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Superintendent Recognizes Seniors for Character Traits
Posted 5/18/22

Superintendent Character Trait Awards

Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith recognized seven high school seniors for their exceptional character leadership traits. Since 2012, the Superintendent Character Trait Awards Program recognizes one graduating senior from each high school who exemplifies a pillar of character: caring, citizenship, courage, fairness, respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness. 

We have many exceptional students in our district, some of them are recognized for success in academics, arts, athletics, or other achievements. However these Character Trait Awards recognize students for simply having good character, the foundation to any success.

Each high school is asked to nominate one senior they believe exemplifies a designated character trait. In April, the seven nominated students received a surprise classroom visit from Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith and were recognized at the May 17, 2022 Board of Education meeting. 

As part of the awards program, each student also has a banner with their name, photo, school, and character trait displayed in the District office the following school year, as a reminder to all who enter to have good character. 

“With students like these leading the way, the future is bright,” said Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith. “They are shining examples of the impact good character can have on a school community and the world,” he said. 

Below are the 2022 Character Trait Award Winners:

Angela Gao with board member, principal, and superintendentCaring:  Xinhui (Angela) Gao, Cloud Campus High School 

Angela Gao’s commitment to caring has not only impacted Cloud Campus, but also people around the world. She models what it is to care for others each day from simple things like taking the time to greet her classmates and teachers and ask questions that show she genuinely cares about them and their wellbeing. Angela demonstrates she cares by volunteering with organizations locally and internationally and she derives great satisfaction from knowing she has helped others.

Specifically, Angela volunteers with a Tibetan nonprofit, raising funds, ordering medical materials, and coordinating volunteer ophthalmologists to provide free cataract surgeries for people in China. In addition, she has used her personal resources to “adopt” a student in Hu Nan China, paying for her schooling. Angela’s philanthropic attitude was further demonstrated when, as a response to the global pandemic, she started a GoFundMe page which raised $1,300 for a hospital in Wuhan, China. She also volunteers as a tutor in the Education for Nepal Club - offering free tutoring and online lectures to schools in Nepal. 

“It is rare to come across someone who has both an extraordinary intellectual capacity and a strong caring trait. Angela is a leader, world changer, and a true example of the word caring,” said Cloud Campus High School Principal Racquel Stephens.

Sophia Catania Orozco with board member, principal, and superintendentCitizenship: Sophia Catania Orozco, Costa Mesa High School

Sophia Catania Orozco demonstrates citizenship consistently and enthusiastically. She is supportive of her peers and helps create a positive culture in the classroom, clubs, and activities. She is intentional in communicating - working to include others by letting their voices be heard and helping her peers feel valued for contributing to the learning community. Her efforts have earned her the respect of her peers and the staff. She is a leader who delegates with intention and compassion, and she has an innate ability to problem-solve while including others in the process. 

As President of the National Honor Society Sophia has been a leader among her peers encouraging them to do their best academically and offering support and help when they need it - always with a smile. 

Sophia is the founder and president of the STEM club, and was instrumental in the Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) competition at University of California Irvine, helping Costa Mesa High School win first place in the National Engineering Design Competition: Designing For Equity In Your Community. Her dedication to the team has encouraged others to join and participate and her enthusiasm for STEM has inspired many teammates to also consider careers in the field. 

“Sophia is a natural leader exuding and fostering citizenship. She could be President one day,” said principal Jacob Haley. 

Sophia plans to attend Orange Coast College in the fall to pursue a degree in engineering and then transfer to an engineering school. 

Uriel Rivera with board member, principal, and superintendentCourage: Uriel Rivera, Early College High School 

Uriel Rivera’s courage has been an inspiration to the students and staff at Early College High School (ECHS). In July 2021 as he prepared to enter his senior year, he was diagnosed with a serious illness that necessitated hospitalization, chemotherapy and medications. His commitment to school did not waiver during this difficult time in his life. 

As a result of his medical diagnosis, Uriel will not be able to join the Marine Reserves upon graduation as he had planned. While he was disappointed, he courageously chose to “Keep Pressing On” (which is the Early College motto) and adjusted his mindset to instead enter college in the fall. Despite the physical setbacks he has faced, Uriel has remained active and has committed to working out every day to keep his body strong. 

Uriel has managed to maintain a 3.56 GPA and recognizes his family, church, and close friends at ECHS for their tremendous support this past year. 

“Watching Uriel navigate serious medical challenges for more than a year while maintaining a robust and rigorous academic course of study and doing so with a smile each day has been awe inspiring,” said Principal Dr. David Martinez. “He is a true example of courage!” he said.

Uriel plans to attend Cal Poly Pomona and pursue an education in Neurology and attend medical school in the future.

Chase Dionio with board member, principal, and superintendentFairness: Chase Dionio, Newport Harbor High School

Chase Dionio is recognized for her fairness, as she is known for giving classmates opportunities to share and express their opinions, consistently listening and considering other students' points of view. 

As a stand-out basketball player on the team, Chase demonstrated  fairness by asking  her coach to start a fellow senior who had never started a game. Chase is always concerned about making sure others have the opportunity to participate and be included. 

At home, Chase also demonstrates fairness. When her family was relocating to a new home during the holidays, her parents were busy packing and she took the initiative to do the holiday shopping for her entire family, including gifts and meals, to ensure that everyone would have a special holiday. 

“Chase cares about systems and structures that promote access and inclusion in our society,” said Newport Harbor High School Principal Sean Boulton. “I am thrilled to see Chase recognized for fairness, as she consistently ensures that all students are included and recognized at school,” he said. 

Chase will attend Orange Coast College next year with plans to transfer to a Division 1 basketball school the following year.

Nicole Sullivan with board member, principal, and superintendentRespect: Nicole Sullivan, Back Bay/Monte Vista High School

Nicole Sullivan is a leader at Back Bay/Monte Vista High School and consistently models respect for her peers. Shortly after enrolling at Back Bay High School, Nicole suffered a family tragedy that negatively impacted her academic, physical and social-emotional wellbeing. 

As she began to trust her teachers and let them help her, she began gaining respect for them once again. Her attendance and academic scores also significantly improved. 

School administration watched her bloom socially by respecting herself enough to choose the right friendships and speak-up when she observed disrespectful behavior toward herself or others. As part of the dance team, she was called upon to fill-in at the last minute when another student was unable to perform. She chose to do so despite nervousness out of respect for the team and her teacher. Ultimately, she became a leader admired by her peers for her honest and respectful treatment of herself and others.

“Nicole is an example for others that when you respect and care for yourself, it is easy to respect and care for others,” said Principal Michael Wagner. “We are so proud to see her thriving and moving toward a future of helping others.” 

As a result of her commitment to her education, Nicole was able to graduate six months early in December 2021. Nicole will attend Orange Coast College in the fall where she plans to study fine arts and interior design.  

Odette RamirezResponsibility: Odette Ramirez, Corona del Mar High School

When Odette Ramirez enrolled at Corona del Mar High School (CdM) she was deficient in credits. However, with caring support and guidance from CdM teachers and administration, she truly epitomizes responsibility and became determined to focus on her studies and make friends that would be a positive influence in her life. 

It is impressive that in two years Odette made up for the credit deficiency, earned 108 credits, and is on her way to graduating this year, all while also taking care of her siblings and having a job. 

Odette has taken extraordinary care to help her sister, who is newly enrolled at CdM this year, to ensure that she feels comfortable on campus and connected to other students. Odette can often be found helping her younger brother with math homework, grocery shopping, preparing dinner for the family, or doing laundry. 

“Odette is one of the most responsible students who has ever attended our school,” said Principal Josh Hill. “We are so extremely proud of all that she has accomplished and the good role model she has become to others,” he said.   

Odette plans to attend community college and then transfer to Chapman University majoring in occupational therapy.

Lily Shandalove with board member, principal, and superintendentTrustworthiness: Lily Shandalove, Estancia High School

Lily Shandalove is the embodiment of trustworthiness. As the ASB President, her fellow students elected her to lead the school because they trust her leadership. She coordinates numerous school activities and events, and communicates well with the school community as a whole. She has developed authentic relationships and students feel comfortable speaking with, sharing ideas, and offering her feedback. 

Lily is the leader of the Best Buddies Club, helping to coordinate activities and special events for students with special needs. She spends each Wednesday making other students feel welcome and encouraging them to participate in team building activities.   

A three year member of the Estancia Medical Academy, Lily has demonstrated trustworthiness in mentoring her peers, following directions, asking meaningful questions, and following-through on her commitments to others. When others have been unable to meet expectations, Lily willingly steps forward to offer help and be a role model. 

As Lily has made her way through high school, and the various teams, leadership positions, and participation in academies, she has become a go-to student for positions of leadership, which is really about trusting her judgment. In fact, one of her teachers said they would trust her with the keys to their house. 

Lily will attend University of California, Berkeley majoring in environmental economics and policy.

Congratulations to the 2022 Character Trait Award winners!