Student of the Year scholarships awarded in the San Jacinto Valley


The Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Month program held its recognition breakfasts from September 2023 through March 2024. Each school’s honoree was eligible to apply for a Student of the Year scholarship for their site. All recognized students were invited to a Night of the Stars awards dinner at the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center on May 16.

Nearly 400 guests filled the room as students and their families, teachers, sponsors, educators and many supporters anxiously awaited the announcement of the seven Student of the Year winners who each received a $2,000 scholarship and certificates of recognition. Additionally, seven individual scholarships of $500 each were presented by various community members and businesses. All students received a $100 gift card and other gifts, courtesy of the sponsors.

Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Year scholarship recipients for 2023-2024 are, seated from left, Natalie Perez Flores, Jocelyn Ochoa, Jasmine Moralez, Leslye Osuna and Desiree Hernandez; and standing from left are Ubaldo Puente and Daniel Mendoza. Valley News/Photo courtesy of StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

Program founder and event hostess Karena Zermeno also represents one of the sponsors, Altura Credit Union. She welcomed everyone to the event and said as the program concludes its eleventh year, she wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, Soboba Trial Council and Soboba Foundation for being one of the program’s biggest supporters from day one.

“We’re celebrating our students for their character, their love of learning and their commitment to academics in addition to their involvement in their school, community and home,” she said. “But especially because of the resiliency they’ve shown in overcoming difficult life challenges and still managing to do good in school.”

Recipients for Student of the Year and seven other community-based scholarships at the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center for the “Night of the Stars” on May 16. Valley News/Photo courtesy of StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

She said the reason she was so passionate about bringing this program to the San Jacinto Valley under the mentorship of Sally A. Myers from Sizzler/BMW Management Inc. was very personal. “I was that high school student who could never be that 4.0 or honor roll student but I tried and gave it my thousand percent,” Zermeno said. “I wanted a space where we can acknowledge and honor those students and that’s the Student of the Month/Student of the Year program. If you’ve been a part of the monthly program, you know the heart of our students and their dedication to not only improve themselves but to also improve their family. They say, ‘what is a great mind without a great heart’ and all of our students here tonight share that same virtue – great hearts.”

The Tahquitz High School Band, under the direction of Jeremy Pietsch, delights the crowd prior to scholarships being awarded. Valley News/Photo courtesy of StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

After the final breakfast in March, each Student of the Month was encouraged to complete an application to be considered as the Class of 2024 Student of the Year for their school site, resulting in seven honorees. The Academy of Innovation, Alessandro High School and Western Center Academy are under the umbrella of Hemet Schools of Choice and attend twice per year each. One student out of all three schools is chosen for Student of the Year.

All 2023-2024 Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Month recipients are honored at the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center, May 16. Valley News/Photo courtesy of StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

The evening mirrored well-known awards ceremonies such as the Oscars and the Grammys since the results were not revealed in advance. A short video clip of each student’s speech from when they were honored during their month was played before announcing the winner for each school.

Hemet Unified School District’s Student of the Year honorees are Natalie Perez Flores, Daniel Mendoza, Jasmine Moralez, Jocelyn Ochoa and Ubaldo Puente. Those honored from San Jacinto Unified School District are Desiree Hernandez and Leslye Osuna. Each accepted their award with gratitude to the sponsors and the school personnel and family members who supported them throughout their high school journey.

Desiree Hernandez
As Student of the Month in December for Mountain View High School, Desiree is currently attending Mt. San Jacinto College studying business administration while continuing her job as a small business owner.

The Hemet/San Jacinto Student of the Year Scholarship Award Dinner is an elegant “Night of the Stars” at the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center, May 16. Valley News/Photo courtesy of StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

Natalie Perez Flores
December’s Student of the Month at West Valley High School was Natalie who said her education has been the most important thing in her life and ever since she was a little girl, she has dreamt of becoming a pediatrician.

Daniel Mendoza
Hemet High School honored Daniel in October. He hopes to play football at the college level while studying kinesiology in pursuit of a career as a physical education teacher.

Jasmine Moralez
Jasmine was Hamilton High School’s choice in December. She plans to use her leadership qualities in her future career as a political scientist.

Jocelyn Ochoa
Jocelyn was singled out in February at Alessandro High School, where she immediately engaged in its CTE welding program and emerged as a beacon of inspiration and a testament to the power of self-direction and motivation.Leslye Osuna
January’s Student of the Month at San Jacinto High School was Leslye who aspires to become a registered nurse after earning her BSN because she has a passion for helping people.

Ubaldo Puente
Tahquitz High School chose Ubaldo in October. He plans to study for a career as an accountant or actuary. He wore a flower on his shirt in honor of Principal Kari McGowan, who passed away in September.

Ubaldo Puente reacts to being named Tahquitz High School’s Student of the Year. Valley News/Photo courtesy of StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

Individual scholarships were presented to students who were chosen for their ability to meet the criteria set by the community members or businesses who sponsored the awards. The name of each scholarship is followed by the name of the student, their school and the month they were selected as Student of the Month. Adanesne Carrasco Soto Memorial Scholarship: Lea Hope Raven Edwards, San Jacinto High School, March; Dr. Koka & Family Medical Scholarship: Camila Carmona, San Jacinto High School, September; Daniel Lopez Jr. Memorial Scholarship: Donald Downs, Mountain View High School, December; Dr. Kari McGowan Memorial Scholarship: Rhianna Salazar, Tahquitz High School, November; Marie Quandt Memorial Scholarship: Sahid Aguilar, San Jacinto High School, November; Sizzler/BMW Management Inc. Scholarship: Sayra Navarro, West Valley High School, March; and the Cassi Tichy Memorial Scholarship: Loren Sullivan, Hemet High School, December.

Closing Remarks

The program ended with lots of photos being taken and Zermeno thanking all the program’s committee members who make it possible to honor deserving students throughout the school year. “I ask you to find what you are passionate for and if you can’t donate financially please donate your time, your expertise,” she said to all the guests. “There are so many nonprofit organizations here in our valley that really need help and support. We can only make our community better by giving.”

Loren Sullivan, recipient of the Cassi Tichy Memorial Scholarship, thanks all who were responsible for the award. Loren plans to major in psychology at Cal State San Marcos. Valley News/Photo courtesy of StylePhotography by Alex Tapia

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