Five Mira Costa seniors—with impressively varied life stories and activity loads—were honored by the Manhattan Beach Coordinating Council at its scholarship luncheon last Thursday. Each student was awarded a $3,000 college scholarship by the MBCC.
“May they see the bumps in the road as an opportunity for change and success,” prayed Reverend Rachel Nybach of St. Cross by the Sea Episcopal Church during the event's invocation. She also prayed for the family of Mark Vasquez, a Manhattan Beach police officer who died May 15 after battling cancer.
Student Cydney Nichols was honored for her involvement in Vasquez' story, although she never had a chance to meet him. Given a touching and at times humorous introduction by MBPD officer Stephanie Martin, Nichols received an honorary “challenge coin” to keep with her at all times, serving as a reminder of past and future challenges, and in memory of Vasquez. Nichols' worked on cancer research tasks last summer with Vasquez' physician in charge of his cancer treatment for multiple myeloma, Dr. James Berenson.
The tasks that Nichols did included culturing cancer cells and checking the effects of drug combinations on multiple myeloma cells.
“I'd like to thank Mark—Mark Vasquez. I actually wrote him a note this summer thanking him," said Nichols, addressing the audience. "I'd like to thank him and his family because without him I wouldn't be here today and wouldn't have the incredible experience I had researching for cancer [treatment].”
Emily Reinstein, Natalia Badel, Brian Vu and Erin Weldon were also honored.
Reinstein, whose family formed an organization to raise awareness about asbestos exposure which resulted in deadly cancer for her father, has volunteered extensively beyond the work she does with her family, ran track and field, and speaks regularly at her synagogue, among other activities.
Badel, who works two hours every day at Northrop Grumman learning about engineering, said, “I love it because it's exactly what I want to do when I grow up, designing, creating, and fixing problems.” She has worked with disabled children and inner city youth, has a 3.9 GPA, and is on the principal's honor roll.
Vu was recognized for his mastery of languages—he knows English, Spanish and Vietnamese—and for his drive, as he is teaching himself Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Vu is a black belt in karate and earned a perfect score on the Math SAT subject test.
“I've been jumping school districts ever since I was little," said Vu. "I've been through Wiseburn, El Segundo, Orange County school districts for a little bit, and I haven't had a great experience as much as I have had at Manhattan Beach Unified School District. The connections I've had, the opportunities I've had, the things I've learned, the things I've learned outside of class--it's all one priceless thing. I probably wouldn't have had the chance of experiencing if I hadn't been to Manhattan Beach Unified School District.”
Weldon was honored for her involvement in science and literature. She won the Los Angeles County Science Olympiad tournament Award of Excellence in 2008, among other science-related honors.
She has been on the principal's honor roll all four years of high school, the editor-in-chief of Mira Costa’s literary magazine Reflections, a staff writer for the school's award-winning student newspaper La Vista, participated in the Barnes and Nobles PTSA Prose Reading with the Elderly, been a tutor, volunteered with the Surfrider Foundation, plays the drums and guitar, and enjoys photography, painting, and writing short stories and screenplays.
“I would also like to thank my dad for raising me for the past ten years—by himself—after I lived on the Navajo reservation for a year," said Weldon. "He's really influenced me throughout the years.”
“I went to their [the Navajo reservation’s] school system, and things were totally different there than they were here," Weldon told Manhattan Beach Patch. "The school system isn't that good. I was placed in a class, for example—this was second grade—they couldn't spell ‘cat,’ so I had to be placed in a higher level class. My dad brought me back here because he thought I would have more of an opportunity here, which I did. I’m really thankful he did that. I would like to hopefully one day go back and improve their schooling system—because I think everyone should have an opportunity to learn and succeed as I have.”