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Young People To Watch


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THERE’S NOTHING LIKE sifting through lists of impressively accomplished high-schoolers to put a dent in your self-image. But it’s also a heartening experience. Face it, it’s not easy to grow up in today’s world. In the midst of all the stories of drugs and guns in schools, preteen murderers and a rising sense of hopelessness, it’s good to know there are young people accomplishing great things.

Those profiled here are all exceptional. They’ve found their passion. They want to make the world a better place. They’re born leaders. They’ve been challenged by extreme circumstances and triumphed. Some carry very adult-size burdens and scars, while some seem wonderfully untainted by life’s struggles.

Every year we tell you about the adult achievers you should keep an eye on. It’s time to find out what the younger generation is up to.

Raja J'Vaughn Lewis Raja J’Vaughn Lewis, 16
Raja is seemingly good at everything. A junior at Valhalla High School, he co-attended Cuyamaca College part-time for the past two years. He’s an all-around athlete, excelling in football, basketball and track and field, and has been recommended for induction into Who’s Who Among American High School Students—Sports Edition for 2005. Raja has also been identified by the National Collegiate Scouting Association and Student Sport as one of the top football prospects in the nation. He’s won numerous sports and academic awards, and he’s politically active, having volunteered for Patty Davis (78th State Assembly campaign) and San Diego City Councilmember Anthony Young. He’s an ongoing volunteer at a homeless shelter, an AVID mentor and a member of the African-American Student Union. Raja works weekends at the family business, Uncle’s Creole Soul Café.

Claire Viglione Claire Viglione, 15
When Claire was 13, she decided it was time for something fresh and new. The usual “change your hair, change your wardrobe, get a new hobby” wasn’t what she had in mind. She decided to go into publishing. Claire hadn’t found a magazine targeted at teens in San Diego, so she called Ashley McClanahan and several other friends, they brainstormed for ideas, and California Teen Magazine was born. Claire is editor-in chief of the quarterly, distributed at high schools, salons and libraries in San Diego. She has visions of expanding the magazine to cover the state, maybe even the nation. She loves the challenge of publishing, but says, “The hardest part is meeting deadlines.”

Alex Perelson Alex Perelson, 14
Young People To Watch He’s a skateboarding wünderkind. Recently profiled in The Skateboard Mag, he’s the youngest skater to master both the 540 (a jump with one-and-a-half revolutions) and the 720 (two full revolutions). Alex is a mellow but outgoing guy who has been winning skateboard competitions for several years—from local skate park events to regional events to the Damn Am, the most prestigious contest for amateurs. He’s well-known among skateboarding pros for his smooth and consistent style, as well as his mastery of difficult tricks. When he’s not on a skateboard, he creates videos edited from footage filmed by his father. Alex also has a fondness for taking apart guitars to repaint them, and says he does have a tendency to ruin them, but he’s definitely getting better.

Juan Batiz-Benet, 16; Michael MacIntyre, 17; Nicholas Prsha, 16; Dominic Schmied, 17
Each is talented, but—like The Beatles—when the four of them work together, amazing things happen. These University of San Diego High School students beat out 26 other teams from across the nation to win the prestigious Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) Competition at the NASA Johnson Space Center. This fab four designed and built an ROV they piloted through a series of timed underwater tests, and were judged on everything from their engineering presentation and technical report to the design of their poster display. The budding engineers returned home from the competition with five awards.

Charlie Erbe, 18
Charlie is described by his former teacher, Don Hollis, as “talented, focused and incredibly strong-minded.” When he was 12, his family had a major financial crisis. He left school and started working full-time. By the time he turned 15, the family financial situation had improved, so he took some standardized tests, passed with the proverbial flying colors and moved on just as if he hadn’t been out of school for three years. Since then he has helped start a school basketball team at Sunset High, tutored special-education students and was the driving force behind building a memorial at Sunset called the Area of Commitment and Remembrance after the 9/11 attacks. Charlie loves working, so he kept working part-time through high school. He’s now attending Palomar College, where he’s training for the football team and plans to study business and law.

Ariel Gade, 8
This San Marcos native is making a name for herself as a young actor with a powerful talent. Ariel began her film career at 4 as Ben Stiller’s daughter in Envy. She’s currently appearing in movie theaters nationwide as one of the stars of the thriller Dark Water. Whether they love the story or hate it, the critics all seem to agree that Ariel’s performance makes the movie. If you want to see her work her method magic on a recurring basis, watch your television—she’ll be a regular on ABC’s Invasion this fall.

Brian Witkin Brian Witkin, 19
When Brian needed a record label for his band, Warrior Finches, he decided to start one. Since then, he has released 10 albums by local bands and a compilation CD through Pacific Records (formerly Real 2 Reel). Last fall, Brian opened a Pacific Records store at the all-ages performance venue Epicentre, where he has five employees selling a wide variety of indie-rock releases and reporting sales to Soundscan, which tracks album sales and chart positions industry-wide. At 19, Brian has his own band, record label and retail outlet.

Jonathan Goetz, 20
Raised in a politically active Republican household, Jonathan “came out” at 16 and switched parties. At 18, he was working for the Francine Busby campaign, trying—unsuccessfully —to oust Randy “Duke” Cunningham (yes, that Randy “Duke” Cunningham) from Congress. Now 20, he’s the youngest member of the San Diego Democratic Club Board of Directors and is organizing a Stonewall Young Democrats affiliate. “The Democrats are the party of young people,” Jonathan says. “They really share the progressive values of young people.”
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