Class of 2023 Juanita Haugen -
High School Community of Character Awards
Recipients from the Class of 2023 are:
From Amador Valley High School: Shree Billa and Tony Wang
From Foothill High School: Issac Gavino and Arian Moghni
From Village High School:
Shree Billa is a senior at Amador Valley High School, and is a foster child, living with a family in Mountain View. Her story is one of survival from abuse in her family, despite facing significant circumstances and barriers that most young people never have to overcome, she has persevered and has learned valuable lessons that shaped her into the person she is today. At a young age, she was taught to lie and that what was happening at home was normal. She coped through self-injury and ended up in the hospital, after which she was required to attend intensive therapy. There she learned about abuse and was given tools to deal with the emotional burden, finally becoming able to speak out and to her placement in foster care.
Having to navigate the child welfare and criminal justice systems brought additional tumult to her life. She has been through endless paperwork, court appearances, therapy sessions and meetings with caseworkers, leaving her physically and emotionally drained. In the last three plus years, she has lived in four different homes and attended three different high schools, currently commuting from Mountain View by Bart to attend AVHS her senior year.
Shree volunteered with Tri-Valley Haven in Livermore, a shelter for abused women and children. This has been a way for her to make a difference in the community and show support for others who have gone through the same things. She was honored to receive the Banyan Tree Award, recognizing her “ability to endure and survive the unimaginable, to turn challenges and obstacles into strength and passion, and to show empathy to others”.
Yet, through all her struggles, she refuses to let it consume her future, it has just deeply influenced her passion for helping others, she wants to be a school guidance counselor and be an advocate for young people. She states that 400,000 American kids are in foster care today, they are three times as likely to drop out of high school, one of four experience homelessness, she is determined to beat those odds.
Tony Wang is a senior at Amador Valley High School, son of Xueyan Dai and Xingfu Wang of Pleasanton.
Tony’s motivation is rooted in family history; both of his grandmothers were pulled out of school to train to become proper housewives, living their lives uneducated and entirely dependent on their families. Driven by the injustice and helplessness experienced by his grandmothers, Tony works to empower others through education, especially in STEM. Tony’s efforts have been recognized at the 77th Annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair, and multiple other conferences.
Tony’s leadership and innovative spirit led him to become the Founder and President of the Alameda County Science and Engineering Fair Student Leadership Board (ACSEF SLB), representing students across over 20 schools. The former director of the fair described Tony as the most capable student she has ever met in her 38 years of teaching, and certainly the most compassionate, hardworking and capable. His unparalleled involvement in science and technology extends nationally and even internationally, earning countless accolades and recognitions, and he was recently named a Coca-Cola Scholar.
Tony is the Founder and President of the National Honor Society (NHS) on campus, and NHS was very instrumental in organizing the annual Donversity Week, working closely with the Leadership Class. The important character trait of Respect was highlighted during this event, including respect for the ideas of others, their race, and their sexuality, as well as respect for the administration and diversity of all kinds; in the end, it was a highly successful event.
His volunteer activities are unbelievable: he serves as the President of Rhapsody for Youth, Editor-In-Chief of The Helyx Initiative, Committee Member of the East Bay Red Cross, National Organizer of Science and Us, President of the Speech and Debate Club, President of the Cybersecurity/CS Club, President of the Biology Club, President of the Physics Club, President of the Pink Dot Club (and this is just a partial list; one of his references said “he never sleeps; he does it all, and he doesn’t do anything halfway). Between all this, Tony found time to conduct extensive AI research at Stanford Medical School and compete internationally on Kungfu Team USA, recently taking home two gold medals at the Golden State International Wushu Championships.
In the end, this scholarship is a “Character” award, and Tony is a true embodiment of the character traits that define a great leader. His relentless dedication, outstanding personal morals, and unwavering commitment to expanding educational access have earned him this scholarship, and his accomplishments are a true testament to his remarkable character and leadership.
Isaac Gavino is a senior at Foothill High School, son of Tobby and Brooke Gavino of Pleasanton.
As a young boy Isaac had identity problems being half Filipino with little physically present features, and although his father shared stories of his upbringing and immigration, he had little understanding of his background and culture. Joining Foothill’s Pilipinx Youth Organization caused a shift and helped him identify and become more comfortable with his identity to where he now is the President of the club, helping others with their own respect and self-confidence.
His twin sister was diagnosed with down syndrome and he has learned to be supportive, empathetic and compassionate, while dealing with judgment and bullies. Seeing the way his sister deals with these tough experiences has encouraged him to be stronger in his beliefs and values.
Regarding compassion, Isaac writes that: “it’s not easy to be compassionate toward what you
don’t understand. But in helping others build a mentality of at least being interested in
understanding and interested in compassion I hope to have assisted in making the lives of my
sister and my peers more fulfilling…., I remind myself to take the time to listen and understand
the people I’m assisting or working with. It makes the world more kind”.
In addition to the Pilipinx Youth Organization, he is Vice President of the Student Filmmakers
Association, has been on the Principal's Student Advisory Board, captain of the Track and Field
Team at FHS and is the vice president of communications with the Young Men’s Service League, where mothers and sons participate in philanthropic activities for many non-
profits in the area. He has also been working as a recreation lead for the City of Pleasanton.
Arian Moghni is a senior at Foothill High School son of Hossein Moghni and Naeimeh Ashoorian of Pleasanton.
Arian moved to California from Iran when he was 13 years old. As an Iranian in the U.S., he has faced many challenges, from learning a new language to being discriminated against due to his nationality or facing the most severe economic sanctions.
Looking for a way to distract himself from these seemingly solutionless problems,
Arian occupied himself with astronomy, reading countless astronomy-related articles, taking a plethora of online courses, and eventually posting about the universe every day on his LinkedIn and NASA_Farsi_Ir account on Instagram. He also created the Cosmos club at his school and became its vice president, not only teaching this subject to high school students but also going to Hart middle school with his club and inspiring the younger students as well.
Arian’s other activities include being a Pleasanton Police Explorer, tutoring students voluntarily through Pleasanton PTA, the Alameda County Fairgrounds volunteer, a Falcon Mentor, and a soccer referee. He hopes to study astrophysics and physics, going into research with the goal of making new discoveries about black holes, neutrinos, or other topics of interest. Eventually, he wants to return to Foothill High School and teach physics to inspire the next generation of astronomers and physicists.