La Jolla Class of 2007 looks ahead, behind

Graduating seniors from La Jolla Country Day, The Bishop’s School, Preuss School and La Jolla High are crossing the threshold into young adulthood, leaving the familiar for a larger stage.

But, the eight teenage valedictorians and salutatorians from the four schools are not actors following a script: They’re writing their own.

Each of the eight grads - Rose Cao and Hieu Tran of Preuss, Kathleen Roehrkasse from Bishop’s, Catherine Lew, David Cary and Dasha Wise of La Jolla High and Greg Hirshman and Sabrina Miller of La Jolla Country Day - talked with the Light, giving their take on the state of the world, global warming and a host of other concerns, as well as their hopes for a future filled with promise.

Hieu Tran and Rose Cao represent the Preuss School on UCSD campus. Preuss is a middle and high school providing college prep education for motivated low-income students. Preuss opened in 1999 with 150 students in grades 6 to 8 and currently has 767 students in grades 6 to 12. Preuss students are largely from disadvantaged, minority families. Just under 60 percent of the student body is Hispanic, nearly 13 percent are African-American and more than 21 percent are Asian.

Hieu Tran of Country Day emigrated to the United States with his family from Vietnam when he was just 4 years old. He said language was a barrier for him early on that he helped overcome with a tutor. He credited his parents for being good role models. “They always encouraged me to do well in school,” he said. “They helped me in any way possible. They’re going to continue to support me as I go to college.”

College isn’t far away for Tran. He’s going to UCSD. “Going to Preuss, I have a head start over everybody else going to UCSD next year,” said Tran. “I’ve been there so many times. I know it inside and out.”

Preuss was a great school environment to be nurtured in. Said Tran: “My senior class only had 78 students. I felt like we were one big happy family. We all know each other, we all became really good friends with the teachers. I liked the intimate relationships.”

Tran has a life’s ambition to fulfill. “I want to become a teacher,” he said. “I want to major in chemistry. Everything that happens in nature can be explained through chemistry.”

Tran is excited about his future. “It’s going to be a really great experience,” he said, “going from a small school to a really big school. That’s a change.”

Tran’s classmate at Preuss, Rose Cao, praised the school’s administration and staff for instilling a will to learn - and excel - among its pupils.

“You have one class advisory teacher, kind of a mini-counselor, available who really knows how to advise you on going to college, what your major should be,” Cao said. “The teachers and staff here really care about you. Most of the teachers get to know the kids. They’re really interacting, fostering student-teacher relations.”

Cao added class sizes at Preuss are relatively small, usually 20 students or less. Though she hasn’t quite decided whether to be a chemistry, a biology or a pre-med major at Harvard. She knows her ultimate career objective. “I’d like to do research,” she said, “and maybe find the cure for cancer or further the medical field, at least do some meaningful work.”

Cao said there’s one problem in the world, to her, that really stands out. “It’s not so good how society is portraying that everybody should get what you want now,” she said.

Going to Harvard from Preuss, will be a big transition, one Cao has some trepidation about. But she’s ready for the change. “Preuss is this close-knit community,” she said. “Everyone knows each other, gets along as friends. Harvard has a big freshman class. It will also be a culture shock. Preuss is pretty much all minorities coming from different backgrounds who are pretty tolerant. At Harvard, it may be super-rich and snobby. That makes me nervous. I don’t know what I’m going to find. But I’m really excited.”

On May 25, members of the Class of 2007 at The Bishop’s School received their diplomas. The 130 graduates earned 667 acceptances to 181 colleges, and will matriculate at 67 different schools across the United States and Canada. A coeducational, college-preparatory independent day school consisting of grades seven through 12, The Bishop’s School, in central La Jolla and affiliated with the Episcopal Church, was founded in 1909. The 2006-2007 enrollment was 725 students who lived throughout San Diego County.

The Loyalty Cup, the highest and most cherished award given to a Bishop’s senior, was given to Kathleen Roehrkasse, who commuted 1 1/2 hours each way every day from Valley Center to attend Bishop’s for four years. She cherished the experience. “I love it,” she said. “I loved the atmosphere, how everyone’s so friendly. It’s just really a community. The teachers are awesome. They’re so dedicated.”

The Bishop’s senior is headed for Columbia in New York City, where she intends to play on the university’s basketball squad. “I like the idea of being in New York,” Roehrkasse said. “I’m ready for something really different.”

Looking ahead, Roehrkasse expects to balance her personal life with her career. She’s optimistic the members of her generation are smart, interested and motivated enough to change things for the better.

If it’s one area Americans are shy in, in Roehrkasse’s view, it’s compassion for differences in other people and cultures. “We don’t really understand a lot of other people, don’t know about other cultures,” she said. “We just know ourselves so well.”

La Jolla Country Day School is an independent, co-educational, non-sectarian, not-for-profit college preparatory school serving 1,038 students in nursery through grade 12 from throughout San Diego County. The school’s philosophy preaches good character combined with an academically rigorous environment within the framework of a traditional liberal arts education.

Top Country Day grad Sabrina Wilson is an intensely competitive equestrian who has traveled the regional/state and national circuits competing in horse shows. Bound for Stanford, where she will be on the school’s equestrian team next year, she will concentrate on the sciences. She’s shown horses since age 8 and last year she placed sixth nationally in horse showmanship.

Wilson liked the flexibility of Country Day, which allowed her to pursue equestrian as well as academic pursuits. She picked Stanford because, “There are so many programs to choose from,” and because she’s following in the footsteps of both her parents and an older sister.

Coming from a close-knit family, Wilson expects to mix family and career in the future and provide the same supportive, nurturing home environment she grew up in. She believes the biggest problem facing the world is a lack of potable water and sanitation in Third World countries. “If you don’t have that,” she said, “you can’t eliminate diseases. If you can’t get clean water and start sanitation, you can’t go up from there.”

Wilson believes technology will be key to solving the world’s problems. But she also believes the human element in the equation can’t be overlooked. “Combining technology as a resource, and the human element, that combination will solve all the world’s problems,” she said.

Wilson’s Country Day classmate, Stanford-bound Greg Hirshman, is a national high school All-American in tennis, one of 40 selected nationwide. Hirshman is a standout performer on and off the court. He sported a 4.6 grade-point average. He’s a whizz in math, having submitted a 376-page paper on codes which netted him top prize in the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering fair.

Hirshman likes the individuality of tennis. “There’s no coach, no nothing going to step in between you and the opponent,” he said. “You’re home alone on the court.”

Becoming a tennis pro would be great. But Hirshman understands the odds against him, noting only about 100 players worldwide can make a living off professional tennis. “But you never know,” he added.

At Stanford, Hirshman is going to take up math and economics. He excels at cryptography, the study of codes and how to break them. He said his parents realized he had a gifted mind early-on. “My mom used to take me in her shopping cart to the supermarket when I was 2 years old and I would add up the products,” he said. “Obviously, she could tell this kid was into math.”

Hirshman would like to leave his mark in the field of math. “I’d like to do some original research, something that adds to the math community,” he said, “something that at least had my name on it.”

A “lifer” at Country Day, Hirshman’s proud of the education he received there. “My education is the single most important thing in my life,” he said.

Hirshman’s optimistic about the world’s future - and his own. “I’d like to go into law then into politics,” he said.

The most important thing in life, to Hirshman, is to be happy. With the talent he has, and a little luck, Hirshman is confident he’ll find his place on the larger stage.

La Jolla High grads Catherine Lew, David Cary and Dasha Wise are all moving on to higher education. Lew is bound for Yale and Wise is headed to Columbia. Cary will pursue creative writing at UC Irvine.

All three grads gave La Jolla High good marks.

“I really enjoyed my experience at La Jolla High,” said Lew, “especially all the different classes in art history and Spanish literature. I’ll be studying history next year and minoring in language, Chinese. I think I’ll probably go into business.”

“The people here are known for being more intelligent, nicer,” said Cary. “It’s one of the best academic schools. It was a great school for preparing for the future. UC Irvine has one of the top creative writing programs in the nation. Ever since I was 9 years old that’s what I wanted to do: be a novelist.”

Wise, who emigrated to the United States as a child with her family from Russia, said her La Jolla High experience was mostly positive. “It’s been competitive,” she said, “but I didn’t get caught up in it. I’ve made good friends here.”

Wise chose Columbia University in New York because of its ambiance. “I like the atmosphere there,” she said. “I want to be in the big city.”

Wise thinks she’d like to be a judge. “I’m rationale and unbiased and I’d be able to make impartial decisions,” she said. “I like to debate.”

Lew thinks the biggest problem confronting the world is apathy. “It’s the general lack of compassion people have for their peers and for other situations occuring around the world,” she said. “I’ll probably end up studying international relations so I can try and help educate other people.”

Cary knows what’s important to him in life. “I’m a Christian,” he said, “and loving other people and caring, that is the most important thing. I’m not that materialistic being a writer. I’d say having good friends and a good family, focusing on relationships and loving other people: That’s what I’d like.”

Regarding the state of the world, Lew is cautiously hopeful about the future. “It’s really easy in this age to be very pessimistic about the future,” she pointed out. “It’s going to be up to my peers and this generation to work hard so that we can avoid the inevitable tragedies that will occur, reverse things like global warming. It’s hard to have everyone work together in the global community to help solve the environmental issue.”

Wise feels it’s important for the United States to communicate better with the rest of the world. “It’s important to really understand other cultures and other nations,” she said, “because there are reasons for some of their actions. Acting with brute force and reinforcing American hegemony and Western domination, that might be why they’re upset with us.”

Cary’s confident the world will work through its difficulties. “I’m optimistic,” he said. “Nature has its own balance systems. The world’s not going to end in 50 or 100 years.”