Most Likely to Succeed

There’s Nothing Standing in the Way of Oakland’s Class of 2010


     Perhaps one of the greatest honors for a high school student is being recognized in the yearbook awards. Whether it’s as “Most Humorous” or “Best Dressed” or “Cutest Couple,” few things beat standing out among your peers.
     This year, Oakland Magazine introduces you to 10 graduating seniors from Oakland schools who are used to standing out. With their intelligence, perspective, personality, compassion, work ethic and vision, they destroy the stigma often associated with Oakland’s students. You will have no doubt they are “Most Likely to Succeed.”

MOST LIKELY TO BE … A Renown Global Philanthropist
Name: Aja Seldon
School: Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy
College Options: Clark Atlanta, NYU, Columbia

“How much more are we going to take? We had the tsunami. Then we had Hurricane Katrina. Now Haiti. And people don’t hear too much about what is going on in Nicaragua. How much more can the people take?”

     Aja Seldon vents, mostly to her mom, Rashon. She engages in discussion. She writes in a journal. It’s how she copes. Because, sometimes, her heart actually hurts.
     “I get it from my mother,” Aja says. “She is passionate. She does spoken word. That is how she gets her voice out. Me, I stand up for causes.”
      Perhaps the only thing rivaling the size of her heart is her brain. A 4.0 student, she plans to major in business management and minor in drama in college. The intrigue of the black college experience has her leaning toward Clark Atlanta. Why business? Because saving the world requires money.
     Inspired by the likes of Bill Gates, Aja has big plans to impact the lives of others — community centers, charitable foundations, education programs abroad. She is already working with underprivileged kids at the East Oakland Youth Development Center.
Aja did a global study abroad in Nicaragua. The group visited a garbage dump, where people lived. A bell rings there when new trash comes and people gather to scavenge. She saw one man eat a banana. A woman came up to her, speaking in Spanish. The translator said the woman was asking for help because her daughter was raped.
     Aja started crying on the spot.
“I always think about what I can do to fix the problem,” she says. “You can’t always just fix it like that.”

MOST LIKELY TO BE … The New Breed of Politician

Name: Alex Werner
School: Head Royce School
College: Dartmouth

“There is only so much longer that it’s tolerable to keep things the way they are, certainly. I think our generation is one that
needs to find a way to change. Not necessarily because of who we are, but because of the situation we’ve been placed in.”

     Alex Werner is a champion debater who has even competed at the prestigious Tournament of Champions at the University of Kentucky, because he has a special ability. He can digest information, critically analyze it and understand what is really happening.
     For example, many see a monotonous bottle of water. He sees an example of ungratefulness, realizing the dire lack
of clean water around the world.
     Many see a needle exchange program as condoning, if not promoting, drug use. He sees the decrease in HIV exposure.
Many see an affluent small school on a hill full of promise and potential. He sees a microcosm for a larger issue of inequality and isms.
     “Head Royce is obviously a privileged place,” Alex says. “And that is something that I appreciate and am aware of. At the same time, we’re just right up the hill from neighborhoods that are not well off. Neighborhoods that see violence and crime and poverty. Definitely something that I have always had to keep in view and has been relevant to me.”
     Alex, who boasts a 3.73 GPA and was one of 20 students from California to be selected as a presidential scholar, has the world at his reach. But he can’t help but notice the desperate need for a holistic revitalization of that world.
     His open mind, his analytical skills, his communication, his compassion – it all makes him sound a prototypical politician. But he’s weary of politics.
     Again, that ability.
     “I don’t know if I can really handle all the games,” Alex says. “But it’s definitely something I’m considering. I feel like so much of today’s politics is kind of a pre-set game. Two political parties, corporate lobbying doing its thing. … But I think if approached the right way, politics can be useful.”

MOST LIKELY TO BE … A Poet Laureate

Name: Lara Zysman
School: The College Preparatory School
College Option: Yale

“I want my entire world to be bigger than just words. Just words and just writing can limit my possibilities for the future so much. I don’t really want to cage myself in yet.”

     It may sound like Lara Zysman doesn’t know what she’s going to do.
     She loves to write and read great writers, but doesn’t think she wants to be a writer. She is looking forward to diving into math and the sciences as much as humanities. Certainly she hasn’t decided what she wants to be when she grows up.
     But, actually, Lara knows exactly what she’s doing: keeping all options open.
     “It’s too scary to me to map out my life too soon,” she says. “There are so many possibilities, so many ways your life can change directions unexpectedly. I want to explore as many things as possible right now.”
     Lara, who holds a 3.93 GPA, will likely go to Yale, though she hasn’t ruled out other options. She’s known on campus for her deep thinking and expressiveness. She uses both in the Pride in Diversity Club and modern and jazz dance classes. But, primarily, writing is her medium. She’s co-editor in chief of the school newspaper, a contributor to the literary magazine and a leader of the Writers Club, and she occasionally disappears to a nook with a notebook and her thoughts.
     “Right now, I’m just exploring words and expressing myself,” Lara says. “And later it will be about inspiring people. It will be about getting my words out there. You know, Walt Whitman didn’t start really writing until he was like 30. Billy Collins’ first book of poetry was (published) when he was middle-aged. I just think I have so much time to figure out what I want to say. For now, it’s just fun.”

MOST LIKELY TO … Establish the Alice Lyons Foundation
Name: DiAndre Campbell
School: Oakland Technical High School
College: University of Washington

“I plan on taking advantage of their academic prowess. Football only takes you so far. I’ve always wanted to defy the statistics.”
     The rap is that big-time Division I college athletes are at school just for football.
     They take pushover classes, if they go at all, and have tutors do their work. Their college experience is a collage of party and games.
That won’t be DiAndre Campbell.
     “I’ve been told that with my work ethic and natural ability,” he says, “getting to the NFL is not going to be a problem. But you only have a certain amount of time to be in the NFL. I’ve been able to explore options. Careers after the NFL. And who’s to say I won’t get hurt in college?”
     Campbell certainly isn’t just a highly touted football player at Oakland Tech. Though he is a star receiver, he is also a leader on campus. He’s a conflict mediator, helping settle disputes in effort for violence prevention. He also mentors underclassmen.
     Though he has a chance at playing on Sundays, he’s looking into becoming a radiologist. Even if he does make it to the big show, Campbell doesn’t plan on being solely a football player there either. He already has designs on using his position to give back.
     He says he would name his foundation after his grandmother, Alice Lyons. He won’t just be throwing money around, either. As is the case on the football field and in the school hallways, he wants to be a big presence.
     “I want to help inner-city youth who have been hit with hard times at a young age,” he says. “Kids who had to grow up kind of early and have tried to overcome that.”

MOST LIKELY TO BE … A Pretty Tall Heart Surgeon
Name: Hillary Streeter
School: Head Royce School
College Options: Stanford, Amherst, Brown, Yale

“I’m really organized. I like to plan ahead. The busier I am, the more efficient I am. I really don’t know how I do it, but I do manage to do it.”

     Hillary Streeter has a tough choice to make. She loves playing the violin; it relaxes her. She also loves playing basketball because it is so fun. And her dream is to become a surgeon, like her grandfather.
     She has been accepted to Stanford early. Does she jump on that special opportunity, staying close to her family? It may require giving up basketball, as playing for Stanford’s powerhouse women’s basketball program is much more of a long shot.
     Or does she go to Brown or Amherst, where she certainly can continue her passions while pursuing her dreams?
“Basketball is really fun,” Hillary says, “but I find music to be really relaxing. I couldn’t see myself giving up one.”
     Hillary says if she chooses Stanford, she will try to make the team as a non-scholarship player. If she doesn’t make it, she will at least play club basketball. So in the end, in some form, she will enjoy her two loves while majoring in pre-med.
     Don’t worry about Hillary, she’s used to the overload.
     One Saturday in February, she spent the morning doing homework, maintaining that 3.75 GPA. At 4:30 p.m., she played a game against Pinewood. And she doesn’t ride the bench. Hillary, named All-State in Division V last season, is the team captain.
     After the game, she rushed home, showered and changed before departing for a concert in Moraga at 8. She plays for the Young People’s Symphony Orchestra. She plays four instruments — violin, guitar, piano and viola — but the violin is her thing.
     That is why, when she tells people she wants to be a heart surgeon, no one doubts whether she could be just that.
     “I am a little bit nervous about medical school,” she says. “But I was actually talking to one of my friend’s dad. He said, ‘I made it through. I’m sure you can handle it.’ ”

MOST LIKELY TO BE … A Sensei to Many
Name: Talon Clayton
School: The College Preparatory School
College Options: Stanford, UCLA

“Karate is first. That is above everything else. It’s not the stereotypical Kung Fu kicks and everything. I live the life of a martial artist. It goes way outside of the dojo.”

     Perhaps one word is descriptive enough, powerful enough, to encapsulate Talon Clayton: diversity.
     Talon is a hip-hop dancing, martial arts–loving, African-American/Puerto Rican/Italian teenager who wants to be a pediatric neurosurgeon. Oddly enough, people still try to confine him to a stereotype.
     “I’m not what you would expect. I’m an individual, not a statistic,” Talon says. “I think it’s hilarious because it’s happened so many times. I love how people just jump to conclusions every day. I’m guilty of it, too.”
     He can laugh now — like he did when someone asked him what affirmative action program he used to get early acceptance into Stanford — because he knows he earned his 3.61 GPA and acceptance letters to UCLA.
     But there was a time he didn’t handle it so well, people stereotyping him based on looks or his passions. That is where karate comes in.
     No, he isn’t drop-kicking his critics. Karate has developed in him humility, patience, community, self-confidence and a noted inner peace. It’s peace he wants to share.
     Talon is looking to be a neuroscientist, something he became interested in after watching his brother endure epileptic seizures. But no matter what he does, he will be using karate.
     “It’s so much more than kicking and punching to me,” Talon says. “I carry it with me when I speak to people, when I address people. I have a martial arts mentality. The tournaments and the touring and the world titles, those are great accolades. But when it comes down to it, trophies are marble and gold-plated figurines. I get so much more out of the life lessons in karate.”

MOST LIKELY TO … Perform on Broadway
Name: Marcus Thompson
School: Oakland Technical High School
College Options: Dillard, Clark Atlanta

“It’s crazy. After shows, after performances, little scenes, people would come up to me and tell me, ‘Oh, my god, you are amazing. You should be on the big screen.’ Some people would say ‘You had me crying.’ I had no idea.”

     For most of his life, Marcus Thompson (no relation to the author, also a Tech grad) has been a car enthusiast. As a toddler, he was naming cars on the road. By 13, he was drawing original car designs. A year ago, he was sure his major in college would be mechanical engineering.
     But last October that all changed. The school’s production Dreams From My Father needed someone to play President Obama. Marcus was asked by an administrator to give it a try. He nailed it.
     “I had a hidden talent I didn’t even know,” he says. “It’s just phenomenal.
I still am shocked.”
     Fast forward. This summer, Oakland Tech is one of 50 schools selected for the super prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. The students will perform an adaptation of Hamlet called Blood in the Brain.
     Guess who’s playing Hamlet.
     Though he’s still taken aback by his sudden acting success, it sort of makes sense.
     It takes creativity to design cars. It takes perseverance to run marathons, which he does as a member of Students Run Oakland. It takes discipline to serve as president of All-City Council, the student government for the district. It takes patience to mentor other students, which Marcus does in the College Summit program. It takes presence to be Homecoming King. It takes balance to do all he does while pulling a 3.5 GPA as a junior, arguably the most important year.
All those attributes seem to work well together on stage.
“You don’t have to be experienced at something to be good at it,” he says. “If you have talent, you have talent. Experience enhances you. But if you have talent, it will come out.”

MOST LIKELY TO BE … Your Friendly Neighborhood Ophthalmologist
Name: Nick Valmores
School: Media College Prep
College Options: UC San Diego, San Francisco State

“I love interacting with people, helping people with their problems, explaining to them their options.”

      Nick Valmores gave up basketball and baseball. He needed to look for a job to help support his family, especially his two younger brothers.
     He found one, with the National Vision Center inside Wal-Mart. It changed everything.
     Nick not only found income for his family, but also a profession he loves. He wants to go to UC San Diego to take part in the pharmacology program and become an ophthalmologist. Inspired by the business sense he’s picked up in Media College Prep’s Rotary Club, opening his own practice is in his sights.
     It’s not just the science that attracts Nick, but the interaction with people, the smile they give him when he assists them with such an important matter.
     “It feels awesome,” he says of helping people with their sight. “They say thanks a lot.”
     Valmores works 25 hours a week, yet still hits the books hard enough to hold a 3.54 GPA. Focus and diligence come to mind for those who know Nick, who emigrated from the Philippines in 2004. He will be the first in his family to get to college.
     Oddly enough, Nick had trouble reading. Not because English is his second language, but because he couldn’t see. He couldn’t afford glasses. It wasn’t until he got his job that he finally got an eye exam. Now, you’d have a hard time finding anyone who is prouder of his reading glasses.
     “I can see better,” Nick says. “Letters are clear.”
And so is his future.

MOST LIKELY TO Be … The President of NOW
Name: Gwen Harper
School: The College Preparatory School
College Options: Yale, Columbia

“All the art I do, it’s really good at making me stop and appreciate the beauty in life. That sounds so cliché, so trite. But it helps me have a very optimistic view on life despite the newspaper headlines.”

     She doesn’t know how yet. But Gwen Harper will continue the fight.
     For women.
     “I guess what I’m really disturbed by more in my community,” she says, “is that people think it’s really not an issue anymore. … There are huge disparities around the world with sex trafficking and abortion rights. Women still make 73 cents on the dollar compared with men.”
     She’ll have to figure out the avenue down the line. Working for a nonprofit. Writing books. Going the grassroots activism route, like her mom and several other women at the co-op where she resides. For now, it’s term papers — on Abortion in El Salvador, on Josephine Butler and Prostitution Rights, on Women and Gender Relations in the Black Panther Party — and riveting discussions with friends.
     And when it gets to be too much, when the injustice and inequality starts to boil her blood, that’s when she’s most thankful for music.
     She’s played the piano since she was 7 and currently takes four music classes, only one at College Prep. She composes music in the John Adams Young Composer Program. Her music has been played at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
     Though music has played a significant role in her life, she says she won’t pursue it as a career. Writing is her thing.
     “Music,” she says, “sometimes it’s very intimate to me. But often it’s like this whole other world. Writing, there’s something about writing that is very with me. I can’t separate myself. Right now, I’d like to be a writer, which I know means waitress.”
     As a woman for the cause, she knows ain’t nothing wrong with that.

MOST LIKELY TO Be … An Advocate for Children
Name: Alejandra Parades
School: Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy
College Options: USF, Holy Names, San Diego State

“I love kids because they are so innocent and trusting. And so fun.”

     Alejandra Parades knows she wants to work with kids. She’s leaning toward being a pediatric nurse because “saving lives is something powerful to do.”
     A small issue might get in the way of that plan.
     “I had an accident in the summer,” Alejandra said. “I cut my finger and I saw my blood and I fainted.”
     She promises she only reacts that way to blood when it’s her own, but she acknowledges looking forward to some techniques in nursing school to help make her comfortable with even her own blood. Clearly, Alejandra isn’t deterred
by obstacles.
     She arrived in the United States from Tijuana when she was 8. She had to learn a new language and a new culture. She took her first flight recently, flying to Washington, D.C., to tour the White House.
     That’s what she wants to pass on to kids — a willingness to try new things, to broaden their horizons. She says she loves the innocence of children, their ability to trust. She’s a sucker for their bright eyes, big dreams and vivid personalities.
     She developed a passion for children while working with them at EOYDC and playing big sister to her three siblings.
     “They don’t listen to me,” Alejandra, smiling, says of her two brothers. “They’re like, ‘Who are you to tell me what to do?’ I still give them advice anyway.”
     It’s hard to tell Alejandra struggled with fitting in. Notice her in her snazzy urban gear. Hear her smoothly spew the latest slang as she talks about how her mom sometimes doesn’t understand. View her transcripts and a 4.23 GPA.
     Clearly, Alejandra has shattered her obstacles. Now, she just has to conquer that fainting thing.


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