‘Technicality’ may deny Fil-Am senior at Eagle Rock High School top honors

Elisha Marquez, one of the only selected few Bill Gates Millennium scholars, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where she’s invited to intern this summer with pay (stipend).

By Rhony Laigo

Balita Media


At junior, she was among the lucky ones who was accepted to work as an intern with probably the most intelligent  group of scientists on earth that deals with the laws of physics.

Now a senior, Elisha Charnel Marquez didn’t have to submit another application in order to get back to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to work for another summer of internship. She’s been invited to come back…with pay mind you (a $3,000 stipend!).

To top it all, Elisha may never have to worry about her college as she is one of the finalists (there have been 70,000 applicants annually) who may receive a full ride of scholarship through the Gates Millennium Scholars program courtesy of the Bill Gates Foundation worth…drum roll please…a whopping $500,000. In the fall, she hopes to go to college in one of her first three choices: Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Elisha is a Filipino-American who possesses one of the brilliant minds this author has ever met. And she’s just 17.

A senior at Eagle Rock High School where she serves as president in both the California Scholarship Federation and Gear Up (a program designed to increase the number of graduates), Charnel belongs to a class of Highly Gifted Students. To give you a better perspective on how Elisha is compared to our level, she’s enrolled in six Advance Placement (AP) classes…SIX! She goes to school at 6:30 a.m. and end her day at 6 p.m. In her junior year, Elisha took five AP classes…FIVE! Just so you know – as if I have to spell it out –she graduated valedictorian in her class in 8th grade.

Ahh…valedictorian…top of the class. All of us want that title don’t we? But only a few, or in the case of Eagle Rock High School as in probably all high schools, only one deserves that honor. Elisha, who had a 5.0 GPA last semester, is expected to finish her high school with a minimum average of a 4.7 GPA, with 13 AP classes under her belt.

Sadly, it is not going to be Elisha who will be “crowned” valedictorian come June this year at Eagle Rock High School – where hundreds of Filipino-Americans finished school. Nope, it won’t be Elisha. The title will go to a another young lady who, for obvious purposes we will not identity in this article, but who is also as smart as Elisha and who will also finish with a total of 13 AP classes when school’s done this year. She too will earn a minimum GPA of 4.7 when she graduates.

As mentioned, both Elisha and the valedictorian-apparent will have the same GPA. Although the other girl belongs to the Magnet School at Eagle Rock High School, it didn’t give her any advantage over Elisha to receive the top honors…Well, sort of.

In an interview with Weekend Balita, Elisha said she thinks she also deserves to be called valedictorian when she marches to receive her diploma on graduation day. Besides, she too will earn the highest GPA average possible. Not to mention the two summers at JPL and becoming a finalist of the Gates Millennium Scholars program – two of her biggest achievements that no other Eagle Rock High School student have so far accomplished.

But Elisha’s problem came when she was in 10th grade during which time she could only take two AP classes. The other girl took four. Elisha said she also wanted more AP classes, but since she doesn’t belong to the Magnet School, she could only take two – a school “policy, ” according to Elisha. At that time, she just took what she could get, even if she knew that her “rival” was enrolled in four, who just like her also finished valedictorian at eighth grade.

“I was never in the magnet program,” Elisha told Weekend Balita knowing that she had keep up with the other girl, “so I decided to just take six AP classes this year to make up for the other two and so I could also be valedictorian.” Both had five AP classes in junior, the maximum number of AP classes that any student could get.

However, grade point  evaluation comes not after senior year. Since Elisha’s rival had two extra AP classes – which gives a student a maximum of 5.0 GPA – after junior year, her GPA was “higher” than that of Elisha’s.

Elisha’s parents called the attention of Eagle Rock High School Principal Salvador Velasco upon learning that she may not be earning top honors that the other girl would get. Mr. Velasco saw the dilemma and raised the not-to-so-typical issue to Los Angeles Unified School Superintendent John Easy, who brought the matter back to Velasco to have the final say. In short, Velasco is using the usual method which may result in Elisha relegated to being this year’s salutatorian, according to Elisha’s parents.

“What happened was that my daughter took more classes that do not receive an extra grade point,” Carol Marquez said in a letter to Superintendent Easy. “As a result, her GPA has been diluted. As a parent, I think my daughter is deseving.” As it turned out, Elisha has a GPA of 4.50, while the other has a 4.55 when presently evaluated.

“I was told that I could’ve done more than I already did,” Elisha said quoting Principal Velasco. “I could’ve asked for more AP classes when I was in 10th grade. But that wasn’t possible. There were no AP classes that were being offered to my class other than that the two that I took. There’s no way.”

“I think I too deserve to graduate as valedictorian,” Elisha  said. “But I think I’m not getting the equal opportunity. I took more classes than but I’m being ‘penalized’ for it. I could’ve taken more.”

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