Meet Our Outstanding Graduates

  • From now through June 7, we will be presenting stories of some of our many exceptional graduates from around Los Angeles Unified. Read stories about members of the Class of 2019 who have shown grit and perseverance in pursuit of their dreams.

  • Outstanding graduate: Carlson Marquez, Eagle Rock High School

    Posted by ELLEN MATSUMOTO MORGAN on 5/20/2019 9:00:00 AM

    Keeping Alive a Family Tradition

    Eagle Rock Valedictorian Heads to Stanford


    Carlson Marquez When Carlson Marquez opened up his e-mail and discovered he was accepted to Stanford University, there was a sigh of relief.

    “My sister graduated from Stanford and plans to go into law. I felt like I would disappoint everyone if I wasn’t accepted there too.”

    A child of immigrants from the Philippines, Carlson wanted to make his parents proud.  His college-educated mother and father always taught him a good education was the key to securing a good future.

    Sadly, his Mom won’t be able to attend his high school graduation.

    “When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, it opened my eyes to the harsh realities of the real world,” Carlson said. “This difficult situation illuminated that there is more to life than excelling in school. It’s also important to value others and appreciate all of the little things.”

    He lost his mother to pancreatic cancer while in high school. He didn’t lose his ambition to attend Stanford, or to make the world a better place.

    Before he goes off to college, Carlson plans to go to the Philippines. He wants to set up a foundation in the poorest areas of the country to help provide children with basic needs such as school supplies, clean clothes and, if possible, free medical exams.

    “I hope to inspire the children to dream of bigger things and to give them a chance to live in a proper environment,” Carlson said. “I want to go to different provinces, listen to the personal struggles of children and use that information to inspire others to do random acts of kindness around my community.”

    It’s a fitting tribute to a mother who helped him dream big. Stanford is his dream come true.

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  • Outstanding graduate: Alexis Dinsmore, Taft Charter High School

    Posted by BARBARA JONES on 5/17/2019

    U.S. Marine 'hero' inspires career dreams for Taft graduate 

    Lexi Dinsmore

    Above, Alexis Dinsmore is joined by Taft Charter High Principal Daniel Steiner, right, and a U.S. Marine Corps recuiter during College Signing Day at the Woodland Hills campus.

    About a month from now, when her classmates at Taft Charter High School are traveling, working a summer job or preparing to head off to college, Alexis Dinsmore will be reporting to Marine bootcamp at Parris Island, S.C.

    Serving in the Marine Corps has been a longtime dream – one inspired by a former Marine whose strength, resilience and kindness helped her get through an especially difficult time in her childhood.

    “He is one of my heroes, and I want to be like him,” said the Taft senior, who goes by the nickname Lexi. “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

    Lexi has been preparing for years for the regimented life of a Marine. She has been a Los Angeles Police Department cadet for nearly a decade, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Last summer, she was selected to join the only all-female platoon at the Devil Pups bootcamp at Camp Pendleton, an elite 10-day program that combines grueling physical challenges, leadership and discipline.

    Lexie Dinsmore photos She is also on the Honor Roll at Taft, captain of the Toreadors Color Guard, and part of the school’s L’Atelier business/fashion program, which organizes an ambitious fashion show every year. She has worked as head show coordinator, security coordinator, technical director, photo director, and this year modeled an '80s-style grunge outfit designed by a classmate.

    “Lexi is a passionate, committed and dedicated student who has contributed a great deal to our school,” said Taft Principal Daniel Steiner, a Marines Corps veteran himself. “I am grateful that she will now take these great qualities with her as she serves our country.”

    Raised with her older brother by their single dad, Lexi is undaunted by the prospect of embarking on a career that is dominated by males and focused on strength, endurance and combat-readiness. Her long-ago Marine hero worked in Explosive Ordinance Disposal – the military bomb squad – and Lexi wants an assignment neutralizing chemical, biological and radioactive threats.

    “I’ve already been in a lot of situations that were dominated by males, but I’m a strong and dominant person and I’m not doing to be intimidated,” Lexi said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a strong feminist, but I’m a strong equalist. And in the end, it doesn’t matter what they do. It matters what you do.”


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  • Outstanding graduate: Karen Dutko, Grant High School

    Posted by BARBARA JONES on 5/16/2019

    No challenge too great for UCLA-bound grad


    Karen and Principal Damonte She has tackled 10 Advanced Placement classes, competed in two Academic Decathlons, served as class president. And when the Grant High senior wanted to participate in her school’s Chalk Art Festival – something Karen Dutko couldn’t do from her wheelchair – she attached a stick of chalk to a backscratcher and created her artwork that way.

    “People assume I can’t do things because of my wheelchair, but it’s just a tool for me to use, an adaptive thing that will let me go somewhere,” Karen said. “I have my brain and I have my personality, and I can do anything I want.”

    Karen will take the determination and resolve with her to UCLA, where she plans to study environmental science. Inspired by the staff members she met during Academic Decathlon review sessions at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, she plans to pursue a career in urban planning or energy policy – something that will allow her to impact the lives of others.                                          

    “Karen’s physical limitations do not define who she is,” Grant High Principal Vicky Damonte said. “She has been a role model to the students and staff at Grant, and we know – without a doubt – that that she will continue to push barriers, open doors for others and succeed in any endeavor she sets her mind to.”

    As her four years at Grant comes to a close, Karen reflects on her jam-backed high school experience. She reveled in the challenges of her Advanced Placement classes and called the two years of grueling study on the Academic Decathlon team “super-duper … one of the best experiences of my life.”

    She also joined Infinite Glow, which features dancers with and without disabilities, and was surprised to discover a love of salsa and ballroom dancing. To help the non-profit fund assemblies for her school, Karen gave a successful business pitch at UCLA that won a $2,000 grant for the dance company.

    “Everybody knows me at Grant, and not as ‘the girl in the wheelchair,” Karen said. “They know me because I’m involved in everything. I want to show that Grant spirit!”

     Collage of Karen Dutko

    Karen Dutko competed with Grant High School's award-winning Academic Decathlon team, participated in the Chalk Art Festival and is headed to UCLA in the fall. Above, she is pictured with Grant High Principal Vicky Damonte.




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