pitches in at the College of Alameda’s Children’s Center.
     She is an area director with Interact Club, a program with Rotary International that promotes student leadership, which puts her in charge of seven clubs. For Interact, she organized a charity dinner that raised nearly $2,000. Her favorite service event was a bench cleanup in which she managed to recruit dozens of volunteers to help.
     “More kids aren’t that involved because they don’t realize how fun it is to serve in your community,” Carrie says. “They’re so focused on academics and other stuff, they don’t take the time to try it out.”
     With all her sacrificial work, you might wonder where Carrie finds the time. She’s also the student body treasure, co-president of the Music and GSA clubs. She was published in the Harvard Educational Review and her skills on the Chinese guitar have led her around the country with the Chinese Orchestra.
     By the time Carrie graduates from Alameda Science & Technology Institute, she’ll have three AA degrees – language arts, Asian-American studies and social sciences.
     Usually, a pep talk gets her through the hectic schedule.
     “I have a mentality to never think I should be stressed,” she says. “I just tell myself you’re not stressed. There are other people who are doing more than you are. You can do this.”

Amanda Khoo, 18
Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School, GPA: 4.34
College Options: Stanford, Harvard, Princeton
“I could see myself doing that one day —in a lab and doing research. I really like that there are so many new things to discover and you’re always in a competition.”

     Amanda Khoo can trace her dream of becoming a doctor back to her toddler years, when her mom bought her a book called What is a Belly Button.
     “I forced her to read that to me every day,” she recalls.
     But Amanda’s medical dreams are a little bit different in that what really gets her going — more than the adrenaline of emergency care, or the satisfaction of a recovering patient — is research. The age-old practice of learning, experimenting and documenting. Sure, it sounds tedious, but the challenge of discovery, and the wide-ranging benefits, make it exciting.
     Research is advancing daily. Illness and disease that have plagued Americans for decades are on the verge of being cured. New technology is creating more efficient solutions. All that’s needed are bright young minds. Amanda wants in.
     That’s why once a week, in addition to knocking out school work well enough to earn a 4.34 GPA, Amanda is interning at the Cardiovascular Institute at Stanford University School of Medicine. She witnesses and participates with a research team.
     “Most people who want to be a doctor say, ‘I really like to help people,’ which is really true. I really want to help people. But the ongoing changing environment, that’s what really intrigues me — the really big picture kind of thing.”

Crystal Lee, 17
Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School, GPA: 4.49
College Options: USC, Pomona College, Columbia
“Because I’m kind of short and I always have a smile on my face, I don’t look like someone who fights for fun or accidentally gives people bloody noses.”

     Crystal Lee is a world karate champion. Most people don’t believe it, because of her slight frame and happy demeanor. And she’s fine with that. Lucky for them, too, because she could prove it — especially when they ask for demonstrations.
      “I don’t want to accidentally kick someone in the face,” Crystal says, regarding why she declines on-the-spot karate demonstrations. “That would be hard to explain.”
     A member of the USA Karate Junior National Team, Lee competes across the world while still holding a 4.49 GPA. She has a dojo at home and her father is her coach. She gets home, does her homework, spends two hours in karate work, then crashes to start all over again.
     She said karate has taught her humility and peace. It also illustrates her interest in the brain.
     You know that moment when your opponent is about to strike? Somehow, call it a premonition or a sixth sense, you already know what your opponent is going to do and you’re able to thwart their attack. No?
     OK, well Crystal has that. And she is interested in neuroscience so she can learn why moments like that happen. Clearly, she has the discipline, endurance and fortitude to find out.
     “I think it’s interesting how the whole brain works,” she says.

Evan Lee, 18
Alameda High School, GPA: 4.43
College Options: Georgetown, Princeton, UCLA, Stanford
“I’ve had a lot of great leaders in my life. I’ve kind of made it a point to live up to them. They’re my role models.”

     Evan Lee is an Eagle Scout. No, really.  It’s not a euphemism to describe his leadership and selflessness — something he showed when he created the Peer to Peer tutoring program at his school to combat increasing class sizes. But Evan is a real-life Eagle Scout.
     He knows how to survive in the wilderness. He’s innovative and resourceful, especially in emergency situations.
     To become one, he had to finish his Eagle Project — a big community endeavor that exhibits his ingenuity and leadership. Evan noticed it was really dark at Alameda High School at night. Then the light bulb went off.
     “I Installed 14 solar-powered light posts on campus,” he says.
     While most kids were enjoying summer fun, Lee rounded up some friends and served as team leader for the solar project.
     He bought materials from Home Depot and ordered stuff online. The school also donated supplies. He met with the principal, maintenance director and other school officials. He even built prototypes.
     Evan dug the holes by hand, mixed the cement himself and planted the 8-foot poles into the ground. He built the solar panels, scouted the best locations.
      “I’d like to come back 10 years later and see they’re still standing,” says Evan, who taught himself how to speak German. “And they will. They’re re-enforced with steel piping.”

Ian Long, 17
Encinal High School, GPA: 3.86
College Options: UC Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Vanderbilt, UCLA, Stanford
“If you could get like a Nissan 350Z, put a hybrid engine in there, tweak a few other things — that would be something I’d love.”

     The Porsche 918 Spyder. That’s what Ian Long is dreaming about.
     The two-door roadster is aesthetically amazing, as you’d expect from a Porsche. And the performance is still an adrenaline rush on wheels. But as a plug-in hybrid, it’s still environmentally responsible.
     At nearly $900,000, it’s a bit pricey.
     “Still working that out,” Ian says. “My music career hasn’t launched like that yet.”
     Give Ian time. He’ll be working on something for the common individual.
     The Encinal High senior is planning on majoring in mechanical engineering and launching a career in the automotive industry. His dream is, essentially, to give the Prius a makeover.
    “Pretty much,” he says. “I can appreciate what they’re doing. But I need something that looks more appealing.”
     You’ll have to excuse Ian. His intentions aren’t to demean anyone who drives a Prius. He’s just used to being cool. He’s a jock — a speedy outfielder for the Jets’ baseball team.  He’s a musician — the saxophone player for the jazz/funk band Mystery. He’s a standout student — pulling a 4.3 GPA last semester.
     So it makes sense that he’d want a cool car. But his passion for the environment and desire to work with advanced technology won’t allow him to settle for the gas-guzzling, air-polluting machines of yesteryear, no matter how appealing they are.
     Ian’s goal is to work on making cars that are energy efficient while still providing the thrills of driving something gorgeous and powerful.
     “I see the advances that are coming — not just in design quality, but design features — how they’re getting that kind of green technology mixed in with super car performance,” Ian says. “I want to be able to work on that stuff and be able to totally eliminate the use of gas.”

Cypress Lynx, 18
Alameda Science & Technology Institute, GPA: 3.85
College: Tufts
“I was bored one summer and just decided to teach myself Japanese. First it started off as a hobby. But I ended up fascinated.”

     Perhaps the best birthday present you could give Cypress Lynx would be a sick panda.
     She’s an animal lover, so she melts at the sight of most any cuddly creature. She’s also fascinated by Asian culture, so you can imagine how captivated she’d be by the endangered bear native to China. And the aspiring veterinarian would love nothing more than to nurse the panda back to health.
     It’s no wonder when she graduates the Alameda Science & Technology Institute — where she currently holds a 3.85 GPA — and heads for Tufts University, Cypress will have two AA degrees (one in natural sciences and the other in Asian-American studies).
     Cypress taught her self Japanese, eventually passing four levels through the Academic Talent Development Program and becoming a teacher’s aid in Japanese class. She is currently taking Chinese at Laney College. Her love of all things Asian, obviously, extends way beyond food.
      “China, South Korea, Mongolia, Japan — such fascinating history,” she says, “And the culture is definitely unique and evolving.”
     Perhaps the only thing she loves more is caring for animals. For 12 to 14 hours per week, she interns at The Lake Veterinary Hospital in Oakland where she is the only high school student. She serves as a kennel technician, assisting in procedures and administering medicine.
     How did she fall in love with the vet profession? When Cypress was 3, she made a habit of saying she wanted to be a hippopotamus. Her mother broke the bad news to her.
     “My mother felt so bad she discouraged me,” Cypress said, “so she told me I could be a hippo doctor. Since then, I knew what I wanted to do. I had no doubt I would be a hippopotamus doctor.”

Natalie McKee, 18
Alameda Community Learning Center, GPA: 3.86
College Options: University of Colorado, Santa Barbara, University of Miami
  “I want it done my way. I’m open to opinions, but ultimately, I feel like sometimes if I don’t do it myself, either it won’t get done or it won’t get done right. But I’m nice about it. I’m not mean.”

     Natalie McKee, for the last 14 years, has danced ballet for the Dance Arts Project.
“I like the elegance of it,” she says.
     For the last seven years, she’s competed in organized ultimate Frisbee. “In tournaments is when I really get aggressive,” she says.
     Those contrasting extracurricular activities illustrate exactly how Natalie has become such an effective leader. On one hand, she has no problem saying she wants to be in control, that she wants to be the one telling people what to do and not the other way around.
     But at the same time, she has an ability to massage a situation, to apply a gentle touch.
     So it’s no wonder she’s often pegged to be in a position of authority. She’s co-chair Leadership, ACLC’s version of student government. She’s also a peer counselor, called to advise classmates. Natalie is also the editor of the yearbook, in charge of one of seniors’ most-prized possessions.
      “Leadership has made me go for it,” she says. “Made me more aggressive for the things I want.”

Dylan Moore, 18
Alameda Community Learning Center, GPA: 4.47
College Options: Stanford
“You can’t invent the light bulb by studying the candle. You have to sometimes study things for the art of studying them, just to see the phenomenon.”

     Dylan Moore spends a lot of time in his basement. And one day you will thank him for it.
     It’s his personal lab. In it, he’s made a battery out of fruits and vegetables, specifically tomatoes and lemons. He built a fuel cell with parts “I could buy around Alameda,” a feat that earned him third place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles this past spring.
     Dylan’s current project: making a harp out of lasers.  
     Since he has a zeal for alternative energy, it stands to reason his creations may soon have a positive impact on society. His ingenuity and resourcefulness are the kind of talents that figure to solve America’s energy crisis.
     “I’m passionate about helping the environment,” Dylan says. “Also I find it interesting the way energy works. I think I can help the world by cutting down on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. I think I have a knack for building things like that.”
     So be thankful. Dylan is in his basement plotting to change the world, though he could be plotting to rule it.

Frankie Willcox, 17
Alameda High School, GPA: 4.46
College Option: Stanford
“My dad always says I’m a feeler. Seeing people struggle, seeing people go through pain, it affects me. Being a doctor or doing research that allows doctors to help people better, I couldn’t find a better thing to do with my life.”

     Doctors can now perform surgery outside the body, making procedures much less invasive. Patients in underprivileged areas can be treated via a machine operated by a doctor thousands of miles away. Prosthetic hearts are being created.
     The revolutionary technology. The endless possibilities. Alameda High’s Frankie Willcox can hardly contain her excitement.
     “Knowing we’ve reached an age we can do things like that and save lives,” Frankie says, “I think it’s just really exciting. It would be really fulfilling for me to help people that much and be part of that field.”
     Helping people is Frankie’s first love, and the field of medicine and medical research is her burning aspiration. She was accepted into Stanford early and says she can’t wait to get on campus. She was also a four-year varsity volleyball player and spent three years on the track-and-field team. Those were her escapes, since procuring a 4.46 GPA requires a lot of work.
     She says she looks forward to the work ahead. The ever-evolving field of prosthetic organs, the opportunity for discovery and societal impact, has her eager to dive in head first.
     But she hasn’t waited for then to help others. The last three summers, she’s spent volunteering at underprivileged elementary and middle schools — helping with registration, translating for Spanish-speaking parents, aiding teachers in preparation, being an example for the students.
     “It made me appreciate my education,” she says. “Being involved in something like that is really rewarding for me.”

Daniel Zuranich, 18
Bay Area School of Enterprise, GPA: 3.58
College Option: San Jose State
“I enjoy knowing people count on me to do things. It feels good knowing that I am a useful person.”

     Every good team has that player who is in the shadow of the star, but is just as valuable. Every good organization has an invisible hand that makes everything work.
     Daniel Zuranich is that for Bay Area School of Enterprise.
     He’s the guy to call when a technological expert is needed. He’s a wizard at fixing things, getting mileage out of dated equipment. He even teaches the staff. But he does his work behind the camera, away from the spotlight.
     “I feel I can do more that way,” he says. “I can work on things on my own. I don’t like being held accountable for other people’s mistakes.”
     Zuranich, headed to San Jose State to major in computer engineering, led the student-run tech team at BASE. He is also on the E-Team, the school’s student leadership group, and he helped put on the school’s youth film festival, Project YouthView.
     He honed his technological skills with hands-on training at school. He’s set up and broken down nearly every computer at the school. He sets up the sound and videos at graduations, assemblies and the community block parties. For the school outdoor trips, he cooks for everyone, leads the hikes and keeps the vibe positive.
     Daniel is that guy you need on your team if you want to be successful. And he doesn’t need the attention for it.
     “Daniel may not be the person in front of the crowd talking,” says Sheila SatheWarner, co-director of BASE. “But he makes events happen by using his skills and modeling hard work and honesty.” 

 

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