When you talk to the top students in Golden Valley’s class of 2017, there is an obvious irony: They are from different ethnicities, yet it’s their diversity that unites them.
Valedictorian David Chung and salutatorians Dachelle Alo and Justine Reblando had some common experiences as students in the SCV. They all attended Golden Oak Community School, La Mesa Junior High School and, finally, Golden Valley. And like most American high school students at the top of the class, they all took a large number of advanced placement and honors classes.
Their common ground didn’t end with graduation, however. All three are headed to schools in the University of California system.
Entering UCLA as a regent scholar — which means he is in the top 1.5 percent of incoming students — David Chung is majoring in molecular cellular developmental biology. If it sounds like his goal is medicine, you may be underestimating him. He hopes to go to medical school, but do research as well with an M.D./Ph.D.
“I’ve been interested in biology since I was 6. I just like it,” David said. “My AP biology teacher, Gary Williamson, showed me that there’s a lot more to biology than what I knew.”
But when it came to personal inspiration, it was La Mesa Junior High School band teacher Jeffrey Stephan who influenced David.
“He was always passionate about his teaching and everything he did with the students. He taught life lessons,” David explained. “He showed me encouragement to find what was interesting, and (taught that) when you’re doing something you have to work hard at it.”
David played clarinet through high school, going from section leader to drum major of Golden Valley’s marching band by his senior year.
The 18-year-old still refers to a frequent quote by Stephan, which is often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “I’m a great believer in luck and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” David’s experience in band was so positive, in fact, he is considering an audition for UCLA’s wind ensemble or symphonic band.
But music wasn’t David’s only activity in high school. He was the academic decathlon president and is a three-year volunteer at Henry Mayo Hospital. He also served as the district vice-president for the city’s student board of the American Red Cross.
This summer, David will make his first trip to his parents’ home country of South Korea. He was born in Los Angeles and lived in Glendale, moving to Santa Clarita in time to begin first grade at Fair Oaks Community School. He has a strong appreciation for the wide range of ethnicities he was exposed to through his classmates.
“I feel like, in general, Golden Valley seems to be a little more diverse and because of that, we tend to be more friendly with each other,” David explained. “It makes it so that all the students are kinder. The overall atmosphere of the school seems more relaxed.”
Another senior standout headed for UCLA, Justine Reblando plans to major in chemical engineering. When asked about teachers who made an impact, Justine has a long list.
“Mr. Galarza, Mr. Montanio, Mr. Suarez, Mr. Kirkland, Dee, Mrs. Bricker, Mrs. Werts, Mrs. Coleman, Mr. Printz, Mr. Moskal, Mr. Williamson, and Mr. Stimac,” she said in an email, adding that she is grateful for her other Hart District teachers as well.
When asked how it feels to be one of Golden Valley’s two salutatorians, Justine described it as a “great honor.”
“Something that truly enabled me to become a top student was the support from my friends and family, as well as hard work,” she explained. “For one, I would not have been competitive and passionate about pursuing higher education had it not been for my friends who continuously challenged the way that I think, and pushed me to be my very best, since I always thought of them as my rivals. They never let me fall below my true potential and always pushed me harder to raise the bar and triumph over any challenges.”
And in case her mature outlook made you forget she’s still a teen, Justine added, “Shout out to Haut Cheat Oh Partee and Pbs – you guys know who you are.”
Justine points to an ironic source of her success — she was shaped for the better by situational and personal detractors.
“Dedication and pursuing my own interests amidst the naysayers and the disbelievers formed me into a stronger student and a stronger person,” she said. “I was never the smartest person in school, but one thing that really made me stand out was my hard work. Even though I struggled in certain areas at school, I chose to be persistent and to work harder in subjects that I was weak in.”
This determination formed a kind of work ethic for Justine. “If you choose to fail, failure will be inevitable,” she said. “But, if you look failure in the eye and put in the effort to succeed, it will all be worth it. It is about being honest with yourself and following the only path that you can take, regardless of what everyone around you is doing.”
Justine attended three other elementary schools before enrolling at Golden Oak Community School after her family moved to the Canyon Country-Newhall area. And it is to her extended family she expresses her thanks, including her parents, sister, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
“The never-ending support meant a lot to me,” Justine said, directing comments to her family members. “It was a long and difficult road to get here, but thank you for sticking with me throughout this whole time and giving me the freedom to do so.”
When she wasn’t working on scholastic performance, Justine volunteered with the City of Santa Clarita and served with the Newhall Optimist Club to help them with their local activities. She continues to reach out, hoping her advice will build a positive future not just for herself, but also for those around her.
She said: “Stay optimistic, find your passion, and happiness will eventually follow.”
A lot is happening in the life of salutatorian Dachelle Alo. For one thing, when the 17-year-old leaves for University of California, Irvine in September, the rest of her family is moving too. They are staying in Santa Clarita, moving to a house nearby, while she studies computer science.
Her favorite subject in school was AP Calculus and she played tennis at Golden Valley for two years. Her coach, Josh Stimac, would later be Dachelle’s economics and AP government teacher, making a lasting impact on her as a mentor.
“He treated students with respect and he emphasized the importance of the family and of happiness,” Dachelle said.
At Golden Valley she became involved in Key Club, Junior Optimist International and was a member of the California Scholarship Federation. Her junior year, Dachelle and her friends started a LINK Club, which stands for Liberty in North Korea.
“We raised awareness for people in crisis over there,” she said. “We had fundraisers to help resettle refugees in South Korea.”
Dachelle is of Philippine descent, and was born in Alberta, Canada. Her family moved to California when she was one year old.
In her free time, Dachelle enjoys playing the piano and guitar, but it’s her favorite aspects of technology that drive her plans for the future.
“I’ve always been a visual person, so I’ve always liked the design of things like Instagram, things I use on a daily basis,” she said. “It inspired me to major in computer science.”
Dachelle has specific goals following her education, mainly enhancing user-friendliness in the technological world.
“I want to be a designer or engineer at Google, improving the interaction between humans and technology,” she said. “Improving the little aspects of technology to make the experience enjoyable.”
Like her classmates, Dachelle feels the diversity at Golden Valley benefits everyone.
“I’ve been exposed to a lot of different cultures and languages,” she said. “We’re all open and accepting of each other and it’s really cool.”