Irvine’s exceptional class of 2022 is the product of a California top 10 school district and a public university ranked in the top 10 in America.
How has this young city – just now 50 years old – achieved such educational success, placing it on par with cities long-synonymous with education, including Berkeley and Princeton?
In his bestselling book, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” Malcolm Gladwell argues that mastery is rarely easily explained. Talent and dedication are required. Yet, the book describes how peak performers – from Bill Gates to the Beatles – invariably achieved greatness due to outside factors, such as history, opportunity and community.
So it is with Irvine’s world-class educational system, where success can be traced back to a series of extraordinary events. The stars aligned for education in Irvine as they’ve done probably nowhere else in the world, for disparate reasons, including a satellite launch, a baby boom and a company’s ability to master-plan an entire city centered around education.
The space race prioritized education in America
In 1957, the USSR launched the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, sending shockwaves from the halls of Congress to the halls of schools across America. Our Cold War rival had beat us into space, prompting a frenzy of hand-wringing, blame-throwing and, finally, new laws that boosted spending on schools and prioritized the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
For a long time, “Sputnik” was synonymous with America’s determination to regain what was seen as lost educational ground. Within a year of the launch, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had signed the National Defense Education Act, intended to better align U.S. educational systems with its national security goals. In this climate, both UC Irvine and the Irvine Unified School District were created, quickly developing a reputation for STEM excellence.
UC selects Irvine out of 12 locations
At the same time, education was being prioritized in California as pressures mounted to expand the state’s educational system to accommodate an expected surge of baby boomers then reaching their teens. In 1958, University of California regents hired William Pereira, a celebrated architect who had helped design the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, to help identify a site for a brand-new campus. Pereira recommended the coastal hills of Irvine Company’s 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch out of a dozen other candidates for the new UC campus – and in doing so, established the educational cornerstone of the future city.
Master-planning a ‘city of intellect’
With education advancement as the backdrop nationally and locally, Pereira partnered with Irvine Company to master-plan what was envisioned as “a city of intellect” around the university. Irvine would grow up with education at its heart, designed as a collection of villages surrounding the UC campus, with villages developed around local schools. Time magazine, in a 1963 cover story, praised the Master Plan for its visionary blueprint of a new “center of learning.”
The power of community
As Gladwell notes, it’s not just history and opportunity that propel greatness, but communities of people lending support. Irvine has been fortunate to have plenty of boosters providing key support for UCI and IUSD. In just the past three years, UCI has received more than $1 billion in donations to its Brilliant Future campaign. Over the past two decades, IUSD has received more than $140 million in private donations, including Irvine Company’s $45 million commitment to support art, music and science education. Another major contributor is the Irvine Public School Foundation, ranked third in the nation for revenue and volunteer support.
Through years of hard work and growth within a city of intellect, Irvine’s class of 2022 is a group of outliers – uniquely qualified to tackle the Sputnik-like challenges of the future, as originally envisioned decades ago in the halls of Congress and on the open hillsides of The Irvine Ranch.
TOP OF THE CLASS: HIGH SCHOOLS
Stanford: biomedical engineering
“Get involved” is her mantra. Chun served as editor of the school’s online paper, volunteered for four years with the Ronald McDonald House, created a community carbon-sequestration garden and served as principal bassist for the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra. “I believe a well-lived life is one that leaves a positive mark on the lives of others,” she says.
UNIVERSITY H.S .
Harvard: math and computer science
McPhie holds academic awards in math, chemistry, computing and engineering, as well as two national Eagle Scout awards. He also serves as drum major in the school’s award-winning marching band and is a classically trained pianist who performed at Carnegie Hall in New York last December.
UC Berkeley: computer science
Jiang dreams of launching his own tech startup. He’s already created his own online community, his own cryptocurrency and a virtual reality game that Oculus released this year. He also volunteers helping special-needs children ride horses, an experience that he calls life-changing. “I believe if you chase your dreams with passion and determination, you will eventually end up exactly where you are meant to be,” he says.
University of Chicago: economics with a specialization in data science
Giving back is important to Shrivastava. He earned a 4.35 grade-point average and broke several school records in track and field, yet one of his most rewarding experiences was co-founding a tutoring program. “Teachers and coaches played significant roles in not only my academic and athletic development, but also in my ethical, social and personal development,” he says, adding that he’d like to become a teacher or coach – to do the same.
Harvard: social studies and educational studies
Jung helped design Portola High’s first student-created course: Honors Philosophy – a subject he’s passionate about because it empowers youth to “collaboratively pursue truth, not merely be right.” As the first East-Asian American president of Boys Nation – a national program for seniors that creates a mock federal government – he hopes to run for public office one day “to represent the community that has molded me into the person I am today.”
UC Berkeley: electrical engineering and computer science
Singh is known for his positive energy in the classroom and on the debate team, associated student body and tennis team, which he captained for two years. He also set up a nonprofit to buy Chromebooks for underprivileged kids and created an app that incentivizes recycling. “I want to be an entrepreneur, creating jobs and technology for the betterment of society,” he says.
University of Washington: biology, on pre-med track
Commencement speaker McDaniel leads by example. As captain of the junior varsity cheer team and the mock-trial team, she helped teammates succeed. After years of volunteering with charities like the Blind Children’s Learning Center and Ronald McDonald House, commencement speaker McDaniel aspires to be a pediatric surgeon. “It will give me the chance to make a positive impact on people’s lives,” says the avid reader who urges young students to overcome their fears of failure – like she did before joining the varsity track team, the JV cheer team and founding two clubs.
Chapman University: business
Commencement speaker Nguyen has accomplished much: senior class president, Irvine High Youth of the Year and Varsity Cheer co-captain, but she is especially proud of her work helping special-needs students and leading a new club, Vaquero Social, helping students feel heard, seen and supported. She also started her own podcast, “Exploratori,” which focuses on self-worth and self-reflection, and hopes to expand that into her own consulting firm to help others.
UC Berkeley: mechanical engineering
English was Wazzan’s third language when he arrived from Lebanon just before freshman year. Yet he’s received Northwood’s highest honor for academic achievement, service and leadership, and awards for tutoring and volunteering. “Learn to seek help,” he says. “No one expects you to know everything right off the bat, especially in Irvine, where you have access to phenomenal teachers and counselors who will stop at nothing to support you.”
UCLA: environmental science and international relations
Recognized as one of the nation’s top 50 high school debaters, Fu also creates his own aquariums, terrariums (soil and plants) and paludariums (aquatic and terrestrial elements). He helps run summer debate camps for young students and has built his own “biotope” that replicates the ecosystem of an Amazon River tributary. He aspires to be a lawyer dealing with international marine conservation cases “working with endangered plants and animals.”
UC Berkeley: environmental economics and policy
Cho is a naturalist who encourages younger girls to study science. She co-created free science and technology summer camps for youth. She’s part of an international research project that helps seals. And she helps run Girls in Ocean Science conventions. Why? “To ensure each girl understands that they have the power to make real change.”
Savannah College of Art and Design: sound design
Success follows Cohen – he was an award-winning co-anchor of the school’s news network, captain of the varsity volleyball team and drum major for the Mighty Marching Vaqueros. Yet he’s proudest of making new friends after those he met freshman year said he wasn’t good enough. “I realized it was OK to be me,” he says. “I started to understand what made me happy and how to truly be myself.”
UC Davis: computer science
Helping others motivates student body President Gupta – from co-founding a startup that has raised over $100,000 for nonprofits, to organizing volunteers that packaged food for 12,000 people in Cambodia, to putting in over 1,000 hours of community service to achieve his Eagle Scout award. “I know for certain that volunteering has become a core part of who I am,” he says.
George Washington University: international affairs
Arragon’s lifelong goal is to help others. As a delegate to California Girls State and a congressional intern, she has studied ways to lift people’s lives through political discourse and legislation. “I am passionate about social justice,” she says. “By choosing to study international affairs, I believe I will gain the resources and learn from current leaders of society what it takes to change the world.”
UC Irvine: earth systems science
Garcia’s advice: never quit. Early on, he struggled at calculus and basketball, but persevered to excel at both, becoming a leader known for encouraging those around him. “I credit my parents and brother for helping me realize that leaders lead with empathy,” he says. He hopes to become a physician, working with Doctors Without Borders “to help out wherever I am needed.”
New York University: musical theater
Labowe wants to change people’s lives through acting and singing. After starring in productions from “Little Women” to “Cabaret,” she says that even disappointments, like not getting a role she wanted, taught her lessons and made her a stronger person. She hopes to perform on Broadway someday, noting: “I like to reflect on how movies, TV shows, musicals and plays make me feel. And I hope to be a part of something that allows others do the same.”
UC Berkeley: environmental science
Led the Woodbridge varsity volleyball team as captain and also served as managing editor for The Helyx initiative, a grassroots organization dedicated to science and research education for all. As president of a beach-cleanup club, she recruited others and hosted events. And as part of the National Charity League, she volunteered with 23 charities, including UCI Child Life, helping hospitalized children. “Get involved with your community,” she says. “You’ll figure yourself out.”
University of Alabama: mechanical engineering
Try new things and get out of your comfort zone is Slomann’s advice to young students, many of whom he has mentored. In addition to playing varsity lacrosse and bass in the school orchestra, he is an award-winning member of the school’s robotics team and has even developed curriculum for summer robotics classes. “I am passionate about solving problems and developing innovative solutions,” he says.
TOP OF THE CLASS: UC IRVINE
First-generation college student Thomas took psychology because of stigmatization of mental health in the Black community and lack of Black women in the field. She plans to earn her Ph.D. in psychology and open a private practice. “I also see myself just being happy,” she says. “I think that’s an important part of life: happiness.”
M.D., School of Medicine
Graduating first in her class at UCI’s School of Medicine, Wilson now begins her residency at UC San Francisco. She’s already worked in an operating room, experiencing the privilege of helping people at their most vulnerable moments. “My goal,” she says, “is to work in academic medicine to inspire the next generation of medical students and residents.”
B.S., computer science
Just 18, Muthukumar already has conducted research for NASA, Amazon and the Department of Energy. Having studied artificial intelligence at UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences, the young graduate hopes to “impact the field of AI by increasing interconnectivity and compassion among people.”
B.S., biological sciences
Halseth dreams of becoming a genetic counselor, deciphering DNA to assess a person’s risk of
inherited diseases and making recommendations. “It combines my love for helping people with my love for science and gives me the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says.
Jennifer Thulien Nguyen
B.S., pharmaceutical sciences; B.A., sociology
Nguyen researched Alzheimer’s disease antibodies in the lab while pursuing her pharmaceutical sciences degree and studied human relationships while pursuing her sociology degree. After attaining her Pharm.D, she hopes to combine both fields as a pharmacist, noting, “It’s important to view pharmacy and health care holistically.”
B.S., public health
Compassionate care is what Fardi wants to be known for. After watching his brother deal with
Guillain-Barré syndrome as a child, Fardi spent the last four years “learning not only the medical field, but ways I can most effectively and sincerely interact with those around me.” He served as an EMT, a peer tutor, a research assistant, a volunteer crisis counselor – and graduated No. 1 in the School of Public Health.
TOP OF THE CLASS: IRVINE VALLEY COLLEGE
Johns Hopkins University: political science
Commencement speaker DeAngelo Hunter lobbied Congress for veterans and free community college while at IVC. The Army veteran also served as president of the Associated Students of IVC and was a founding member of the Black Student Union. He hopes to become a lawyer and eventually a judge. “I don’t want an education for the degree,” he says. “I want it so I can be prepared to help people.”
Alsayad was a STEM tutor, mentor and volunteer emergency medical technician while at IVC. She’ll continue her study of neuroscience at UCLA in pursuit of becoming a physician specializing in urgent care. Growing up in Syria, she witnessed the horrors of civil war, noting, “after that, I dedicated my educational journey to that one goal of helping others.”
Columbia University: Japanese
After winning a national championship with the Philippine National Figure Skating Team, Shibata is pursuing her dream to start her own company. At IVC, she worked as a TED Talk translator, advocated for Amnesty International and did research for a Netherlands psycholinguistics institute. “IVC has given me a second chance to apply to colleges that I wouldn’t have imagined applying to straight out of high school,” she says.
UC Berkeley: physics and astrophysics
While majoring in physics at IVC, Lake participated in two NASA programs and an internship at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), during which he helped develop simulation software that allows researchers to analyze the light reflected off comets. He also volunteered at Lakeview Senior Center, helping the elderly resolve issues with their electronic devices. After Berkeley, Lake hopes to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics at Caltech, then work for JPL “to uncover some of the greatest mysteries our universe has to offer.”