Standout seniors: Meet some of the inspirational graduates from the Class of 2019

Posted: Thursday, June 6th 2019

photo credit: La Jolla Light

They served as our founding Student Equity Ambassadors, working to improve the connection, involvement and inclusion of all students at their campuses. They sat alongside our elected Board of Education members at the dais to conduct the business of public education. And they demonstrated leadership as scholars, athletes, and community leaders.

Welcome to the San Diego Unified School District Class of 2019 and the more than 6,000 seniors who will graduate this year poised to make San Diego and the world a better place.

Before we say goodbye to this impressive group of students, here are just few of their stories.

Sabrina Lee, Mt. Everest Academy

Sabrina Lee is among 28 students who will graduate from Mt. Everest Academy this month. As a member of  the district’s inaugural delegation of Student Equity Ambassadors, Sabrina has worked to make sure her classmates have a voice at their school. As a senior, Sabrina has led the district’s group of Equity Ambassadors at a time when inclusiveness is so crucial - for both students and adults.

Sabrina has been critical in helping to start community conversations that have identified obstacles and solutions for students in this diverse district.  

“Sabrina has demonstrated to her school community and to the entire district what it means to take initiative and have agency,” said Superintendent Cindy Marten. “Sabrina and all of our Equity Ambassadors have helped San Diego Unified keep students at the forefront of what we do every single day.”  

With the Equity Ambassador program in its third year, the program has been praised as the strongest it has ever been under Sabrina’s leadership.

Sabrina has been inducted into the inaugural class of 100 High School Students America Needs to Know About.™ She was chosen out of thousands of students for her academic accomplishments and leadership skills.

Jerry Yang, Scripps Ranch High School

Jerry Yang has earned recognition throughout San Diego Unified and at Scripps Ranch High School, where he will graduate along with 535 seniors with a resume that could rival a professional.   

Jerry is the Associated Student Body President of Scripps Ranch High, and the president of the Council of ASB Presidents for San Diego Unified. He also owns his own business, maintains top grades, keeps a consistent workout schedule, and is working on his first novel. If that’s not enough, Jerry has even announced plans to run for president in the year 2050.

Jerry doesn’t just study for classes, he studies the habits of successful people. As co-president on the student board for the Butterfly Effect movement at his school, Jerry has actively worked to connect fellow students with philanthropists.

While Jerry will be heading off to do great things at Carnegie Mellon University, his face will remain familiar at San Diego Unified; Board of Education meetings now begin with a video of Jerry briefing the audience on public testimony instructions.

Ian Dickinson, Monica Liu, Jackson Rickards and Athena Tsai, La Jolla High School


The Class of 2019 from La Jolla High School will be one for the record books, with stellar academic performance reflected by their class leaders.

LJHS valedictorian Ian Dickinson boasts a 4.91 GPA, and salutatorians Monica Liu, Jackson Rickards and Athena Tsai each have a noteworthy 4.89 GPA. These standout students were featured in the La Jolla Light, where they shared the following insight.

At UCLA this fall, Dickinson said he will study “something math- or economics-related” and feels prepared for the “real world” because of his high school career. To get to the highest academic ranking, he said: “A lot of the time, you have to be willing to study. People get distracted really easily, but staying focused is really important. For me, it was a combination of staying focused with mental discipline, and enjoying what I was doing.”

In addition to hitting the books, the top students all made time for other activities to maintain their sanity.

“I’m glad I got to take the classes I wanted to take, because it’s a lot harder to motivate yourself when you don’t like the class,” Liu opined. “It’s important to be happy in high school and not (over-stress) yourself. You need both people skills and academic skills to be successful in life.”

Tsai added: “I had to dedicate time to school, but I also made time for other things I enjoy. I was on the varsity field hockey team, ran varsity track and field, and played the flute with the San Diego Youth Symphony.”

For Rickards, incorporating volunteer efforts and music provided the much-needed balance. “I’m a songwriter and singer,” he said. “An important thing for me is to keep that and not just have the mindset of ‘do this so you get into college,’ because you still have to enjoy your high school experience no matter what. So beyond academics, I always had music in my life and it made me really happy.

“I incorporated music into other aspects of my life — volunteering with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and helping with a music therapy camp. I wanted to make sure I pursued my passion rather than just doing things that look good on a resume or an application.”

Mary Therese Pamplona, Morse High School

Therese Pamplona will graduate among 330 students as valedictorian of Morse High School’s class of 2019. Kayla Yap, a fellow classmate at Morse, captured Therese’s accomplishments in a piece for their school paper, The Morse Code.

Therese stayed busy throughout her high school career, taking several AP classes and devoting time to extracurricular activities including the Morse Code, Red Cross, Environmental Club and more. The balancing act wasn’t always easy.

“I wasn’t used to the rigor of high school, and the transition from middle school was honestly something I struggled with,” she recalled. “I got a better hang of it my following years of high school and ended up performing better in them.”

English teacher Jeff Meyer praised Therese’s work ethic and recent accomplishment of becoming valedictorian.

“I’m lucky to have had the privilege to work with Therese since her first day of high school,” Meyer said. “She’s wonderful to have as a student because she cares about learning and growing.”

According to Therese, her success does not end after high school. Once at UC Berkeley, she has already planned to major in software engineering, while seeking to make friends from different backgrounds and thrive academically in a new environment.

Nyaduoth Gatkuoth, Morse High School

In her time at Morse High, Nyaduoth Gatkouth has built an impressive legacy in academics, leadership, and athletics. While serving as Vice President of her senior class, Nyaduoth also stood out on her school’s varsity volleyball and track & field teams. She was also a member of the orchestra, environmental club, and Academic League.

Going forward, Nyaduoth has no plans to slow down. She hopes to attend law school and one day become elected to Congress, where she will undoubtedly look back on the formative years at Morse where her passion for government began.

“My support system is truly the entire student body of Morse,” she commented in her school’s paper. “Everyone is so supportive and continues to motivate and believe in me.”

Lilia Ruvalcaba, Hoover High School

Like most high school seniors, Lilia Ruvalcaba balances her school workload with a full social life and many outside obligations. Lilia has maintained a 3.9 GPA while staying active in a variety of meaningful clubs in her community. Lilia has served as Education Coordinator in the Social Justice Academy, group leader at St. Gregory the Great where she sings and plays guitar in the church choir, and also as a guitarist in Mariachi Victoria, a music group in City Heights.

Lilia also participated in a month long research project in Baja California as part of her involvement with the Ocean Discovery Institute.

“Lilia is a bright, energetic, self-motivated student,” said Hoover Vice Principal Erica Barcelo-Carrillo. “She is outgoing, charming, and well-mannered, and gets along with students from a variety of social groups. I don’t know a person, student or staff, that is not drawn to her bright smile and quick friendly word.”

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