O’Melveny Honors 14 Los Angeles Students with Warren Christopher Scholarships

May 22, 2017


LOS ANGELES, CA—May 22, 2017—2015 Warren Christopher Scholar Jose Aceves was accepted to 19 colleges, including 7 out of the 8 Ivy Leagues. 1995 Scholar Monique Simpson opened a tea shop in Ecuador where she teaches English and meditation workshops. 1999 Scholar Emanuel Pleitez ran for Los Angeles mayor and is now a technology growth investor with Sunstone Partners and an advocate for Hispanic youth. 

These are just some of the stories of the 200-plus students that the Warren Christopher Scholarship Program has awarded with US$20,000 scholarships over the past 23 years. On May 25, 2017, the next class of 14 high school sophomores will join their storied ranks at our annual luncheon at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Members of the press are welcome to attend, please contact Julie Fei at jfei@omm.com

While most scholarships are awarded to students in their senior year of high school, the Warren Christopher Scholarship program is unique in recognizing rising academic stars in the tenth grade. Each scholar receives a US$20,000 scholarship, payable at US$5,000 per year during the four years of college. The goal of the program is to motivate the scholars to excel throughout high school—despite often crushing adversity—and to attend and graduate from college. The students use the scholarship funds to pay college tuition and for other educational expenses.

The 23-year-old scholarship program is named in honor of the former US Secretary of State and former Chairman of O’Melveny, a tireless champion of higher education opportunities for disadvantaged students. The Warren Christopher Scholarship program represents a commitment by O’Melveny to these exceptional high school students to support them during their college careers, and is managed by the Warren Christopher Scholarship Committee and the California Community Foundation in Los Angeles.

Many of the scholars in the past have attended high schools with exceptionally high drop-out rates or have lived in homeless shelters, foster care, or circumstances ravaged by drugs, violence, and extreme poverty. Despite these adversities, our scholars have gone on to attend and graduate from the country’s most prestigious universities, including Yale, MIT, Brown, Duke, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and almost all of the UC schools. Many scholars are now teachers, public servants, doctors, and lawyers.

Here are profiles of the 2017 Warren Christopher Scholars:

Nathaly Andrade
Marquez High School - Libra Academy

Aside from juggling multiple leadership roles at her school and church and maintaining a 4.0 GPA, Nathaly Andrade is already working toward her goal of becoming a successful female entrepreneur. She enrolled in a college business course and, taking her professor’s advice that “you are never too young to start your own business,” Nathaly designed a sweatshirt logo, created a prototype by sewing the design onto a sweatshirt she found at a local thrift shop, and enlisted a marketing team of friends to spread the word. Soon, she had orders from her classmates and a future CEO was born. Nathaly hopes to use the profits from her venture to purchase a computer to use for homework.

Elijah Blanton
Middle College High School

Elijah Blanton dreams big. After high school, he hopes to study political science at New York University and earn a JD/MBA from Harvard. Ultimately, Elijah wants to become the U.S. Attorney General, which would enable him to serve the public and root out government corruption. He dreams of serving the public in other ways, as well, including by creating a nonprofit that educates communities about employment and scholarship opportunities. As his counselor noted, “Elijah is articulate, resilient and highly intelligent. The very deliberate and specific ability to verbalize what he wants to do with his life, and why, are inspiring.”

Casandra Colon
John Marshall Senior High School

“Helping people is my calling.” Cassandra Colon embodies the desire to help others in all she does. From caring for her younger brother to volunteering at a local blood lab to cleaning up Silver Lake Meadow, she has a heart for service. She’s also in the creative writing club at her school and has started preparing for college essays -- two years early. Her counselor wrote, “Wanting to make a difference and taking care of others comes quite naturally to Cassandra. Through her insight, self-awareness, and compassion Cassandra will be a source for positive change in her college community and beyond.”

Geovani Cruz
Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts

Geovani Cruz, who immigrated to the U.S. with his mother, hopes to change the world through art. In addition to his significant responsibilities at home and a full slate at school, Geovani participates in an intensive fine arts program at Otis college and has received scholastic medals for his photography. He sees art as a means to effect real and positive social change. “I want to work on a project with other artists to show life as it is. I want to comprehend why people don’t accept one another, why we can’t all have equal rights, why we can’t all have peace and live a good life. I want to make a change in the world. I worry that I won’t, but at least I need to try.”

Jazmin De Luna
Roosevelt High School

Jazmin De Luna started high school in Mexico, where she spent four hours a day riding buses to and from school, often arriving home after 10 p.m. to start her hours of homework. After she was forced to drop out because of safety and financial concerns, Jazmin—determined to get an education—left her family behind and immigrated to the United States last year. In that short time, she has mastered English and achieved a 4.0 GPA. She wants to share her passion for education with others: “I believe that there are youth who still don’t understand how education can benefit themselves, their family, their community and the whole world.” Jazmin joined i.am College Track, which works with students from underserved communities to provide opportunities, education, and hope. “No matter what happens from now on, my mindset has changed and nothing will break me down. I’m never going to give up. I believe in myself.”

Mark Garcia
Downtown Magnet High School

In Mark Garcia’s room, there is a jar marked “college.” Every week, he puts in the money he earns from working at his uncle’s taco truck, in hopes of studying political science and law. Mark plans to become a public defender, helping people in his community who cannot afford legal representation. “The Latino community needs local experts who understand them and who are willing to give every ounce of their being to effect justice. I want to set the expectation and work ethic for other public defenders.” He’s already working to bring social activism to his high school through a club to raise awareness about the lack of legal resources in low-income communities. Mark also tutors others, is a starting defender on his school’s soccer team, and has been a regular in the college center since the beginning of his freshman year.

Jacob Gutterman
Reseda High School

The fate of the nation’s nuclear technology program might be in the hands of Jacob Gutterman. A member of the model UN robotics team, and speech and debate, Jacob wants to develop peaceful ways to use nuclear technology for clean energy. He credits his life’s purpose to a random decision to pop in on a robotics meeting he was walking past on campus. “The decision to attend that robotics meeting will go down as the stimulus for the motivation that defines me during the present day: to become a nuclear engineer. With my talents in math and science, a career in engineering would lead to the most purposeful life I could live.” Jacob also is an avid participant in the Academic Decathalon, with plans to take his team all the way this year. His counselors praise Jacob’s “superior interpersonal skills” and “patience and kindness.”

Carlson Marquez
Eagle Rock High School

After graduation, Carlson Marquez plans to set up a foundation to provide low-income provinces in the Philippines with basic necessities and access to public education, based on his conviction that “education can open up an endless amount of opportunities.” According to Carlson, “It doesn’t take a lot to help someone out, but it all starts with the motivation to do it.” And Carlson has that motivation and more. He balances athletics with academics, and extracurricular activities—including choir, speech and debate—and extensive community service, volunteering at a local hospital, serving on the Mayor’s Youth Council, and participating in his school’s Community Outreach Committee.

Seleste Murillo
Dymally Academy for Multilingual Arts & Sciences

Seleste Murillo is always looking for ways to improve the community around her. She’s a member of her school’s Safety Committee, which targets her high school and neighborhood, and hopes to one day help low-income Angelenos access medical, dental, mental, vision, and other social services. “Sometimes extraordinary circumstances create extraordinary opportunities. I now have a drive to help all people.” Seleste is at the top of her class, serves as class secretary for the student council, is part of her school’s challenging STEM program, and works at Little Caesars’ Pizza after school. One of her teachers said, “Seleste is my hero. She is the embodiment of perseverance and diligence. There are some students who constantly remind you why you teach and she is one of them.”

David Portillo
RFK - New Open World Academy

As a sophomore, David Portillo already has a jump on his higher education with several college courses under his belt. He is the Student Council President and part of the Fulfillment Fund College Cap, which organizes ways to give back to the local community. David also plays varsity volleyball, serving as the team captain and managing the girls’ volleyball team. His dream is to double major in psychology and business to start a company that supports children and teens who are suffering from traumatic experiences and emotional abuse. David already volunteers with the Saban Community Clinic assisting with medical records in addition to his part-time job as a Subway sandwich artist. David’s counselor said, “he is determined to chase his goals, organized in how he chases those goals, adaptive in the ways he strives for them and helps others in their own goals. Most importantly, David is hopeful.”

Sumaiya Sabnam

RFK - UCLA Community School

Sumaiya Sabnam emigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh just four years ago, and taught herself English by “obsessively” reading books. She has a passion for politics, and a dream of ensuring that immigrants, Muslims, and women have their voices heard. Toward that end, she joined a student organization that strives to provide students access to essential resources, such as counselors and health care centers, and access to justice in their communities. Sumaiya recently coordinated a Know Your Rights presentation and translated documents explaining immigrant rights into Bengali. “This scholarship will help me to fulfill the dreams I have had since I was small. My dream is to be a leader, an activist, a lawyer.”

Joseph Song
Contreras - Los Angeles School of Global Studies

When he learned that his high school doesn’t offer AP classes, Joseph Song began taking night classes at a local community college, and is on track to receive his associate’s degree at the same time he graduates from high school. As Joseph’s youth pastor explained, “Joseph’s vision is to equip himself with more knowledge and broader understanding to better serve the people and the community. He does not see what he gains as something for him to possess, but he sees all his gains to be something that needs to be given out.” Joseph takes that heart of service attitude in all of his extracurricular activities as well, volunteering with his church, running for his school’s varsity track and field team, and serving on his school’s leadership committee. Joseph eventually wants to become a doctor specializing in liver disease, which has impacted his family.

Itzel Valdez
Northridge Academy High School

“I love working with kids and changing the lives of those who are in need.” Itzel Valdez, already a caretaker to her brother and sister, wants to become a pediatrician and help children across the globe through Doctors Without Borders. Itzel already is serving her community, volunteering at the Wilkinson Senior Center to aid the elderly, working with the Northridge Branch Teen Library council to promote the importance of education to teens, and participating in the leadership organization C5LA. She also is involved in various clubs and extra-curricular activities at her high school, including Link Crew, H.E.A.R.T. Club, C.S.F., Class of 2019, and the varsity cross-country and basketball teams.

Robert Velez
Polytechnic High School

Praised for his “patience, commitment, and flexibility,” Robert Velez embodies all three attributes in his service on the Student Council; his volunteer work for the greater Van Nuys Rotary Club; his outreach in Christian ministry; and the hours he has spent training for a marathon with his classmates. Robert wants to become a social worker after getting a psychology degree. “My passion is to work with disadvantaged families that live in poverty and struggle to meet the necessities to live life. I want to focus more on helping the children as their harsh circumstances have a great impact on their lives. The children are in need for someone to give them inspiration and a sense of encouragement.” Robert credits his guardians for imparting good values and the importance of education.

About O’Melveny

O’Melveny’s clients shape markets, set precedents, and break boundaries. They are stalwarts and innovators, the names you trust, and the next big thing. And for more than a century, O’Melveny has been right beside them, kicking down walls and putting up defenses to help our clients achieve their most important goals. With approximately 700 lawyers in 15 offices worldwide guided by the principles of excellence, leadership, and citizenship, we uphold a tradition of treating our clients’ challenges and opportunities as our own. What do you want to achieve? For the answers, please visit www.omm.com.

Julie Fei
O’Melveny & Myers LLP