High School Standouts Named 2008 Milken Scholars

Published 07/25/2017 in Program Updates
Written 07/25/2017

Equipping exceptional young men and women with the resources to become "Lifelong Leaders for a Better World" is goal of Milken Scholars Program

Equipping exceptional young men and women with the resources to become "Lifelong Leaders for a Better World" is goal of Milken Scholars Program


A number of outstanding high school seniors have been named 2008 Milken Scholars by the Milken Family Foundation.

The Milken Scholars Program proudly celebrates its twentieth class of "Lifelong Leaders." In addition to a $10,000 scholarship, each student will receive access to a wide array of resources—both tangible and intangible—that would normally be outside their everyday reach.

Milken Scholars are more than first in their class, although this year's selection does include three valedictorians. Many are the first in their families to go to college. A majority of our new Scholars are children of immigrants, three of whom were born outside of the United States themselves. Each recipient has a record of excellence in academics, leadership and service, and has triumphed over obstacles. Their myriad accomplishments range from creating an organization to combat genocide in Darfur to conducting an intensive multi-year molecular biology study on breast cancer.

The 2008 Milken Scholars are:


  • Alma Alegria, a graduate of Susan Miller Dorsey High School, who will attend Yale University 
  • Benjamin Bradbury, a graduate of Beverly Hills High School, who will attend the University of California, Berkeley

  • Dora Duru, a graduate of California Academy of Mathematics and Science, who will attend Stanford University 

  • Jessica Kim, a graduate of Crescenta Valley High School, who will attend the University of Pennsylvania
  • Cynthia Leon, a graduate of Robert A. Millikan High School, who will attend the University of California, Berkeley
  • Hong Ye (Sam) Mai, a graduate of Palos Verdes High School, who will attend the University of California, Berkeley
  • Angela She, a graduate of North Hollywood High School, who will attend Yale University
  • Morris Vanegas, a graduate of California Academy of Mathematics and Science, who will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Alma Zepeda, a graduate of Alexander Hamilton High School, who will attend Yale University

"Milken Scholars have the potential to be among the world's future leaders," said Milken Family Foundation Co-Founder Michael Milken who, with his wife Lori, instituted the program 20 years ago. "Our program brings together remarkable individuals and helps provide them with tools and support for success during their academic and professional careers." Resources include career-related counseling, opportunities for volunteerism, an academic/career exploration fund, and support from a network of professionals and Milken Scholar alumni.

"When the world demands leadership and the talent to address global and community concerns, the Milken Scholars are steps ahead in forming their network and leveraging their abilities," shared 1996 Milken Scholar, Kim Foo Chow. A senior analyst with Citigroup in New York City, Chow founded a nonprofit mentoring program in Manhattan which links young adults with professionals in various technical fields. He also leads school-based community service projects through Milken Festival for Youth activities.

"The Milken Scholars are mastering a host of fields and have completed or are completing a total of 355 degrees, many of them graduate degrees," said Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Educator Awards and a director of the Milken Scholars. From NASA engineers to inner-city teachers, Milken Scholars can be found across the globe making significant contributions to society." The program's highly competitive and rigorous application process drew nominations from over 400 top students representing 109 Los Angeles area high schools.

The event that welcomes each new Scholar into the program is the annual three-day summer retreat where Scholars meet one another and interact with past scholarship recipients. Foundation staff, current and alumni Scholars, and renowned speakers and facilitators host workshops and panel discussions on topics ranging from meditation to the state of the economy.

This year's retreat, to be held July 24–26, 2008 at Mount Saint Mary's College, Doheny Campus, is themed, "Twenty Years: Moments and Destinations." It will be an exciting event that will mark twenty years of scholarship, service and leadership through the Milken Scholars Program. Featured speakers include: Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO, X PRIZE Foundation; John Underkoffler, futurist/visionary; Laura Diaz, KCBS-TV anchor; and Mike Milken. The culmination of the weekend retreat will be the 2008 Milken Scholars Recognition Banquet held on July 26, 2008 at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.


2008 Milken Scholars

Alma Alegria


Combining academic excellence with a strong social conscience, Alma Alegria is passionate about making the world a better place, particularly for those whose financially underprivileged backgrounds mirror her own. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Alma grew up in Los Angeles with her mother and older sister, rising above the challenges of her environment to graduate third in her class from Susan Miller Dorsey High School. Recipient of several distinctions, Alma won first place in a Fox S.T.A.R. Mentor Essay Contest in 2006 and was one of only 15 students hired as interns at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 2006, she was one of 22 students from Los Angeles selected to participate in U.C. Berkeley's PreCollegiate Academy (PCA), a six-week summer program that fueled her drive for a collegiate experience "that is intellectually, socially and globally aware." The experience at PCA motivated Alma to create an Ethnic Studies Club, of which she was founder and president. She was also founder and president of the Dorsey Film Society, through which she and her classmates critiqued films and made their own. Alma will pursue ethnic and women's studies and liberal arts at Yale University, which she chose because it is "located in a poor community." As one teacher said, "I have never once heard Ms. Alegria speak of a university or college education in terms of what it can give her, but rather in terms of what she can learn from it and give back to others."


Benjamin Bradbury


Whatever the playing field—from academics to athletics to activism—Benjamin Bradbury is an All-Star. For three years he captained the Beverly Hills High School football team, and his efforts on the track team earned him the Varsity Coach's Award. He played a lead role in the symphonic and marching bands and, since sophomore year, served as tuba section leader. Ben has participated on the Superintendent's Roundtable, presided over the Christian Club—one of the largest organizations on campus—and still managed to work at a part-time job. Week after week, season after season, Ben volunteers as an assistant coach at the community park where he learned to play football. A role model of integrity, initiative and compassion, Ben looks forward to working with inner-city kids in Oakland when he attends the University of California, Berkeley. He plans to pursue a career in which he can help others find and seize their opportunities. Ben is considering a career as a teacher, making history relevant so that students can forge their futures from the lessons of the past, or as a lawyer for those who need a true advocate. His accomplishments in the classroom are reflected in his membership in the National Honor Society and the California Scholarship Federation. His AP English teacher noted that "because he truly enjoys and values learning, Ben makes excelling seem effortless." A gifted writer, Ben has penned a children's book about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. He hopes to author more volumes, perhaps about other presidential leaders.

Dora Duru


"One day we will all read about Dora Duru and her efforts to reduce the suffering and injustice that occur on the African continent," shared a counselor at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science. Dora co-founded Speak Out, an organization working to combat genocide in Darfur. Her strong voice for international concerns led to the production of a documentary film on child refugees. Undeterred by a four-hour bus commute, Dora interns at the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves. This experience, she said, "has inspired me to be the change I wish to see in the world, as Gandhi dreamed." After completing her studies in international relations at Stanford University, Dora hopes to work as an asylum officer helping refugees in impoverished nations. Her commitment to others can be seen in numerous leadership roles—from co-captain of an award-winning Academic Decathlon team to student coach and captain of the Mock Trial team. As one teacher said, "Dora's strong internal drive to learn pushes her to seek knowledge beyond the course and the classroom." Dora has enhanced her high school education by completing several college and university courses. A member of the National Honor Society, Dora's recognitions include first place in the Academic Decathlon's Super Quiz and Black Academic Bowl Team Champion. She won the gold medal in essay writing and a silver medal in speech and poetry at the Academic Cultural Technological and Scientific Olympics. Dora has also been named as a Ron Brown Scholar.

Jessica Kim


Jessica Kim is the salutatorian of Crescenta Valley High School's graduating class of 722 and a "straight-A" student. Her extraordinary capacity for work, both academically and socially, is apparent in a course load stacked with 21 AP courses and a dizzying roster of extracurricular and community service activities. A National Merit Finalist, Jessica served as president of the National Honor Society and was tapped as an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Society of High Schools Scholar. The Distinguished Student Award for Foreign Language was bestowed on her, for her fluency in three languages. Jessica's talents as a writer led to a position as co-editor-in-chief of the school's award-winning newspaper, editor of a literary magazine, and membership in journalism's Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society. For two summers she interned at the Valley Sun newspaper. Her decision to attend the University of Pennsylvania was shaped by the opportunity to work collaboratively with writers at the Kelly Writers House, the school's famed literary community. Jessica plans to study English and film as she hopes to affect culture and influence people's beliefs about societal issues through films and writing. She generously shares her extensive knowledge by tutoring classmates and relishes her leadership role in helping fledgling journalists discover that "writing isn't about letters but about the heart. Writing requires soul." Jessica credits her mother with inspiring her "to not only complete my visions but give other people vision as well."

Cynthia Leon


When Cynthia Leon entered Robert A. Millikan High School she hoped that in her senior year her name would be posted in the school office as one of the TOP 40 seniors with the highest grade point averages. Ranked number one in her class of 840, Cynthia, who has maintained a 4.0 GPA all four years, has far exceeded that goal. She acknowledges a diligent effort and cites determination and perseverance as driving forces in her success. As a student in the honors-enriched QUEST program, Cynthia challenged herself with a solid schedule of honors and Advanced Placement classes and passed six AP exams, scoring five on four of them. Her accomplishments merited a U.S. President's Award for Academic Achievement, a Millikan Universe Science Award, and the school's Renaissance Award. This AP Scholar with Distinction and California Scholarship Federation Sealbearer also led the National Honor Society as president and was an award-winning soccer player. At the University of California, Berkeley, she will study neurophysiology and plans to discover, through empirical research, a link between the environment and certain diseases. Her volunteer work as a Link Crew leader, helping incoming freshman acclimate and thrive, led to a realization that she enjoys helping others succeed. To that end, she is considering a career as a high school teacher or a psychologist. The first in her family to attend college, Cynthia points to her parents as role models whose aspirations serve "as a luring beacon of hope for the future."

Hong Ye (Sam) Mai


With aspirations to improve the standard of living for people in China and America through the optimization of business relations, Sam Mai will study international business at the University of California, Berkeley. Born and educated in China, Sam moved to the United States in 2007 and entered Palos Verdes Peninsula High School. In addition to adjusting to life in a new school in a foreign country, he handled all the arrangements for his family since neither parent speaks English. To illustrate Sam's astounding intellectual gifts, his American history teacher shared that although Sam had never studied American history and arrived only six days before the first semester final, he read 200 pages of the textbook and scored the highest grade in the class. At Stanford University's summer program for gifted students, his academic and leadership contributions were so significant that a teacher remarked that few of these extremely bright students share Sam's ability to "combine intelligence and personality." As a library volunteer, Sam discovered his interest in contributing to society. He is a member of the Mathematics Honor Society and recognitions include the Distinguished Award in the national American Mathematics Competition and P.V.P. High's Achievement in Physics Award. In addition to English and his native Cantonese, Sam speaks fluent Mandarin. While a student in China, he captured first place in a statewide speech competition. This year he was a finalist in a regional Lions Club speech contest. No matter what and no matter where, Sam Mai speaks the language of success.

Angela She


"Angela She does not simply do things well," shared a teacher at North Hollywood High School, "she does them perfectly." A testament to this is her stellar school record. Valedictorian in a class of 695, Angela had a perfect SAT score and earned fives on all of her Advanced Placement exams. Her goal is "collaboration, not competition. Only by collaborating with others can I succeed in influencing, inspiring and simply making my mark." And make a mark she has. A National Merit Finalist and AP National Scholar, Angela led two Science Olympiad teams, captained a Science Bowl team to the national championship, and presided over an award-winning Math Club. Her distinguished efforts in math and science merited a Rensselaer Medal Award. For three years she was the second violin section leader for the school's acclaimed orchestra and recognized with the Heart and Soul Award. Angela's strong interest in art drew her to study at the Montecito Fine Arts College of Design. The DHA research she conducted while a volunteer at UCLA Medical School's neuroscience lab provided a significant new pathway for study and brought her to the attention of the professional scientific community. The Chinese-American Engineers and Scientists Association of Southern California took the unprecedented step of accepting Angela as its first high school member. In praising Angela's accomplishments, the organization's president stated, "There is no doubt that Angela will be a great asset to society." This fall, Angela heads to Yale University to continue her study of chemistry.

Morris Vanegas


Morris Vanegas is a modern-day Renaissance man, excelling in fields ranging from math and science to the arts and humanities to sports and community service. This National Hispanic Scholar at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science has won awards in Science Fair, Science Olympiad, History Day competitions and the California Math League Test. His summer position as a "planetary and lunar mission concepts intern" for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory propelled Morris to pursue a degree in astronautical engineering this fall at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But while reaching for the stars, Morris has his feet planted firmly on earth, volunteering as a fourth- and fifth-grade math and science tutor for L.A.'s Best Afterschool Enrichment Program, a program he experienced firsthand as a "home away from home" since his parents—both immigrants from El Salvador—had to work late every night. Early on, he also developed a love of soccer and was a starting player on the varsity team all four years of high school, serving as team captain twice and making the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs his senior year. A thespian as well as an athlete and a scholar, Morris sang and danced as Danny Zuko in Grease, along with other leading roles in his high school's drama productions. As his English and drama teacher put it, Morris Vanegas is "a man of many talents, encompassing academic achievements, artistic excellence, and service to his school community."

Alma Zepeda


"When I think of Alma Zepeda, I think of a true gift to academia and to society's progress," wrote a Hamilton High School counselor of this vibrant young woman. As the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador and the first in her family to attend college, Alma demonstrates a drive to both excel and give back to her school, community and world. Academically, Alma won Hamilton's prestigious Outstanding Academic Achievement Award given to only one student in 2007. Her senior course load packed in AP physics, calculus, economics and literature, plus a fourth year of French and honors government. Elected her high school's treasurer for three years running, Alma worked to orchestrate a schoolwide beautification project using a $5,000 Disney Show Your Character award. As a USC Med-COR volunteer for four years, Alma underwent intensive training from a registered nurse in order to oversee 12 patients, take vital signs, and handle hospital administrative duties. Her volunteer medical service has been influenced by her personal experience of nursing her longtime babysitter and her Godmother, in effect becoming the caretaker of her own beloved caretakers. Alma finds joy in maintaining her Hispanic cultural heritage by performing with the Folklorico Club. "The discipline, dedication, precision and joy that are needed to make the dance a success represent the values that I possess." True to form, Alma has assumed a larger leadership role as club treasurer for three years, fundraising to cover costume rental and other expenses. Alma was accepted "early action" to Yale University where her studies will blend ethics, politics and economics. As her counselor summed up, this "vibrant, soulful and energetic young woman is ready to change the world with her intelligence, her compassion, and her commitment to her community."