High-achieving Eastside students honored with $10,000 scholarships


Michelle Park, who organized a book-donation drive for a new library in Africa, is going to Stanford. Christian Mendez, whose parents worked as custodians, will be attending Yale.  Eli Gramajo, who worked with law enforcement to reduce the sale of tobacco to minors, has been accepted by Princeton. These three recent high-school graduates who are from the Eastside or attended Eastside schools have each been awarded $10,000 scholarships as part of the Milken Scholars program.

The three Milken Scholars were chosen based on academic performance, community service, leadership and their ability to persevere in the face of adversity, according to the foundation. In addition to $10,000 scholarships, each of the students  will be supported by a mentorship program throughout their college careers.   The program provided  background on the three Eastside students:

Eli Gramajo

High School: Downtown Magnet High School
College: Princeton University

Gramajo_EliEli Gramajo was nervous as he stood in line to buy a pack of Camel Light cigarettes at a local store in his East Los Angeles neighborhood. It was his first experience as a youth decoy for STAKE (Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement) and he was working with law enforcement to reduce the sale of tobacco to minors. “Although I knew I could not save my entire community on my own, I wanted to be proactive.”

At Downtown Magnet High School in LA, he founded the Chess Club, participated in the YMCA Youth and Government Club, and ran two marathons as part of Students Run Los Angeles. Since sophomore year, Eli has spent six hours every Saturday at Minds Matter Los Angeles, a program dedicated to inspiring low-income students to reach their full potential. He served as mentor to underclassmen. He is the lead guitarist for his church music group, and is the substitute bass and guitar player. He participated in Academic Decathlon and his awards include the National Honor Society, AP Scholar with Distinction, National Hispanic Scholar, Coca Cola Semifinalist and the California Scholarship Federation. At Princeton University, he will study economics and philosophy. Eli’s parents were born in Guatemala and three older siblings are in college on scholarships.

“Mr. Gramajo is, without a question, an invaluable student whose potential for success in higher education is evident in all his work,” said a former teacher. “His work extends beyond what is required of him. He is a true leader, but acts as a mentor to many of his classmates who respect him and many times request his insight on discussions.”

Christian Mendez
High School: Franklin High
College: Yale University

Mendez_ChristianChristian Mendez spent much of his childhood at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech where his parents, who were both born in El Salvador, worked as custodians. When he witnessed a spacecraft under construction, he was enthused. “It was outstanding. How could these people construct something so complex?” Christian asked himself. “My parents taught me to challenge myself and question the world. Now I dream of becoming a scientist to satisfy my curiosity.”

The valedictorian of Franklin High School in Los Angeles will be the first in his family to attend college. He will attend Yale and study chemistry for a career in research. His many activities include being the varsity team captain of the CyberOps team which advanced to state cybersecurity competitions and then on to the national competition in Washington, D.C. He was also vice president of the Solar Cup Team, an environmental and engineering program, which builds and races boats. He is the founder and secretary of Generation Green, an environmental club that partners with the National Forestry Service to provide outdoor experiences for underserved urban youth. He was a member of Tree People that addresses tree restoration and removal of invasive plants in the community. He tutors elementary students, volunteers at a convalescent hospital and was a member of the cross country and track and field teams. His awards include Dartmouth Bound Program, CyberPatriot semifinalist (6th in nation) and the Penn Early Exploration Program.

“While certainly ambitious and intent on challenging himself, Christian is a thoroughly kind, decent young man,” according to a counselor with College Match. “He is thoughtful of others, appreciative of his teachers and counselors, and open to others’ ideas and opinions. He plans ahead, paces himself, and consistently makes a 100% effort.”

Michelle Park
High School: Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High
College: Stanford University

Park_MichelleA frightening incident, which marked the beginning of a brave new life for Michelle Park, induced her to conquer her fears and courageously begin to take risks, like applying for an internship a t the Jet Propulsion Laboratory – and getting it.

“Once held back by extreme caution and uncertainty, I am now the first to step up to a challenge with nervous excitement. Forward and backward, destroy and renew – I decided to hop onto the unpredictable roller coaster of change and barrel my way towards success.”

According to her supervisor at JPL, “My colleagues and I were very impressed with the diligence, stick-to-itiveness, teaming and pleasant attitude of Ms. Park during the course of the six-week program. We were also impressed with her professional final presentation, which won the Outstanding Student Presentation award.”

Other awards for Michelle, who is the salutatorian of Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles, include the National Merit Commendation, Harvard Prize Book Award and a two-time USA Biology Olympiad Semifinalist Award. She currently works at the LAC+USC Cancer Research Lab and will attend Stanford to study biomedical computation for a career in biomedical engineering. In high school, Michelle was captain of her school’s Science Bowl team, which placed 2nd in the 2015 Regional Science Bowl competition. She performed at Disneyland with Dances of the World, a cultural dance team. She was a member of the Ocean Science Bowl team, which placed 3rd in the 2015 Ocean Sciences Bowl Regional Competition.

She is the founder and president of Kenya Opportunities Project, a club-turned-project that began in a church basement. It has now collected more than 2,500 books that will be used to build a new library in Nairobi.

Eastside Schools Directory & Maps

Los Feliz Charter School for The Arts | K-6

The Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts (LFCSA) is a non-profit, public elementary school with an emphasis in project-based learning through the arts. More about Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts.
Clifford Street Elementary: K- 6

The school board has approved a staff plan to convert Clifford Street Elementary into a math and technology magnet in the 2015-16 school year. More About Clifford

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  1. Congratulations to these hard working students! Their worth ethics are inspirational.

  2. Great to see the accomplishments of local students.

  3. This is so amazing! Great work!!

  4. Congratulations to all three of you! Your hard work and perseverance have made you the successful students you are and the amazing adults you will become. I’m sure your family and friends are so very proud of you….keep up the good work!

  5. Thats great work by these kids but unfortunately $10,000 isn’t going to go very far in tuition dollars for Yale, Princeton or Stanford. Hope they make it through without being crushed by student loan debt.

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