LANCASTER — Congressman Kevin McCarthy honored nine students and nine educators with the 23rd Congressional District of California 2019 Merit Awards Monday afternoon.
The ceremony, which took place inside the Antelope Valley Union High School District boardroom, spotlighted academic achievement.
McCarthy started the annual event in 2008 to specially recognize students from the 23rd Congressional District who display excellence in the classroom. Each student receiving accolades also nominated an educator for the 23rd Congressional District of California 2019 Inspirational High School Educator Award, which also was presented at the ceremony.
“What this is really about is to honor you. You’re going to go to that next level. It’s going to be a little bit more competitive and it’s going to be trying at times. But what I want to instill in you is don’t give up,” McCarthy said.
The recipients were picked from schools inside McCarthy’s district, which includes east Kern County and parts of Lancaster and Quartz Hill. High school principals were invited to select one outstanding graduating senior per school. McCarthy introduced each student by reading their respective nomination letters.
Lancaster High School senior Enrique Arjona, who will be recognized as valedictorian for his graduating class, earned an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“He is without a doubt a special student. One of the best and brightest I’ve had the pleasure of having,” McCarthy said as he read Lancaster High Principal Kristen Tepper’s nomination letter.
Arjona nominated teacher Elisa Frias for the Inspirational High School Educator Award. Without Frias, Arjona said, he would not be where he is now.
“She has guided me throughout all of high school in robotics, in class, and taught me what it means to determine true ethics,” Arjona said.
Desert Christian High School Principal Brian Roseborough described Desert Christian senior Robert Christopher Gonzalez as one of those rare individuals who leave you wanting to be a better human being.
“He’s a humble young man who serves his peers and adults alike with quiet confidence and genuine compassion for other people,” McCarthy read.
Roseborough nominated teacher Karmae Shiplett for the Inspirational High School Educator Award.
“She has been there throughout high school, and even before high school, to really help me excel at what I want to do, and just my love for people. She’s very relational, and I love that about her, and she just pushes me to do my best.”
Quartz Hill High School principal Zach Mercier nominated Ellie Dunn for the Merit Award.
“Ellie is a living example of our philosophy at Quartz Hill High School of being an integral piece of our community. Ellie is Quartz Hill’s teen community emergency response team leader of the entire community. She balances this community service with academics, extracurricular activity and athletics. She is not only very balanced on paper, she excels in all areas,” McCarthy read.
Dunn nominated anatomy teacher Mandi Nichter for the Inspirational High School Educator Award.
“She has done a lot for met this past year, and has really shown me what passion looks like in a job —which is why I would like to study forensic science and become a forensic pathologist at Penn State University, Dunn said.
Rosamond High School senior Samantha Corzo exemplifies the virtues of a scholar and leader, Assistant Principal Ronald Riley wrote.
“She has maintained a 4.5 academic record while also completing five college courses. Her heart is kind and generous. She is a strong, quiet leader,” McCarthy read.
Corzo nominated Rong You for the Inspirational High School Educator Award.
“Throughout my high school career he has challenged and encouraged me in school, while stressing its importance and supporting my extracurricular activities,” Corzo said. “He has made me excited and eager to pursue higher knowledge in a career in the STEM field.”
Mojave Junior-Senior High School Principal Scott Small nominated senior Bryan Montero for the Merit Award.
“Bryan Montero is an exceptional student — proven leader, motivated manager, and a well-rounded community-minded citizen,” McCarthy read.
Montero nominated teacher Yvonne Moore for the Inspirational High School Educator award.
“She told me not to give up and just succeed in life,” Montero said.
Senior Eric Vuong of Desert Junior-Senior High School “is an outstanding student. “He is a visionary who is highly motivated to make a difference in his community.” McCarthy said as he read Principal David Ellms nomination letter.
Vuong nominated teacher Jason Spitzer — a three-time recipient of the Inspirational High School Educator Award.
“He’s one of the few amazing teachers at Desert,” Vuong said.
California City High School senior Nicole Richardson, who was nominated by Principal John Wheeler, took a leadership role at the school beginning with her freshman year.
An accomplished athlete and scholar, Richardson, “has been a point of inspiration, and she has repeatedly taken on the personal responsibility of making her teams competitive, including her willingness to fill in whenever she is needed,” McCarthy said.
Richardson nominated teacher Daniel Williford for the Inspirational High School Educator Award.
“As a teacher he has always challenged me to think and formulate my own opinions. As a coach he has pushed me to my breaking point, not only showing me what I am capable of, but teaching me to be self-sufficient and that I should always put forth maximum effort in anything that I set out to do. As an adviser he always makes sure that our class, the Class of 2019, was the best at everything we did because if we aren’t going to do our best then there is no point in doing it,” Richardson said.
Sherman E. Burroughs High School principal Bryan Auld nominated Enyssa Armendariz for the Merit Award.
“Enyssa is an excellent student, accomplished cheerleader and a proven leader … Her accomplishments and passion are revered and respected by her peers,” McCarthy read.
Armendariz nominated teacher Susie Burgess for the Inspirational High School Educator Award.
“I have learned many valuable skills simply from knowing her. The passion and dedication she puts into all that she does, and showing how hard work leads to success. Despite working a full schedule Ms. Burgess always puts her students first and truly cares about their success,” Armendariz said, reading from her nomination letter.
Boron Junior-Senior High School Principal David Wiggs nominated senior Jennifer Cano Aguilar for the Merit Award.
“Jennifer exemplifies someone we want other students looking up to,” McCarthy read. “She is exemplary arts student where she excels above and beyond her teachers expectations.”
Aguilar nominated teacher Lu Royce for the Inspirational High School Educator Award.
“Ms. Royce has always inspired me in my art position. In the beginning I was not that experienced in art but she showed me so many things … She helped me so much over the years,” Aguilar said.
“Each year I am awed by the bright young minds in our community. This award honors students who have gone above and beyond in the classroom, and the teachers and educators who have provided the groundwork for them to excel academically. I am truly honored to present these incredible students and their instructors with the 2019 Merit and Inspirational High School Educator awards. Congratulations on this exceptional achievement,” McCarthy said in a statement.
Prior to the start of the program, McCarthy honored Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Ernie Bell, who will retire this year after 34 years with the district.
“For love of students; for love of community,” McCarthy said.
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