Class of 2018 Spotlight: Inner strength propels Wilson High salutatorian to Stanford

Class of 2018 Spotlight: Inner strength propels Wilson High salutatorian to Stanford

Above, Stephen Sills reunites with Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson, his former principal at El Sereno Middle School. 

This is part of a series of stories about outstanding graduates of the Class of 2018.  It is excerpted from an autobiographical essay. 

By Stephen Sills
Wilson High School
Class of 2018

Wilson High salutatorian Stephen Sills is heading to Stanford University in the fall.

I was born in San Diego, and moved as a child to Steamboat Springs, Colo., where I attended a small Christian elementary school. When I was about 8 years old, the stock market crashed, and my family almost lost everything. Virtually overnight, we moved from the Rocky Mountains to Portland, Ore. My parents wanted me to learn Mandarin, and they enrolled me in an immersion school. They staked most of what we had to pay for school.

Over the next four years, we moved a total of 16 times. I was held back a grade, and for the remainder of my years in elementary school, I couldn’t help but feel awkward, given my size and age. I had to always watch my strength when playing with others, and I was bullied by some of the other students because of my timid nature. It was experiences like this that made me who I am today, giving me the resilience to succeed even when I couldn’t have more against me, and to accept my faults and learn from them the best I can. But for a time, all I saw in myself was failures and mistakes.

When I left elementary at fifth grade, I was enrolled in an online school and completed assignments from my laptop. I spent my days alone in my room with no one to talk to, no contact with friends, even with my own family. By then, I had lost all motivation to do well in school. I invested my time in things that would only grant me temporary happiness, video games as well as books. And every night before I went to bed, I would lie, telling myself that I would do better and complete my assignments the day after.

I had spent so much time in seclusion that I had forgotten what it really meant to be loved by another, and in that moment, I felt that love again. But how could this be? My parents had invested so much in me, and I had thrown much of that away. Yet, they were still here, and their love had never gone anywhere. It was I, rather, that had pushed myself away.

I could not remain the way I was, I had to do something with what I had been given. The next year, we moved to Los Angeles. I graduated from El Sereno Middle School and was one of two students awarded the Principal’s Scholarship, an honor for earning a 4.0 GPA. Afterwards, I went up to the principal, telling her there had been some misunderstanding, I had received a G.P.A. of 1.5 just the year before. She laughed. The traces of the past were gone, replaced by joy, happiness, courage and the will-power to find my own future.

As a boy, I had read a quote by C.S. Lewis: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” At the time I didn’t think much of it. I couldn’t relate to such an outrageously optimistic quote, even if it was from a beloved author of mine. Then I learned how it was penned by C.S. Lewis to comfort an old and dying friend, fearful of the darkness that lied before her. Death is not the end, C.S. Lewis reminds her. Rather, death is the epithet of greater things to come.

Now, I stand as the salutatorian of my class, leadership representative, presidents of both the Debate and Bible clubs, and a potential graduate of the Stanford Class of 2022. And all of this resulted when five years ago, I experienced true love for the first time. I acknowledge the role that my troubles and past hardships have played in the realization of my future, and am comforted when I remember them.

C.S. Lewis was right after all.


LAUSD Shines

UCLA high school volunteer wins state Science Fair – UCLA/Institute of the Environment and Sustainability

School nurses are essential in meeting students’ health needs – California Educator

Honoring ArTES teacher Nicole Mathis-Berman –

28,000 L.A. preschoolers are learning how to be better humans – KPCC-98.3

Students get hands-on training at Dignity Northridge Hospital – Daily News

The Wildgrove Wildlands help city kids connect with the natural world – The Argonaut

lluminating science for blind students, with help from latest tech devices – EdSource

Computer science education a ‘growing movement’ in Los Angeles Unified – EdScoop

Q&A with Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian – The Pearl Post (Daniel Pearl Communications Magnet)

Military veterans recruited for teaching positions – KABC-Channel 7

Emerging LA filmmakers create short films with small budgets and big ideas – Apple Newsroom

CSTA and announce the 2017 Champions for Computer Science – Medium magazine

How L.A. Unified Cultivates Districtwide Digital Citizenship – Common Sense Education

Around the world, and earning all A’s – The Newport (R.I.) Daily News

LAUSD, IBU and DAS Collaborate to Create the New Merchant Mariner Apprenticeship Program – Apprenticeship/California Department of Industrial Relations

Opinion: Students accepted through preferred gender pronouns – Los Angeles Times Insider

These 10 L.A. high schools are the best at getting their graduates to college – Los Angeles Times

Now San Pedro Schools Came Through for Texas Hurricane Victims – Daily Breeze

LAUSD Making a Comeback with Instructional Technology – Converge Magazine

Dr. Frances Gipson honored as Top 30 Award recipient – Converge Magazine

Refusing to Leave Anyone Behind, Teacher Unites Kids of All Abilities for Special Education Event –

New EdD in Educational Leadership graduate Michelle King named National Superintendent of the Year – USC Rossier School of Education

Pin Up, Don’t Shut Up – Public High School Art for the Scapegoats of Humanity – Random Lengths Magazine

East Bay Softball Inks Catcher Desiree Jimmy – Cal State East Bay Pioneers Athletics

California Highway Patrol flips pancakes and scrambles eggs for Dorsey High School Law Magnet Students – Los Angeles Sentinel

California Teacher of the Year from North Hills to throw first pitch at Dodger Stadium – Los Angeles Daily News

Cleveland High band program marches on after years with no teacher, little money – Los Angeles Daily News

Valley View Elementary turns 100, as will dozens of other LAUSD schools in the next five years  – LASchoolReport

10 Dedicated and Deserving Social Workers includes L.A. Unified’s Verónica Obregón – Social Work Today

‘Cool Kid’ Camille Ng spreads warmth to kids in need – KABC-7

LAUSD Schools get new gyms through UCLA Health’s ‘Sound Body Sound Mind’ program – KABC-7

LAPD officers spread holiday cheer at Van Nuys elementary school – Los Angeles Daily News

Burrowing Owl delights students, staff at urban school –

Essay: The Translated Life, From Immigrant to Valedictorian. – NBC News

Dorsey students complete College Board pilot class. – L.A. Sentinel

Girls Academic Leadership Academy: A unique opportunity.– Jewish Journal

Modern Trades: The rise of continuing tech education. – KPCC

West Valley Occupational Center celebrates 50 years. – Los Angeles Daily News

Linked Learning the focus of innovative high school. – Education Writers of America

How high-schoolers channel the drama of middle school experience into dramatic performance. – KPCC

Night at the museum? Try a week. These fourth-graders did and it changed their world. – KPCC

Music, arts programs at LA schools increasing after years of decline. – Los Angeles Daily News

Coeur d’Alene Elementary: One school’s journey towards instructional excellence. – Cotsen Foundation

Video: Venice High School celebrates top seniors. Yo Venice

Student identity through the arts. Huffington Post

Op-Ed: Supt. Michelle King on frog dissections, STEM and the future of charters in LAUSD. Los Angeles Times

Click here to see previous entries