March 30, 2001

Seven San Diego County High School Seniors Wins Scholarships From Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation

The Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation, one of the nation's most prestigious organizations promoting Hispanic excellence, will present seven Hispanic High School Seniors with scholarships at a ceremony on April 26, 2001. The much-anticipated event will culminate in a lunch reception, which will take place at the Hyatt Regency San Diego, located at One Market Place in San Diego.

This year, 84 students in twelve metropolitan areas —Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, San Jose, Washington, DC, and New York will receive nearly half a million dollars in cash and awards. The winners each receive $2,000 to use toward education as well as a state-of-the-art personal computer. In addition, the Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation will make a $1,000 donation to a community-based organization chosen by each regional winner further fostering community responsibility among Hispanic youth. "With the support of some of our country's most respected corporations, we are proud to reward these young people's hard work with cash awards that will further their educational endeavors. Moreover, it brings us great satisfaction to know that we are also making strides toward bridging the digital divide, thanks to Exelon's generous gift of personal computers to each of our winners," states Raul R. Tapia, Chairman of the Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation.

This year's Hispanic Heritage Youth Award winners are:

Ariana Salazar, a senior student at La Costa Canyon High School, is the recipient of the Youth Awards for Leadership and Community Service Award sponsored by the Fannie Mae Foundation (founding sponsor of the program). Salazar is the kind of person who can turn around a situation to make things better for everyone. After relocating to a new community and a high school divided by factions, Ariana found herself to be an outsider on three counts —her newcomer status, her skin color, and an unwillingness to be characterized by stereotypical expectations held by Chicano and Caucasian students alike. Instead of permanently despising her school, she joined the Human Relations Council and went on to co-found the Unity of All Cultures (UAC) club in an effort to break down racial barriers. In addition to her election as the commissioner of cultural awareness and president of the Associated Student Body, Ariana received the title of group leader in the Town Meeting of Tomorrow and earned the Jamie Harder Spirit of Leadership Award. Her academic interests include poetry, drama, and speech/debate. She is also an avid dancer —joining the Ballet Folklorico and forming "The Stomp Crew," which perform in the community.

Andres Alatorre is the winner of the Literature and Journalism Youth Award sponsored by The NBC Television Stations. Alatorre's progress at Southwest High School and within his community shows how self-discipline and a caring parent and grandfather can deliver the best results from less-than-ideal circumstances. In addition to advanced placement Spanish courses, Andres is currently a student in Spanish literature. He is also the sports editor for his school newspaper, Raiders' Digest. His interest in sports led him to act as coach and referee in a youth soccer league for children, and his journalistic talents enabled him to participate in the San Diego Stingrays for Sports Journalism Program, which gave him the opportunity to interview professional basketball figures. In addition to devoting much of his free time to helping underprivileged children in Tijuana, Andres has earned a number of writing awards at his high school and in San Diego County. He won high honors in the Golden State Exam (in Spanish) and won the AVID Write-Off Award.

The Science & Technology Youth Award winner sponsored by Microsoft is Alex Gascon. This Sweetwater High School student is a rare combination of academic and athletic excellence. On one hand, this scholar-athlete is quarterback of the football team, where he was named Offensive Player of the Year. On the other hand, for all four years in high school, he was among the top ten academic performers —taking advanced-placement courses in history, earning A's in every science class that is taught at his high school and he maintains a 4.48 GPA. His mother says she doesn't understand him when he discusses physics and technological subjects at home, but she knows that he's the one who was able to install the family computer and connect it for Internet service. Alex has seen too many of his neighborhood friends waste their time on what he calls "the street life," but he says he's glad he chose the right path and wants to become the role model in his family.

John Richard Velasco is the winner for the Youth Award for Academic Excellence, sponsored by Chase & Mas-terCard International. In addition to his optimism, one of the most characteristic traits of Richard Velasco is his willingness to help fellow students. While maintaining a top grade point average (4.7) at Helix Charter High School, he can regularly be seen helping others to understand their assignments and prepare for tests. John's promising history essays provide consistent examples of his ability to absorb and analyze new concepts. His interests, however, extend beyond the classroom and exhibit his potential as a leader. In addition to serving on the La Mesa City Council's Youth Advisory Commission, he participated in the Chicano-Latino Youth Leadership Program, served on the La Mesa Teen Summit, volunteered at an orphanage in Mexico, and was voted Representative of the Year (student council) and Most Likely to Succeed by his classmates. Recognized as class valedictorian for 2001, his ability to bring out the best in others is captured in the words of his sister Tonya, who writes, "In every aspect of my life, I look up to my big brother for advice and inspiration."

Ilhuicamina Aguilar is the winner for the Youth Awards for Sports, sponsored by Denny's. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Ilhuicamina Aguilar learned the importance of a good education by working 36 hours a week as a packer and stock boy at his father's convenience store at the age of seven. Wishing to extend his opportunities beyond the confines of that store, he came to the United States less than four years ago and applied himself to learning English. His progress at Eastlake High School is remarkable, and he performs in the top 15% of the class — even in difficult college preparatory classes. He also maintains a balance between academic and extracurricular activities. For example, he won the Student Athlete Award and received both junior varsity and varsity letters in track and field, where he is co-captain of the team. Similarly, he is active in the Key Club, MEChA, Running Club, and Mountain Bike Club, and his musical talents enable him to teach classical guitar at the Chula Vista Youth Center. Despite the challenge of his 80-year-old father's terminal cancer, Ilhuicamina remains outwardly focused and is active in the community. He recently contributed over 100 hours of service in just four months — participating in blood drives, food drives with the Kiwanis Club, and collecting food and playing guitar for children at an orphanage.

Maria Amon is the winner for the Youth Award for Arts, sponsored by Dr. Pepper. In spite of her natural shyness, Maria Amon has developed remarkable talents in the dramatic arts. To supplement these, she has maintained an outstanding record of academic achievement at Sweetwater High School and has completed honors-level courses in English and art history. Maria throws herself completely into her work, and in addition to her high school drama program and directing the first-ever senior play, she enrolled in drama classes at the San Diego Junior Theater, where she worked part-time to help other aspiring young actors. She hopes to continue her education at San Diego State University. Despite a busy scheduled and demanding coursework, she is active in her community, where she completed over 400 hours of community service through her Girl Scout troop and earned both Gold and Silver awards. In addition to serving as an inspiration to her family during the loss of her sister and paralysis of her brother, Maria has been active in her church, where she is an altar server.

Sophia Simone Castelo, winner of the Youth Award for Mathematics, sponsored by Exxon Mobil Corporation. Sophia Castelo's relationship to the study of mathematics is a classic example of what it means to confront an obstacle and overcome it through excellence. Several years ago, Sophia would have stated that math was her worst subject area. Because she was raised in a family with an agricultural background that placed a high value on hard work, she was determined to meet the math challenge head on. She took ex-tra courses during her summer vacations and throughout the school year — eventually enrolling in accelerated courses at Clairemont High School and taking night classes at San Diego Community College. This enabled her to progress beyond geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus to calculus and analytical geometry. As a result, she received the AP Scholar Award, the Rensselaer Math and Science Medal, and Phi Beta Kappa Book Award. In addition to her academic subjects, she is an enthusiastic soccer player (most valuable player) and an active community participant. She is a member of the advanced-placement Spanish Club, the Key Club, high school seminar, and is the school ambassador.

The students were selected for their accomplishments in their chosen discipline, their potential for leadership, their commitment to community service as well as strength, quality of character and demonstration of how their Hispanic heritage has played a significant role in their lives.

In June, seven National winners will be chosen from the pool of 84 regional scholarship recipients. These seven winners will receive $5,000 toward his/her education as well as an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC where she/he will be recognized onstage at the Hispanic Heritage Awards Ceremony on September 14, 2001 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which will air subsequently on the NBC Television Stations in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation was established fifteen years ago to promote Hispanic excellence, provide a greater understanding of the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the U.S. and to recognize and award role models who inspire our youth. For more information regarding the Hispanic Heritage Awards Foundation, call 202.861.9797 or log onto

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