San Diego county, city leaders recognize 25 ‘remarkable’ teens at Central Library ceremony
San Diego leaders gathered together Thursday to recognize a group of teens for not only their talents, but also their drive to succeed, ability to overcome adversity and their passion for civic issues or projects.
Kaizer Jones, a senior at Morse High School in San Diego, spent much of his childhood wondering where he’d be laying his head to sleep each night. His father was unable to work after being injured in a traffic collision, and Jones and his family slept where they could — on a relative’s couch, in motel rooms or even in their cars, he said.
Kaizer, now 17, fell behind in school, especially in reading, he told county leaders. But he was determined to make up for lost ground, so he picked up a Bible and read his favorite biblical passages. He then moved on to books by and about Malcolm X , Kwame Ture — formerly known as Stokely Carmichael — and other famous and culturally impactful Black men.
Now, on the verge of graduating, Jones has been recognized by his peers for restarting the Black Student Union on his high school campus, providing feedback to school district administrators about how to best meet the needs of Black students and was named president of the BSU Coalition — the nationwide organization that unites all BSU branches in the country.
On Thursday night, Jones was one of the young people honored at San Diego County’s annual “25 Most Remarkable Teens” ceremony held on the top floor of the downtown San Diego Central Library. The program shines a light on youths between the ages of 13 and 19 who excel in a variety of areas, including leadership, community service, art, innovation and overcoming adversity.
The honorees were selected by the members of the Public Defender Youth Council, a panel of civically-minded teens, in consultation with San Diego County Public Defender Randy Mize.
“Tonight, teens from all over San Diego are being recognized for their activism, for their leadership, for their tenacity and their perseverance,” Misty Jones, director of the library, said at the start of the ceremony. “Every year, I’m continually blown away by what these teens have accomplished, and this year was no exception.”
More than 200 people attended the event, where each awardee’s story was shared and they were called to the front of the room one by one to be recognized.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria and other city and county authorities who attended the event said they admired the students and their accomplishments. San Diego Councilmember Raul Campillo talked about how each of the teens had overcome great challenges and obstacles in order to better themselves and others.
“A light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall be overcome,” Campillo said. “Continue to be yourselves and you shall overcome that darkness because you are the light in our community.”
The following describes just few of their stories as told to the Youth Council.
Alurah Chappell, 17, was recognized Thursday for her courage to overcome adversity. She grew up in a neighborhood where gunshots could be heard on any given night. Before her sophomore year at San Pasqual Academy, she was sent to live in foster care because of hardships and violence at home.
While she was away from her family, Alurah said, she had to find the strength to get through that “awful time.” She worked hard in both the classroom and on the sports field and she now has a 4.0 GPA, and received 10 awards in academic excellence. She also participates in five sports.
Ellen Xu, 17, is this year’s recipient of the Public Defender’s Award of Excellence. She said she was inspired to enter the medical research field after her younger sister was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease as a young child. After working with doctors and researchers at the UC San Diego Kawasaki Disease Research Center and Rady Children’s hospital, Ellen helped develop an artificial intelligence diagnostic tool for the disease.
Ellen’s work was key to increased survival rates among young people, according to the county. In between presenting her research at various international scientific conferences, the Del Norte High School senior found time to captain the U.S. Junior Olympic fencing team and take home the silver medal in 2020.
Lea Nepomuceno, 16, is a gun violence prevention advocate and podcaster who was invited earlier this year to stand beside President Joe Biden as he signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — legislation that expands gun safety regulations throughout the country by, among other things, enhancing background checks, disarming domestic abusers and investing in mental health services.
After Vedant Nahar, 16, created his own app that helps hospital nurses avoid making errors by allowing them to communicate with one another in real time, his team won the Best Healthcare Pitch and placed in the Blue Ocean Entrepreneurship Competition, the most prestigious high school entrepreneurship competition in the world. Vedant said he strives to be a compassionate leader and collaborative teammate.
“To have an impact, I understand that it is not my grades or standardized test scores that matter, but rather my ethics that will carry me forward,” he told the youth council.
Here’s the full list of San Diego’s “25 Most Remarkable Teens”
- Kaizer Jones, 17, Morse High School, Personal Determination
- Katie Tran, 16, West Hills High School, Campus Leadership
- Kyle Tianshi, 16, The Cambridge School, Inventor
- Keala Minna-Choe, 16, Canyon Crest Academy, Civic Engagement
- Lucia Perez Valles, 18, University of Southern California, Social Conscience
- Andres Garcia, 19, TRACE Alternative School, Courage to Overcome Adversity: Physical Disability
- Charlee Miller, 18, San Diego Mesa College, Creativity: Art
- Vedant Nahar, 16, Scripps Ranch High School, Most Enterprising
- Renee Wang, 15, The Bishop’s School, Innovation
- Angel Martinez, 17, Hoover High School, Commitment to Personal Excellence
- Evan Noseworthy, 18, Classical Academy High School, Entrepreneur
- Nicolette Luna, 16, Bonita Vista High School, Journalism
- Lea Nepomuceno, 16, Scripps Ranch High School, Social Justice
- Sofie Muneer, 17, Canyon Crest Academy, Public Health: Women
- Bobby Cone, 16, San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, Musical Theatre
- Jasmine Matthews, 17, The Preuss School, Perseverance
- Livia Iacobelli, 17, High Tech High School, North County, Community Service
- Roshan Shah, 17, Westview High School, Public Health: Innovation
- Ella Kim, 15, Francis Parker School, Writing
- Alurah Chappell, 17, San Pasqual Academy, Courage to Overcome Adversity: Family Situation
- Makena Stumpo, 13, Pacific Beach Middle School
- Leslie Pagel, 17, Crawford High School, LGBTQIA+ Activist
- Reed Ganzer, 16, Poway High School, Technology: Robotics
- Naeem Miller, 16, San Pasqual High School, Environmental Activist
- Ellen Xu, 17, Del Norte High School, Public Defender’s Award of Excellence
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