The Best and The Brightest / Valley Valedictorians : Overcoming War, Poverty-- and High School

Times Correspondent

Some came to California as infants or teen-agers, from war-ravaged countries or impoverished towns, where education was an impossible dream. Some were born in the United States, children of middle-class parents who wanted them to achieve more than they had. Others were brilliant beyond their years, excelling in school from the moment they walked through its doors.

But as different as their lives have been, these valedictorians of the San Fernando Valley, who live in plush two-story homes on tree-lined cul-de-sacs and in one-bedroom apartments on inner-city streets, share more than a title.

In their own way, they demonstrated the guts and foresight to forgo the enticements of high school life that lead so many teen-agers astray. Undeterred by peer pressure, they set their own rules.


Most said it was their parents who spurred them to do well in school. But all agreed that at a certain point, their own pride and motivation took over. As they look forward to college, many of these valedictorians, and dozens of others like them in the Valley, are writing speeches for their graduation ceremonies, searching for the words that will encourage their classmates to follow their example.

“There are so many opportunities here,” said one, who immigrated to California from Korea when she was 8. “You can get anything you want if you want it badly enough. . . . It doesn’t come freely.”

For a complete list of Valley valedictorians, see Page B4.

Valley Valedictorians



The district’s high schools use a variety of methods to determine their valedictorians; some schools name just one, while others have as many as 20. All district schools give Advanced Placement classes more weight than regular classes: an A in an Advanced Placement course is worth 5.0, while an A in a regular class is 4.0. But some schools name every student with a 4.0 or above as a valedictorian, while others take the student with the highest overall grade point average.

Birmingham High School

Jerry Jacobson, William Ress and Thomas Philip

Canoga Park High School

Urvi Patel

Chatsworth High School

Harmesh Lad

Cleveland High School

Linda Lee, Nga Tran, Jennifer Ryu, Anagha Dandekar, Lenisha Gandhi, Diana Bolotin, Avanti Rao, Tu Diep, Leah Brown, Mary T. Nguyen, Natasha Dawood, Judy Wu, Janelle Wang, Linda Lee, Gohar Tokuzyan, Chung Lee, Karen Vong, Anthony Kimpo, Mai Le, Camtien Thai, Saira Salazar

El Camino Real High School

Christoph Lee, Marisa Handler, Judith Green, Jang Woo Bae, Jennifer Gould, Sarah Gordon, Paul Kokorowski, Darren Kahan, Katherine Strong, Jane Lee, Clarissa Anderson, Liane Jarvis, Katherine Haskell, Shelley Gershon, Seapahn Meguerdichian, Lisa Ellison, Suzanne Lewis and Karla Mazariego

Polytechnic High School

Monica Ann Jimenez, Tom Nguyen, Melendre Ann Biascan, Ana Maria Gonzalez and Earl Hama

Granada Hills High School

Ernesto Carlos and Byung Lee

Grant High School

Sloan Heller and Tommy Showalter

Kennedy High School

Benjamen Walsh, Cindy Phan, James Kim, Scott Mandelsohn, Claire Chung and Chang Yun

North Hollywood High School

Gee Kim and Timmy Lee

Monroe High School

Yoo-Jean Chi, Miriam Kim, Linda Truong, Amber Uyesato and Phuong Pamela Phan

Reseda High School

Joanne Cabanting

San Fernando High School

Esperanza Florendo

Sylmar High School

Bezuayhu Arega

Taft High School

Julie Kim

Van Nuys High School

Michael Lai

Verdugo Hills High School

Flordeliza Alagao, Hong Kyu Jeon, Sandra Ruiz, Yvette Garcia and Thatcher Friese



Agoura High School

Richard Hong

Calabasas High School

Chun Lin and Anupam Mishra


John Burroughs High School

Alex Amato


Herbert Hoover High School

Stephanie Newman


This is not a complete list of private schools in the Valley because many do not name valedictorians or do not calculate grades until graduation.

Alemany High, Mission Hills

Richard Malano Mendoza

Arcadia Christian Academy, Sherman Oaks

Anduin Parsons

A.G.B.U. Sarkis & Seta Demirdjian High, Canoga Park

Danny Abrahamian, Cecile Alacayan and Vatche Agopian

Bellarmine-Jefferson High, Burbank

Michael Argosino

Belmont College Preparatory, Panorama City

Jose Sandoval

Sherman Oaks

Gebran Abboud

Campbell Hall, North Hollywood

Megan Tracy

Chaminade College Preparatory, West Hills

Karrie Kuebler

Crespi Carmelite High, Encino

Nicholas DiPasquale

Faith Baptist, Canoga Park

Cari Bigelow and Karin Kaelin

First Lutheran High, Sylmar

Laura Bennett

Harvard-Westlake, North Hollywood

Katherine Unterman

Holy Family High, Glendale

Mary Thomas

Holy Martyrs Ferrahian Armenian School, Encino

Carlo Libaridian

Los Angeles Baptist Junior and Senior High, North Hills

Noah Peeters

Montclair College Preparatory School, Van Nuys

Kimberly Axelrod and Kristi Weiss

Notre Dame High, Sherman Oaks

Allison Ahart and James Swerkes

Lady Queen of the Angels Seminary, San Fernando

Phuc Paul Nguyen

Princeton College Preparatory, North Hollywood

Jennifer Hanan

Providence High, Burbank

Emily Wargo

San Fernando Valley Professional School, North Hollywood

Miriam Amy Parrish

St. Genevieve High, Panorama City

Charlie Beck

Stoneridge Preparatory, Tarzana

Aaron Pruner

Valley Torah High School, North Hollywood

Tamar Meszarioz

Viewpoint, Calabasas

Brian Schultz

Village Christian School, Sun Valley

Kristen Hobson

West Valley Christian Church School, West Hills

Michelle Gilpin