Meet the extraordinary class of 2023

Across the city, the class of ‘23 will graduate this month, on its way to changing the world.

Click to view the special edition on the class of 2023

Across the city, the class of ’23 will graduate this month, on its way to changing the world. These graduates are the realization of the Irvine Master Plan’s vision to create a “City of Intellect” designed around a world-class university with neighborhood schools at the heart of villages.

Inside, you’ll learn about a Harvard-bound senior who is already seeking cures for Alzheimer’s disease, a Stanford-bound senior who built an app to help homeowners conserve natural resources, and a UCI-bound student pledging to help fill the national need for more therapists treating young adults.

These accomplished and motivated students have been nurtured by extraordinary teachers and one of the nation’s best-educated groups of parents. They’re the products of a California top 10 school district, a U.S. top 10 public university and a community college with the Golden State’s highest rate of transfers to four-year schools.

“Don’t be afraid to give everything you have into something,” says University High School graduate Aniyah Shen. Read on to learn more about these exceptional young people who have been fearlessly focused on their futures.

Top of the class: High schools

Aniyah Shen

University H.S.

Stanford University: Human Biology and Creative Writing


Shen believes in a humanistic approach to science, with dreams of becoming a poet-physician. She’s won over 100 medals in the Science Olympiad and another 13 at Science Fair events. She also built an app to help homeowners conserve natural resources. Yet even with a 4.66 GPA, she is proudest of her human connections, staying in touch with teachers, mentors, classmates and extended family. As a freshman, she founded the Science Olympiad Student Coaching Committee, personally providing over 100 lessons and mentoring 37 student-coaches – helping to launch five middle school teams.

Manasvini Varatharaj

Irvine H.S.

UC Irvine: Biological Sciences

Varatharaj is focused on helping the next generation. She helped launch a nonprofit to encourage kids to read and write and hosted a book drive that donated over 500 children’s books to a rural library in Sri Lanka. “Be OK with hearing ‘no,’ ” she tells younger students. “Even if you are rejected for an opportunity, you may be redirected toward something more fitting or be paired with a mentor.” Following an internship at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, she aspires to become a physician – helping young patients.

Grace Zhou

University H.S.

Harvard University: Chemistry & Physics, and Classics


A classically trained violinist, Zhou has performed with the L.A. Philharmonic and co-directs the regional Back to Bach Project, which brings classical music to elementary students. “I think exposure to music is an essential part of young people’s development,” says Zhou, who holds a 4.54 GPA and also performs at local retirement homes and hospitals.

Andre Lombardi

Beckman H.S.

Rice University: Health Sciences and Organ Performance

Lombardi hopes to become a health care administrator at a major hospital while “maybe, just maybe” finding time to travel to war-struck countries to perform organ concerts. An accomplished musician, he’s already sung at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and been selected as an organ scholar at Christ (formerly Crystal) Cathedral, performing on one of the world’s largest pipe organs. He also founded a nonprofit group that brings music and STEAM education to homeless youth. “Regardless of where I end up, my goal is to constantly refine, adapt and root my actions to better serve the community by actively listening to myself and others,” he says.

Emma Halle

Northwood H.S.

University of the Pacific: Pre‑Dentistry


Sportsmanship and stick‑to‑it-iveness define Halle. Early in her basketball career, she lost confidence but persisted to eventually become team captain – earning both a scholar-athlete award and this year’s Sportsmanship Award. She also pushed herself to take summer courses before her sophomore year, which prepared her for calculus and led to a 4.4 GPA. “In the field of athletics, I love to support and watch female athletes pave the way for future female athletes and make history.”

Owen Texter

Beckman H.S.

New Jersey Institute of Technology: Biomedical Engineering


Texter aspires to pursue medical advancements through entrepreneurship, using his skills in physics, math and engineering to help people. “I am passionate about the way science is able to improve the lives of millions,” says the varsity lacrosse player, who holds a 4.57 GPA. Last summer, he interned at Life Science Outsourcing, gaining valuable real-world experience as a data and production analyst. He hopes his career, as well as his volunteering at Mary’s Kitchen and the Orange County Rescue Mission, will leave a “lasting impact on the world.”

Anika Nandakumar

Beckman H.S.

Harvard University: Linguistics and Literature


Nandakumar serves as principal bassist in Beckman’s chamber orchestra, is one of the county’s top high school dancers, volunteers with children and is an aspiring lawyer. “My lifelong goal has always been to be in the room where change happens,” she says, “so law is the pathway I want to pursue.” A lover of literature and languages, she already has published a paper on linguistics. “Find what you genuinely love and run with it,” she says.

Abigail Chu

Northwood H.S.

UC Davis: Cell Biology

A scholar, athlete and volunteer, Chu was named MVP of the girls basketball team her junior year and “Coach’s Player” her senior year. She volunteers at the city’s annual Global Village Festival and at Lakeview Senior Center, where she helps seniors with tech problems on their phones, tablets and computers. Her dream is to become a veterinarian because she believes that “healing animals to ensure they can comfort their owners is the best way I can help people.”

Cooper Novosel

Woodbridge H.S.

Georgetown University: Nursing

Volunteering with the Red Cross and at nursing homes steered Novosel toward a career in nursing. “These were amazing experiences that showed me I wanted to have a direct impact in helping people,” he says. His success in school, sports (varsity tennis team) and the community earned him multiple local and state scholarships, which will prepare him to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. “Try new things and put yourself out there,” he advises younger students. “You’ll figure it out.”

Ana Rodriguez

Woodbridge H.S.

Baldwin Wallace University: Music Theater


After moving to Irvine from the Dominican Republic in 2020, Rodriguez made new friends through theater. “I love being able to share stories with audiences,” she says. “The connection it creates is magical.” Starring as Ariel in the school’s production of “The Little Mermaid” reinforced her desire to become a professional actress. Rodriguez, who volunteers at the Orange County Rescue Mission, also is passionate about being kind to others without expectation of something in return. “We never know what someone is going through, so being kind really has an impact.”

Neil Pal

Irvine H.S.

UC Berkeley: Engineering


Community is important to this aspiring tech entrepreneur. As a youth coordinator for the Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee, he’s organized several donations to support Marine families. The Eagle Scout also has initiated book drives, community cleanups and helped save two lives – one on a plane and one on a camping trip – using his Scout emergency medical training. “I am committed to using my skills and expertise to make a difference and create a better world for all,” says this recipient of several school, city, state and international awards.

Kara Lao

Woodbridge H.S.

UC Santa Barbara: Political Science


You can add athletics, art and altruism to Lao’s 4.4 GPA. As co-captain of the girls basketball team, she led them to a Pacific Coast League title last year. She also founded the school’s Makerspace Club, which uses 3D printers, laser-engraving tools and CNC milling machines to create everything from personalized cards to electric guitars and fiber-optic dresses. And she organizes events for students with disabilities in preparation for the Special Olympics. She plans to attend law school, she says, “to become a lawyer to defend women’s rights.”

Vritti Chopra

San Joaquin H.S.

Duke University: Computer Science and Public Policy

An avid reader and writer, Chopra has amassed over 30,000 followers on TikTok, where she talks about books. She also founded Musicmakery, a nonprofit that provides free, virtual musical education to students in grades K-6, and mentors students in voice and music theory. She serves as ASB president of San Joaquin High, an IUSD Virtual Academy, and this year was selected to go to Sacramento to speak with state senators, lobbyists and California Department of Education officials. “My goal is to become a novelist,” she says. “I write short stories, compete in writing competitions, and I am currently writing a full-length novel.”

Camden Peterson

Irvine H.S.

UC Merced: Civil Engineering


A member of the water polo team all four years, Peterson served as captain the last two years, mentoring younger players and leading the team to the state finals while earning the league’s MVP title. During the summer, he’s a popular volunteer coach of the Irvine Swim League’s College Park Splash. “Proudest thing I’ve done in my life is honestly just making my parents proud,” he says. “Doing things that they’d want to see me do and just being a kid they’d like to have.”

Arman Nemati

Woodbridge H.S.

Princeton University: Public and International Affairs

Nemati wants to become a lawyer specializing in international law and human rights. Immigrating to America from Iran came with many benefits, but at first he struggled with his identity, he says. “Over time, I realized how beautiful it is and that I can take pride in where I come from.” He co-founded a Persian cultural club and took an interest in international politics and relations. His advice to freshmen? “Do things you’re passionate about and get outside your comfort zone,” says Nemati, who holds a 4.65 GPA. “That will help you grow as a person.”

Alex Richmond

Portola H.S.

UCLA: Biochemistry


Richmond broke six track-and-field records at Portola, earning the Pacific Coast League’s track MVP title – all while maintaining her high standards in the classroom. “My favorite subjects are all STEM classes – I love chemistry and science,” says the scholar-athlete. Along the way, Richmond also found time to package over 1,000 meals for the needy and, as a former gymnast, teach kids tumbling. Now she’s focused on her lifelong dream of becoming an orthodontist to “help children build confidence behind their smiles.”

Caitlyn Liao

University H.S.

UC Berkeley: Political Economy


Liao helped Uni win the 2020 National High School Ethics Bowl, in which 500 teams competed in rounds by analyzing cases about complex ethical dilemmas. “We won as public-school underdogs in a competition largely dominated by East Coast private schools,” she says. In 2021, they placed second. Liao also leads two musical groups at school, including an a cappella vocal group, and plans to become a policymaker who can “better the lives of every citizen.”

David Kim

Portola H.S.

Harvard University: Neuroscience


Kim leads three nonprofits, including the Student Research Society, which he founded to connect students with local research professors. “I want to inspire the next generation of scientists and innovators,” says Kim, who graduates with a 4.57 GPA. He’s already begun researching brain cancer and Alzheimer’s disease to “one day, hopefully, identify cures for these seemingly incurable diseases.”

Maya Krajicek

Beckman H.S.

University of Utah: Business Administration

Dance has been Krajicek’s passion since she was 3. “It allows me to portray my emotions through simple movement and creates a sense of happiness in my mind,” she says. It also has given her a wealth of friends, mentors and opportunities. She flourished on the school’s Connect Team, helping new students adapt by being a friend they could reach out to. And she’s long been a volunteer at soup kitchens, hospitals and children’s dance studios, saying, “I like to put a smile on others’ faces.”

Annabel Tiong

Northwood H.S.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Biological Engineering

Tiong dreams of becoming a virologist who someday eradicates an infectious disease. She already has conducted research projects on hepatitis B virus, hepatitis delta, Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain injury. She leads Northwood’s Science Olympiad, Biology Olympiad and Odyssey of the Mind clubs and placed fourth in the nation at the USA Brain Bee, which tests students’ knowledge of neuroscience. “I am passionate about research,” she says. “I’ve met so many amazing people and grown so much because of how its pushed me academically.”

Top of the class: UC Irvine

Alexis Nguyen

B.A., Art History


Nguyen began taking Irvine Valley College classes at age 14 and UCI classes at age 16. Now 19, she plans to attend medical school to become a doctor. “I am excited to use my art history background to holistically care for patients,” she says. At UCI, Nguyen served as chief of staff of the student government and president of the Art History Undergraduate Association. She also observed live neurosurgeries and interned with the global organization Mentoring in Medicine. “Studying art helps physicians improve observational skills, think broadly through ambiguous situations and interpret patients’ emotional expressions more precisely,” she says.

Jessica Cai

B.A., Education Sciences and English

Harvard Graduate School is next for Cai, who transferred to UCI from Irvine Valley College. Her reliance on online learning throughout 15 years of competitive figure skating and dance sparked an interest in education technology. At UCI, she co-authored four national research projects on classroom innovation, helped design a classroom analytics tool and presented findings about the use of AI to improve student-faculty relationships – all while creating an online math course now used in four Orange County schools. A first‑generation Chinese American, she hopes to become a professor and education researcher. “I am passionate about making quality education more accessible and equitable through technology,” she says.

Elizabeth Chiu

B.S., Mechanical Engineering


Medtronic Neurovascular has hired Chiu as a research and development engineer after she interned there the past two summers. “I’m excited to work in the medical device industry because it improves the lives of so many people,” she says. At UCI, Chiu served as president of the Society of Women Engineers, named the Most Outstanding Student Organization among UCI’s 600 student organizations, while she earned the title President of the Year. She also served as project manager of UCI’s groundbreaking HyperXite team, which built a high-speed transportation pod (it rides on a cushion of air) for the SpaceX Hyperloop competition.

Manav Manivannan

B.A., Business Administration

Manivannan heads to Silicon Valley to work for Intel, where he will help develop brand strategy and product marketing. He’s already interned at Intel as well as several tech startups, including the Esports-and-entertainment conglomerate FaZe Clan. “Someday, I’d like to establish a marketing firm specializing in creating positive messaging in the gaming industry through innovative partnerships,” he says. As executive vice president of the Merage Undergraduate Student Association, Manivannan planned and hosted many events, including the 2022 UCI Business Conference, which connected over 250 students with executives from top companies.

Veronica Allen

B.F.A., Dance Performance

After graduation, Allen will enter the Gibney Company’s exclusive, yearlong professional dance-training program in Manhattan, collaborating with professional choreographers, dancers and directors. At UCI, Allen co-chaired the Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ student organization, helping to plan events, foster student interaction and aid faculty during incoming-freshmen auditions. “I am passionate about sharing my love for dance,” she says. “It has taught me how to be curious, how to find joy and, among many other things, how to be empathetic.”

Chad Gornay

B.S., Nursing Sciences


Gornay hopes to join a new UCI graduate-residency program working in a hospital cardiovascular or intensive care unit. “I want to provide compassionate care – something I once received and want to pay forward at a leading medical facility,” he says. A rising water polo star as a freshman, Gornay dropped his lifelong athletic career to pursue the heavy demands of the medical profession. “It was a goal I had dreamt of for a long time and could not pass up,” he says. He has completed several rotations in a variety of hospital units and looks forward to fulfilling his dream.

Top of the class: Irvine Valley College

Saina Salamati

UC Irvine: Psychological Science


Salamati plans to become a therapist helping young adults, but also wants to teach at a community college (IVC if it works out) and write fiction. At IVC, she became president of the Psi Beta National Honor Society and was named Psychology Student of the Year. She visits retirement homes, volunteers at animal shelters and tutors young students. “IVC’s greatest strength is the community it fosters,” she says. “I found so many amazing people that made me want to be better and become the best version of myself, and I will always be thankful for that.”

Patrick Lee

UC Berkeley: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science


Lee plans to become a software engineer specializing in machine learning and AI after attending Berkeley – the nation’s top-ranked public university for computer science, according to U.S. News & World Report. Lee credits his success to the opportunities that IVC offered him: He joined the honors program, successfully ran for student government, joined a computer-science club, an applied-science club – even a self-improvement club. “IVC pushed me to take risks,” he says. “I would not have gotten into UC Berkeley without this opportunity to explore the things I’m really passionate about. I’m grateful for that.”

Connor Rivas

UC Berkeley: Business Administration


Rivas hopes to become a managing director of a boutique investment bank. “I’ve spoken to a number of managing directors to help me break through one of the most competitive industries in the world,” he says. He’s relying on the same determination that made him an elite soccer player before shifting gears to business. At IVC, he coordinated research conferences, symposiums and other events for the Honors Program, while off-campus he volunteered at the Oasis Senior Center and coached several youth soccer clubs.

Keely McCarthy

UCLA: Psychology


After presenting at an IVC symposium, McCarthy decided to pursue psychological research at UCLA. “I aspire to be a psychologist conducting research related to neurological diseases, addiction and how our brain responds to medicines,” she says. She joined IVC’s Honors Program and the Honors Program Student Council, volunteering much time as a peer mentor for freshmen in the Honors Program. “I like to help others learn,” she says. Her lifelong goal is to explore other countries to understand how other cultures connect and interact.