Murrieta Valley Chamber honors students in February

Recipients of the Murrieta/Wildomar Chamber of Commerce Student of the Month award for February are, from left, Xavier Chua, Nicole Hudson, Diego Buenrostro, Seyedeharmita “Armita” Barzanji, Felipe Herrera and Sarah Davis. Valley News/KC Photography

The Murrieta/Wildomar Chamber of Commerce Student of the Month program held its most recent recognition breakfast Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Murrieta Sizzler restaurant, 40489 Murrieta Hot Springs Road. Mary Walters, assistant superintendent of the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, served as master of ceremonies and introduced Sally Myers, who founded the first of four area Student of the Month programs more than 30 years ago.

Myers explained that the nonprofit’s purpose is to celebrate and honor outstanding students who make a significant difference in their school and community. Its mission is to provide a local high school recognition program which will acknowledge college and trade school bound seniors for their character, their love of learning and their commitment to academics in addition to their participation in athletics, school activities, community service or the ability to overcome difficult life circumstances in a setting that honors God, country, family, community and free enterprise.

Backpacks filled with gifts, certificates of recognition and more were donated by the program’s sponsors to the award recipients. Each student was invited to the podium to share their personal story, past challenges and future goals with a room full of supporters that included principals, teachers, peers and family members, as well as community and school district dignitaries.

February’s students of the month are Murrieta Canyon Academy’s Diego Buenrostro, Murrieta Mesa High School’s Felipe Herrera, Murrieta Valley High’s Sarah Davis, Oak Grove Center’s Seyedeharmita “Armita” Barzanji, Springs Charter School’s Nicole Hudson and Vista Murrieta High School’s Xavier Chua.

Diego Buenrostro

Murrieta Canyon Academy Principal Matt Bean explained that Buenrostro only had 60 high school credits when he enrolled at the school in his junior year. These were patched together from four different high schools he had attended. Bean said the academy’s goal is to give students an individualized educational opportunity, and it worked well with Buenrostro.

“I always hung with the wrong crowd and made the wrong choices,” he said.

He plans to pursue acting to fulfill his inner passion and to channel his energy. Buenrostro moved to Texas from San Diego to live with his mother and try to right what he describes as the disruptive and disrespectful behaviors that he instigated at school. His mother died in September 2020, within a month of moving in with her, so he returned to San Diego before moving to Murrieta.

“I was acting out worse than before,” he said. “I would take bad drugs and make stupid decisions; I got fired from my job. The only person who cared about me was my dad, and I felt I’d let him down.”

Eventually, he learned that the faculty and administration at MCA cared about him too and never gave up on him. The genuine interest they showed gave him hope and a reason to turn his life around.

Felipe Herrera

Murrieta Mesa High School singled out Herrera to be honored in February. Principal Scott Richards said the Student of the Month program is about so much more than excelling in the academic realm and that is precisely why Herrera was chosen. He does not have any Advanced Placement or dual enrollment classes on his transcript and has only been a Murrieta Mesa student for one year.

“But his grit and perseverance has been an inspiration to many,” Richards said. “He came to us by way of Colombia. Although he spoke no English, he never gave up on learning to communicate with others.”

Herrera is a member of the varsity soccer team and played football for the school.

He shared a quote, “When God gives you a new beginning, it starts with an ending.”

Herrera said he fell in love with the sport of football because he felt welcomed by the teammates that treated him as family. He also said he learned something important from sports.

“There is no easy way,” he said. “There is only hard work, late nights, early mornings, practice, repetition, study, toil, frustration and discipline. That’s why I love it and it’s become part of me.

“I will always remember that big dreams require healthy habits and healthy habits require self-discipline. That is why I don’t want to stop here,” he said.

He plans to attend college on a sports scholarship and possibly serve in the military.

Sarah Davis

Murrieta Valley Principal Ryan Tukua introduced Davis as a humble leader. She boasts a 4.4 GPA, has been a member of Mock Trial, National Honor Society, International Baccalaureate program, California Scholarship Federation, the Grow Up Club, the Dirty Wheels Club and is president of the book club. She has been riding a dirt bike since she was four years old and has been competing since she was five. She currently rides a Husky 150. She’s a member of the varsity softball team and women’s ensemble. She has been in Marine Corps Junior ROTC all four years and currently serves as the commanding officer.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that sometimes you need to do it for yourself rather than others,” Davis said.

Her Junior ROTC instructor, David Huckobey, said Davis is the highest-ranking officer and has held many different leadership positions, excelling at every one of them. She served as a unit leader during the pandemic when all classes were held via Zoom. She engaged and motivated her fellow cadets effectively.

Huckobey told Davis, “Thank you for the education you provided to us as educators.”

She plans to major in English literature and minor in graphic design or software development. She said she hopes to develop video games and write the storylines for them.

Seyedeharmita “Armita” Barzanji

Oak Grove Center selected Barzanji as its outstanding student because of her quiet leadership.

“She shows up in powerful ways,” Principal Tammy Wilson said.

Barzanji is a member of the basketball team and the Interact Club, carries a 4.3 GPA and works with the Culinary Creations program in Old Town Temecula.

“As a freshman, I was working my butt off and stressing myself out,” Barzanji said.

During the COVID-19 shutdowns she said she had to come to terms with her own struggles and her academics suffered. She said she learned to take good risks, such as joining the all-boys basketball team and seeing that as a great opportunity.

“I still have my setbacks, but I finished my last high school class yesterday,” Barzanji said.

She plans to pursue a career as a child forensic psychologist.

Nicole Hudson

Springs Charter School Principal Shirley Jones said Hudson, who is enrolled in their Journey home school/high school option, has worked hard to overcome her anxiety and depression. She plans to major in psychology and has a passion for others. Hudson said she has always loved to create and since the age of five she would use rhymes and illustrations to make little books she would share with her family.

“I eventually brought this hobby to life,” she said. “My greatest contribution to my community is my book ‘Wear Your Crown,’ a story that encourages young children to embrace their curly hair and be confident in who they are.”

She said one of the countless life lessons she has learned that resonates with her is that good things take time.

Xavier Chua

Vista Murrieta High School Principal Celeste Scallion said Chua is ranked 12 in his class of 830 seniors with a 4.33 GPA. His teachers said he remains incredibly humble while completing every task to the highest quality and is a great example to all the Broncos on campus. He is in the marching band and wind ensemble and is a cadet in the Air Force Junior ROTC program. A life lesson Xavier said he has learned in his four years at Vista Murrieta is to “find your own style and your own color” and that he does not have to be the loudest one in the room to be heard.

“Leadership is not always just the title, but the actions that you do with it,” Chua said. “Leadership doesn’t have to be just because you are the leader but because you want to do something for the community.

“Leading doesn’t have to be just in the front; you don’t have to be the top of the pack. How about leading behind the pack and supporting others so they can grow and become individual leaders themselves, which is what I try to do.”

He plans to major in computer science.

For more information or to participate in the program, contact LouEllen Ficke at 951-415-2250 or Sally Myers at 951-775-0520.

Diane A. Rhodes