Triumphs Over Daunting Odds Characterize January’s Students of the Month

Connor Forbes
Connor Forbes
9 Min Read
(L-R) Anna Thi Pham, Heritage High School; Lilyana Theresa Garcia, California Military Institute; Jarim Antonio Estrada, Perris High School; Mason Dalton Kaveh, Paloma Valley High School; Divine Robert Hernandez, Perris High School; Justin Jaiden Fay Juanengo, Liberty High School.

January’s Students of the Month

Photos and Story by Don Ray 

The Perris and Menifee Valley’s Chambers of Commerce have announced their five Perris Unified High School District Students of the Month for January. Nominated by teachers and staff at their respective schools, the students are selected for their character, integrity, love of learning, perseverance to overcome challenging circumstances, community service, and the manner in which they make a difference on campus.

The recognized students and their families were honored during a celebratory breakfast sponsored by the chambers along with local businesses and organizations.  The attending business and government representatives are presented first-hand accounts of the student’s accomplishments, as told by the educators. Each honoree received certificates of recognition, numerous gifts and hearty congratulations and encouragement to continue their paths. 

The Perris Valley Chamber and the Menifee Valley Chamber wish them the best in their endeavors. If you wish to learn more about the Student of the Month Program, please contact founder, Sally Myers at (951) 506-8024.

Jarim Antonio Estrada – Perris High School

“One of the biggest obstacles that I really had to overcome these past three years was, definitely, changing the person that I once was,” Jarim Estrada said. “When my freshman year came around, we were stuck in quarantine.

“During that time, I gained a lot of weight. I became obese. I weighed 212 pounds. I was lazy. I was depressed. I really didn’t know what to do with my life at the time.

“When the quarantine finally ended, my sophomore year came around. That was a year something clicked in my mind — to finally change something about myself.”

He started working out and lifting weights, he says. He joined the football team, the track team, and the wrestling team.

His teacher, Debbie Georgianna was astounded by his transformation and his new confidence.

“He is this quiet motivation for everybody that’s around him — not just the students and the teachers, but coaches.

“He’s amazing!”

Lilyana Theresa Garcia — California Military Institute

Lilyana Theresa Garcia is bent on becoming a pediatric surgeon. Her inspiration, she says, was the TV series “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“The character that I see myself in most is Cristina Yang,” Lilyana says. “I know that she is a fictional character, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be amazing like her.

“Just like Cristina Yang, I am driven by my determination and resiliency. When things challenge me, I persist against all odds, because I will never give up.

She hopes to attend U.C. San Diego, to earn her pre-medical degree — despite the risk of failing.

“I will only be a failure if I quit,” she says. “And quitting is never an option for me.

“I will become the biggest star that this world has seen!”

Her father, Carlos Garcia, is also confident.

“She has overcome a lot of obstacles, and she is ready to create things.

“She is going to be the difference in her community.”

Divine Robert Hernandez – Perris High School

His teachers describe Divine Robert Hernandez as being a “rockstar” in the classroom and as a runner in track and cross country.

“I’ve dedicated the past four years of my life to try and become the best I can and in hopes of getting a scholarship and a chance to run at the collegiate level,” he says.

He says that numerous colleges in the area have invited him to run for them.

“Hopefully, with a good track season, I’ll be able to get a scholarship to one of those,” he says. “I plan to give back to the community is by completing the 180 hours of patient care for Medical Assisting program through volunteer work in local hospitals and clinics.

“I hope that, with everything I’ve been taught, I’ll be able to help a big part of this community. In college I plan on majoring in clinical lab science and eventually becoming a physician’s assistant.”

Justin Jaiden Fay Juanengo — Liberty High School

Michelle Juanengo and her husband adopted Justin Jaiden Juanengo (J.J.) when he was two.

“We were given a pretty grim future outlook for him,” she said. “They said he would never eat, drink on his own, speak, or cognitively be able to be mainstreamed in a school.”

“Obviously, you have exceeded that,” she said to J.J.

They never imagined he would fall in love with photography and become the staff photographer for the football team — that he would capture the action from the sidelines in his wheelchair.

“A lot of people think it’s just pressing a button,” J.J. said, “but it’s more than that.

“It’s about allowing these athletes to tell their story — it’s not about telling my story.”

“He’s inspired us.” his mother said, “in ways I don’t think he’s aware of. He’s done so much for himself on his own — that no one anticipated he would ever do.

“We’re just incredibly proud of him.”

Justin hopes to one day work as a sports photographer.

Mason Dalton Kaveh — Paloma Valley High School

Pamela Bower said that when they adopted Mason Kaveh, he believed that all the monsters in this world were adult humans.

“Yet he never stopped loving and trying to overcome every obstacle,” she said, “like meeting people and overcoming so much — homelessness, disabilities, abuse, adoption and the loss of a sibling.”

“But you never quit,” she said to Mason. “They told us you would never do many things.

“Congratulations, Mason, for showing this hall that anyone can overcome their disabilities with a lot of hard work and discipline.”

His discipline, Mason says, comes from being a Petty Officer Third Class in the Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC).

“What I learned in NJROTC,” Cadet Mason said, “is to help my community and to give back those who have served their country.”

He says his plans after high school are to attend Mount San Jacinto Community College in Menifee where he will major in Automobile Mechanics.

Anna Thi Pham – Heritage High School

“You wouldn’t know, despite all her accomplishments, that she’s gone through difficulties that no child should ever have to go through,” Heritage High School Principal Lindsay Chavez says of Anna Thi Pham.“

She uses these challenges as motivation to succeed.”

Anna’s teacher, Renee Garcia, calls her “motivating, uplifting and humble.”

“Academically, she has a cumulative GPA of 4.35. She has never earned less than an A in any class.

“She also plays tennis, does track and takes opportunities that are available to her —not just to better herself,” Garcia says, “but to better the lives of her peers and her school.”

“When I look back on my freshman and sophomore year,” Anna says, “I can sense that I’ve become a completely new and improved character who is confident in my decisions and refreshed with defined visions.

“I can finally give back what I receive by providing mental health support resources within myself and within professional resources.

“I hope to attend college at UC Irvine. I want to study computer science and engineering.”

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