UCLA Community School: Class of 2017 Celebrates Achievement, Path to College

Annual Senior Dinner and 5th graduation ceremony honor students’ perseverance, familial ties.

The graduation of UCLA Community School’s Class of 2017 was celebrated on June 3 with the annual Senior Dinner and the 5th Commencement exercises on June 8, both at the school’s campus at RFK Community Schools in the Koreatown-Pico Union neighborhood.

At the Senior Awards Dinner, a UCLA Community School tradition, Principal Leyda Garcia recognized the Class of 2017, noting that “This class is very special to us. When we opened our school in 2009, these students were our fifth graders – they’ve been here that long.” She recognized the faculty, staff, families, and donors who have contributed to the seniors’ successes.

Graduating senior Andrea Santamaria shared her struggle with keeping familial connections from L.A. to Mexico; expressed appreciation for her UCLA Community School “family.”

The awards presentations included recognition by LAUSD and the State of California for students who demonstrated competent biliteracy, a chief aim of UCLA Community School. Perfect and high attendance rates, honor roll, and department awards were also given to the students.

Scholarship awards included the Goodman Scholarship, the Ninth Church of Christ Scientist Scholarship, the Friends of UCLA Community School Scholarship, and the UCLA Community School Art Scholarships. Funds for these are raised through a silent auction in December, featuring works by UCLA Community School students.

 David Goodman said that his mother’s commitment to bilingual education and to her local community, as well as several ties to UCLA inspired his family’s support of UCLA Community School through the Goodman Scholarship, established in 2015. The award is given to graduating seniors in honor of the late Marcia Goodman, a UCLA Education alumna who earned her teaching credential in 1961. David Goodman’s father also achieved his MBA there, and his uncle was a teammate of J.D. Morgan while on the 1939-40 tennis team, which was coached by William “Bill” Ackerman.

David Goodman congratulates this year’s college-bound recipients of the Goodman Scholarship, given in honor of his mother, who taught for 20 years in the neighborhood of UCLA Community School. L-R: Bernadette Torres (UC Berkeley); Rebecca Kim (UC Merced); Joselin Hernandez Blas (UC Davis), and Goodman.

“My mother taught school for about 20 years about two miles away from here,” he Goodman. “She spoke Spanish and she was part of this community. The Goodman family home was about three miles away from here, where my uncle lived for about 75 years. “So, this community was really important to her.

Addressing the audience of students, parents, and families, Goodman shared his family’s Eastern European roots, and asserted that “The greatness of America is to embrace and support the immigrant. Our country is perpetually being renewed by immigrants. The newcomer knows that hard work, education, and the ability to work in a diverse world are keys to success in America.

“UCLA was always a big part of our lives,” he said. “[The scholarship] just seemed like the perfect fit. It connected my mom’s work, the school’s location, and immigrant education.”

Three students spoke on their educational and personal experiences, their future plans, and the people who helped propel them to graduation.

Joselin Hernandez Blas, who will be studying political science at UC Davis in the fall, gave one of three student speeches that evening. Introduced by her math teacher Andre Chen-Feng as an outstanding track athlete and an avid TED Talk fan, she delivered a heartfelt speech in Spanish about a path common to many of her classmates.

“Many of us here are making history,” Blas said. “They will not believe it because we always think we are only one person in a total of 3.73 billion and they will ask: Why am I going to be history? But for our community in particular, most of my classmates, like myself, make history because we are the first in our families to graduate from high school and enter a new chapter in our lives that begins when entering college.”

Jeremiah Borbe (on guitar), Bryan Perdomo, and Precious Tolentino sang “America the Beautiful” to kick off UCLA Community School’s 5th Commencement.

Hernandez Blas highlighted the experience of having parents who may not have been able to assist her with her studies or the college application process, and thanked them for what they did to support her and ensure her success.

“Thank you for the nights they [spent] to accompany me while the homework was finished… for working long hours to give me everything… for the incredible food that comes from my Mom’s seasoning… for leaving your family behind to come here looking for new opportunities.”

Andrea Santamaria described her journey of leaving her family in Mexico to live with her grandmother in Los Angeles. Introduced by her math teacher Maria Nakis, Santamaria shared the difficulties of maintaining her familial connections by long distance, taking AP classes and summer school, and her future plans to go to college.

Family members sought to capture the joyous moments of graduation in the history Cocoanut Grove auditorium.

“If you really love your family, you would do anything for them, even if that means not being with them for a while,” Santamaria said. “There were times I wanted to give up to go back to them. But what would that mean about me being here for so long, the effort I had already put into my studies, the successes that I’ve experienced, the accomplishment I have achieved. They would have meant nothing if I left.”

Henry Lopez Hernandez, who was introduced by assistant principal Queena Kim, thanked UCLA Community School faculty and staff for supporting him through his goal to attend Humboldt State. He described his mother, Evelyn, who inspired him by going back to school.

“What amazes me is that she can come home, take care of her family… and give us a big smile,” he said. “She showed me that no matter what happens, if you want something you need to take the first step to achieve that goal. You’re the only one who can stop you.”

Jin Woo Park was one of four student speakers at UCLA Community School’s graduation ceremonies. Seated, L-R: Meryl Friedman, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA; Yansi Y. Pérez, CSU Northridge; Queena Kim, assistant principal, UCLA Community School; and Leyda Garcia, UCLA Community School

UCLA Community School’s 5th Commencement exercises took place in the historic Cocoanut Grove auditorium on June 8, with keynote speakers Meryl Friedman, director of Education & Special Initiatives for the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, and Yansi Y. Pérez, associate professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at Carleton College and a visiting scholar at the Central American Studies Department at CSU Northridge.

“America the Beautiful” was performed by current students Jeremiah Borbe, Bryan Perdomo, and Precious Tolentino. Student speakers also captured the collective sentiments of 86 members of the Class of 2017, with speeches by new graduates Kate Medina, Jin Woo Park, Ishrat Jahaiara Quazi, and Leslie Roman.

Principal Garcia congratulated the Class of 2017, and said, “We have indeed grown together. Thank you for blessing us with your achievements, with your smiles, with the passion you have to change the world. Keep us in your hearts, because UCLA Community School…will always be here; we are here for you. Life will take you on new paths and we will forever be interconnected. You are now part of a beautiful fabric that is woven by our collective experiences of strength, resilience, struggle, and triumph.”

Friedman urged the new graduates to seek new challenges.

“As you continue your education and your life, there will be a lot of pressure on you to find the answers,” she noted. “It’s sometimes easier to look for the answer than the question. I ask my students at UCLA, ‘What are the questions that you want to ask?’ I charge each and every one of you to stand on the edge of your curiosity and take a huge leap.”

Pérez underscored the importance of the graduates’ achievements and goals to their parents as “the promise and the hope they brought with them.”

“Many of you are going off to college,” she said. “Some of you are starting a new job. These endeavors will also help to forge the future for this country. What would the United States look like… many years from now, say 2050?

“If we follow the news, many might think the future was not too bright. But this is not the worst moment that this country has faced. The face of this nation many years from now… depends on you – on what you are capable of accomplishing. The stage of your lives that you are now entering constitutes a great opportunity and an even greater responsibility. Beginning today, you will shape your lives according to your hopes, dreams, and struggles. But it is a responsibility because in order for this country to be what we all aspire for it to be… we require your hard work, your determination, and your sacrifice.”

Quazi congratulated her classmates, reminisced over their collective memories of the last four years, and encouraged her fellow graduates to live up to UCLA Community’s School’s mission of shaping active and critical participants in society and defending the rights of all marginalized and vulnerable groups.

“In life, each person makes an impact on how our society is shaped,” said Quazi. “I want to encourage us to all make an impact because what happens in the world, happens to each of us. It is literally up to us to look out for [each other] as humans. We’re not going to college – we’re going into the world after we graduate, and the world is going to hit us like a brick wall, literally. Just remember that we must take a stand… in order to achieve the things we all tweet about on Twitter, write about on Facebook or Instagram.”


Above: At the 5th Commencement exercises at UCLA Community School, Ishrat Jahaiara Quazi (at podium) congratulated the Class of 2017 and encouraged her fellow graduates to stay committed to social justice in their future paths.

Seated, L-R: Meryl Friedman, Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA; Yansi Y. Pérez, CSU Northridge; Queena Kim, assistant principal, UCLA Community School; and Leyda Garcia, UCLA Community School