Honoring the Best and Brightest : High School Valedictorians Are Evidence of Melting Pot's Bounty

June is when we honor those who have climbed to the top of the academic ladder to become valedictorians at their respective high schools. Here in the San Fernando Valley, it's also a moment worthy of reflection. Many of the families and children so represented hail not only from America but from all corners of the globe. These are examples of the Valley as the city's new melting pot, and what's simmering looks pretty darned good to us.

Together, the valedictorians profiled in the Times Valley Edition this past week stand as reassuring examples of the kind of gritty determination that helps distinguish this nation. That's something too often forgotten in the midst of all the current immigrant bashing.

Most of these students, like Thatcher Friese of Verdugo Hills High School, are headed off to some of the nation's finest public and private colleges and universities. Friese, who with his ever-present chess set looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, is going to Stanford University.

In terms of those who have been accepted at the most competitive campuses, it's also important to remember that not all come from highly regarded and well-funded public schools such as those in the Las Virgenes Unified School District. Some are also the finest representatives of an oft-maligned school system, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which must somehow find a way to inspire other students to pursue a similar excellence.

Some of the valedictorians, such as Korean-born Yoo-Jean Chi of Monroe High, and Ethiopian-born Bezuayhu Arega of Sylmar High, knew little if any English when they arrived here. In two years, Bezuayhu was taking honors English courses. Yoo-Jean has her eyes set on Yale Law School and a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Others can be held up as examples because of the extreme hardships they had to overcome. The family of Mexican-born Sandra Ruiz arrived here with little more than a few suitcases; she lived where there was no quiet place in which she could study. Cindy Phan, who is just 16 and one of Kennedy High School's valedictorians, arrived here as a Vietnamese boat person. She will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall.

Perhaps most of them will return to Los Angeles after graduating from college. Perhaps those who will be attending local universities will choose to remain here. We should be so lucky.

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