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The Preuss School Class of 2023 Celebrates Commencement

Ninety-four percent of the graduating class has gained admission to a four-year university

Students graduating from The Preuss School, dressed in their cap and gown and clapping.
This year 94% of scholars from The Preuss School, a charter middle and high school on the UC San Diego campus, were accepted to a four-year university; all of them are the first in their family to attend college. Photo by Erik Jepsen/University Communications.

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The big day is almost here, when seniors at The Preuss School get to don their cap and gown, be showered with floral garlands and hear shouts of praise from family and friends as they cross the stage at commencement. This year 94% of scholars from the charter middle and high school were accepted to a four-year university, all of them the first in their family to attend college. Located on the UC San Diego campus, the school immerses students in a college preparatory curriculum that uniquely prepares them to succeed in college and beyond.

The Preuss School commencement ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, June 16 at the Epstein Family Amphitheater, a 2,650-seat, open-air venue that recently opened at UC San Diego with direct access from the UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley. The ceremony recognizes the success of scholars who have become exceptional candidates for college. 

“On their first day of school we tell scholars, ‘You are going to college,’” explained Executive Director Helen V. Griffith. “We create this mindset and affirm it regularly through programs such as a longer learning time, a unique seven-year college advisory class and a curriculum strategically designed to fulfill and exceed University of California admission requirements.”

Dr. Helen Griffith lifting her fist in the air in excitement at last year's commencement
Executive Director of The Preuss School Helen V. Griffith.

The Preuss School enrolls more than 800 students in grades 6-12, all from low-income backgrounds. The student body is ethnically diverse and lives throughout San Diego County, representing over 40 different zip codes. Students ride multiple modes of transportation to commute from neighborhoods that range from San Ysidro and Chula Vista to La Mesa and Linda Vista, and other mid-city and Southeast San Diego County locations.

When students first arrive, they are welcomed into an advisory class with a group of peers and a faculty member that they will remain connected to throughout their seven years at the school. The class often bonds like a family and offers a supportive space to grow and learn about what it takes to reach higher education. 

Upon graduation, many scholars offer gratitude for the steadfast encouragement and growth opportunities received. Senior Ismerai Barragan shared, “I would like to thank my advisory teacher, Mr. Scott for staying loyal to our class for seven years, helping me and encouraging me through difficult times, and for the countless hours he spent revising my essays or writing letters of recommendation for various applications.”

Each advisory class creates their own nickname and traditions. For instance, English faculty member Rowena Tiojanco’s cohort is named “Tiojanco’s Tigers.” On the eve of their graduation, Tiojanco described what makes her scholars special; “Every student in my advisory has faced challenges with poise and accountability. Each of them has the courage to problem solve on their own before asking for help. I admire that they all reflect on the impact their presence makes within any social setting.”

In advance of their big day, we asked several seniors to reflect on their time at The Preuss School and share their future aspirations.

Portrait of Alex Tep, Preuss graduate and valedictorian

Alex Tep | Valedictorian

Class valedictorian and future investment banking analyst Alex Tep is ready to jump into life at Brown University, where he will study applied mathematics. Tep explained that he’s intrigued by the high-risk, high-reward environment of the banking industry and how success depends on a job well done. 

Tep grew up as an only child in Cambodia before moving to San Diego at nine years old. He explained that the community is what’s been most valuable at Preuss; the small school atmosphere led him to familiar faces wherever he turned. And mentorship from teachers including Chellyn Boquiren, Tamima Noorzay and Daniel Rupert was a key part to Tep’s success. 

“It feels like an accomplishment but there is certainly more to do,” Tep explained about being named class valedictorian. “I hope that my message to my fellow classmates will resonate and inspire them to make their own waves in the world, in the future.”

Preuss graduate and salutatorian Angelina Solis

Angelina Solis | Salutatorian

Born and raised in San Diego and a self-described proud Latina, Angelina Solis cannot wait to jump into a new adventure and study abroad in college. Solis grew up in a small family of four and is close to her sister and her best friends, with whom she enjoys singing and posting on social media. 

“I’m always eager to learn more about things that interest me, as well as getting to know people on a more personal level,” explained Solis about what motivates her to study abroad and form deep friendships. “I value strong connections with people.”

As class salutatorian, Solis will give a speech to peers and their families at The Preuss School on graduation day—she noted that she is extremely proud of herself and is grateful for the community she found at Preuss. Solis is excited to keep putting her work ethic to good use in her career. She will attend UC San Diego next fall to study neurobiology; her career goal is to become a neurologist and help treat and diagnose patients who have neurological diseases.

Preuss graduate Ismerai Barragan wearing a UC San Diego sweatshirt

Ismerai Barragan 

Growing up, Ismerai Barragan always thought that she would be a plant biologist or a botanist. But, a newfound passion for teaching and education shifted her plans; Barragan now plans to be a middle or high school science teacher. She will soon join the UC San Diego community as a geoscience major with a minor in science education and plans to pursue a Master of Education with a teaching credential. 

Barragan explained that her educational journey wasn’t always easy – she didn’t attend preschool and was instead taught reading and basic math in Spanish by her mother.   This led to her struggling in elementary school  where the need to learn English was a challenge, which  she overcame. She stayed close to her Mexican roots by going to church in Tijuana with her whole family every week since middle school. While she’s excited to start her next chapter, what Barragan will miss most about her time at Preuss are the people.

“I have found a few people who have completely made a difference in the way I perceive life and the way I live it, too,” Barragan said. “Through Preuss, I was submerged into a different environment than the one I had in my elementary school and that has taught me a lot about other people from both different and similar backgrounds all at once.”

Portrait of Kelly Le, Preuss graduate, in her athletic uniform

Kelly Le 

Kelly Le grew up as the youngest of three daughters in a family where Vietnamese was the only language spoken. Always jumping into new experiences, Le joined the basketball, volleyball and lacrosse teams at Preuss. She also spent time volunteering at a hospital, which cemented her desire to work in the healthcare field and become a future doctor. 

Le will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall to study microbial biology; she explained that the research opportunities and beautiful campus “that feels like its own little city” are hard to beat. Even though she’ll be leaving San Diego, Le will keep Preuss close to her heart. She admitted that, as excited as she is to meet new people and make new memories, it’s difficult to let go of the bonds she’s formed with the students and teachers at Preuss. 

“My advisory teacher, Mr. Scott, was always there for me and was always someone I could rely on,” Le said. “No matter what time it was or what situation I was in, I knew Mr. Scott was the first person I could reach out to.” 

Preuss graduate Agnes Agoh in a Stanford University sweatshirt

Agnes Agoh 

Agnes Agoh has spent almost her whole life in San Diego. Born in Nigeria into a family of six, Agoh is the oldest of four daughters and was deeply involved with sports including soccer, basketball, karate and lacrosse. She has mixed feelings about graduating. 

“On one hand, I’m excited to be starting a new chapter of my life, going off to college and finally experiencing the impact of my time at Preuss,” Agoh said. “On the other hand, I’m going to miss being around my friends and all the other familiar faces that I’m used to seeing every day on campus.”

Reflecting on who made an impact on her academic journey at Preuss, Agoh had many in mind. "I would like to thank every teacher I’ve had at Preuss that has helped me get to where I am today, especially my advisory teacher, Mr. Scott, who has helped in guiding our advisory these past several years. I’d also like to give a special thanks to Mrs. Majors, Ms. Boquiren, Ms. Esparza, and the Preuss coaches and counselors on campus."

Agoh helped to plan and host the first Model United Nations conference at Preuss; she also enjoyed attending multicultural festivals, performances and motivational speaker talks. She will study human biology at Stanford University this fall and hopes to become a pediatric endocrinologist or go into sports medicine. 

Preuss graduate Liam Rodriguez sitting in front of a mural

Liam Rodriguez 

Liam Rodriguez has a hard time believing that graduation is finally here. “I still remember my first day at Preuss, feeling anxious about starting a new chapter, but also excited to get to know new people,” reflected Rodriguez. “Now all of a sudden, I stand a few days away from my own high school graduation, a day I always thought would take forever to reach. I should have listened to Ms. Majors [my English teacher]when she warned us as ninth graders that our high school years would pass by rapidly!”

Rodriguez looks forward to his new studies and opportunities to travel but knows that saying goodbye to his longtime home of San Diego won’t be easy. Of all the academic opportunities presented to him at Preuss, the one that has been most impactful is music. He credits Music Director Mercy Hwong for helping him discover a passion for music and composition. After mastering his first instrument—the cello—Rodriguez joined the San Diego Youth Symphony, an organization he’s still involved with. 

There were many more teachers that Rodriguez credited for his success at The Preuss School. On Mr. Scott, his advisory teacher, “He has offered our class a lot of insight about college and adult life and has personally guided me with my academics throughout my time at Preuss; I feel like he understands me the most out of any other teacher I have ever had.” He also thanked Ms. Noorzay for expanding opportunities for music composition both inside and outside of Preuss, as well as Dr. Weber for teaching him self-discipline and the importance of initiative.

Rodriguez will attend Johns Hopkins University in the fall, where he intends to try out different courses of study before declaring a major. “At the moment, I have no idea what I see myself doing in the future in terms of a career, but I am okay with being unsure,” Rodriguez said. “For now, I will enjoy the journey rather than worry too much about the destination. I'm confident that I will find something that will suit me.”

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