From High Achievers to Change Makers, Meet 10 Extraordinary Valley Teenagers.
Faces of the future.
- Photographed byMichael Becker
In our annual salute to the Valley’s best and brightest, we introduce you to 10 extraordinary teenagers. With accomplishments ranging from music to science to social activism, they are deep thinkers, devoted do-ers and assertive change makers. And while striving to achieve their own dreams, all are committed to making the world a better place.
17 | Sierra Canyon School
What blew us away: He is a self-motivated, culinary impresario who has worked nearly every job at a variety of restaurants, including a fancy French one. He’ll graduate this spring having completed 10 AP and 12 honors classes, and he was inducted into Sierra Canyon’s chapter of the Cum Laude Society, which recognizes the top 10 students in the class. He deftly balances his work life with his demanding schoolwork and extracurricular commitments and is admired by peers for treating people with respect.
First job: “In 10th grade I got a job at a restaurant. They were seven-hour dishwashing shifts, but I got to see how a kitchen worked. I’d watch them cook. It was an Italian restaurant, but everyone was Hispanic. My next job was as a prep chef at Mistral. It was kind of grueling. I’m a vegetarian and I had to butcher chicken and devein shrimp. But it was rewarding and interesting.”
Interesting to note: “From as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved cooking. I learned a lot from reading cookbooks like Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I also learned how to speak French; I love the culture.”
His other side: “I love writing, and recently I took a course called The Art of the Short Story. At the end of the semester, I wrote a 20-page, fictional piece about the “Red Scare” and anti-Communism. There is something about writing that is very fulfilling.”
Thanks: “I credit my English teacher Victoria Zielinski. She was the one who ignited my love for writing.”
Goal: “I dream of being a Michelin chef. I’d also love to be a food critic—maybe the next Jonathan Gold.”
16 | Milken Community Schools
What blew us away: Her musical accomplishments, coupled with her socially conscious endeavors. She won an international vocalist competition and was selected to perform solo at a gala at Carnegie Hall. As a member of the LA Museum of the Holocaust Teen Board, she has created audio/visual guides to make exhibits more accessible to youth. And she helped design a lesson plan that will be used at LA public schools to create a platform for collaboration between students and Holocaust survivors.
Her social activism also includes: Being the leader of the Global Beit Midrash club, in which she creates opportunities for Jewish teens around the world to connect and collaborate. She attended the by-invitation-only, first Women’s Leadership Conference at Harvard University last year, which inspired her to found a female empowerment club at Milken.
Music is: “About more than getting recognition—it’s about trying to create social change. I’d like to change the way we view women in opera.”
My secret weapon: “Empathy. I think a lot of success comes from developing relationships. I try to be open-minded and see things from the perspective of others.”
Where she’s headed: “My dream is to be an opera singer and to create change in the world. I want to continue empowering women.”
Interesting to note: “I don’t have social media accounts. My parents aren’t into that.”
18 | Viewpoint School
What blew us away: With all AP classes in his core program, he has a 4.7 GPA. He co-founded the Artificial Intelligence Club in 10th grade and after Hurricane Harvey led members to develop software that uses social media for services to help people. For the past two summers, he has been doing research (as part of an internship) with a professor of Artificial Intelligence at Northeastern University, and some of his work has been published.
Personal challenge: “I immigrated from China when I was 13 years old. I didn’t adapt well in the first year. I got D’s in history classes, but my parents said stick with it. I loved computer science, robotics and programming. Even when I was struggling, being able to access all this information was really exciting.”
I get inspired by: “Sci-fi. The Matrix changed my worldview. It asks a lot of philosophical questions like “What is real?” I’m a big fan of Star Trek. The TV series is highly philosophical.”
My secret weapon: “Being philosophical. My parents encouraged me to keep a balance between STEM and humanities. Once I saw sci-fi movies and read Isaac Asimov’s books like I, Robot, I realized there were deeper questions to consider.”
His future: “I don’t know if I’ll take the research or business path. I’m very interested in robots and linguistics—how machines can understand our language.”
Fun fact: “My English name, Franklin, came from Franklin the Turtle. I learned a quarter of my English watching that show as a youngster in China.”
15 | The Buckley School
What blew us away: She is a devoted environmentalist who is forging new territory. As part of a school independent project program, she developed wildernation.co, an online resource for environmental activists. And in 2018 she became a finalist in Google’s nationwide Change the Game challenge for designing EcoVerse, a video game in which the goal is to save the planet through growth and rebirth. The game is currently available on Google Play Store. Plus she is one of the few ninth-grade members of Buckley’s award-winning robotics team.
Down the road: “I like innovation, start-ups and solving problems. I’d like to start a business—possibly aimed at solving global issues.”
Lifestyle challenge: “I’m trying to live with zero waste. That means things like not using plastic utensils. It is incredibly difficult in today’s society.”
On equality: “I’m happy I’m living in an age where I can do these things in computer science. In terms of equality, we aren’t there yet. I’d like to be involved in the push.”
I’m not good at: “Dancing. I’m terrible. And I’m not flexible at all. With sports I get injured cause I’m just not flexible.”
Life lesson: “Being in computer science, you get a lot of problems that look intimidating. But you break it down and solve it. That is a metaphor for life. I don’t and won’t shy away from what’s intimidating.”
17 | Campbell Hall School
What blew us away: With more titles and trophies than can fit on this page, her four-year varsity tennis run can be summed up by this: she’s had more than 100 wins and only four losses. Widely considered one of the best tennis players in the country, she is also one of the nicest. Her friendly, courteous demeanor has her being described by the OC Register as “the Campbell Hall senior who dominates Southern California tennis with a fierce forehand and a smile.”
When I’m not playing tennis: “I’m busy with theatre tech after school. I do production and backstage work. It is hard juggling that with tennis, but I manage it because I really love theatre.”
The win that stays with me: “I played in Thailand when I was about 10. It was my first time in that country, and they’re cursing at me in Thai. They thought I couldn’t understand the language, but I do. They were cussing and saying all sorts of nasty things. I understood every word, but I stayed in the game and won. It felt good.”
On tennis: “I was 6 when I started. My sister played, and I looked up to her. My dad is a professional tennis coach.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’m not a good cook. One time I forgot to put water in the pan when I was boiling an egg. I just tossed the egg in the pan.”
I don’t like to: “Flaunt my wins. I’m more comfortable being humble.”
17 | Calabasas High School
What blew us away: He has been actively pursuing a career in standup comedy since he was 14 years old and performs at LA clubs almost weekly. He has hosted with headliner Jeff Ross at The Hollywood Improv and won a comedy contest put on by SNL star Keenan Thompson. He pitches on the varsity baseball team—all the while maintaining academic excellence.
First realized he was funny: “When I was 4 or 5. The first time I actually made people laugh was at a family dinner. I said something and heard laughter and something sparked in me.”
His first time performing: “I first got up on stage at 14. I wrote some jokes and went to the Haha Cafe in NoHo for open mike. I paid five bucks for five minutes on stage. Right before, I freaked out and ran out. But my dad said take a deep breath and go back up there, and I did.”
Most proud accomplishment: “Keenan Thompson’s comedy contest last May. I sent them my set, and I was a finalist. They flew us all out to NY, and we did a show. I headlined at Caroline’s Comedy Club on Broadway.”
Goal: “I want to be on Saturday Night Live one day and ultimately host The Tonight Show. My dad and I bonded over watching Johnny Carson.”
How he handles profanity: “People don’t want to hear profanity from a kid. I do not tell sex jokes and hardly ever use profanity. Jerry Seinfeld once said a comic should only use the ‘f-word’ if it furthers a joke. I believe that.”
Interesting to note: “Offstage I can be shy, especially with girls.”
Michael Bochkur Dratver
18 | Milken Community Schools
What blew us away: Not only does he have the highest GPA in the senior class (tied), his course load includes 12 AP classes in three years of high school. He has worked as a research assistant at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine’s radiation oncology department for more than two years and earned a co-authorship on a research paper published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology. As one teacher put it, “Michael has the kind of determination and intellectual curiosity you can’t teach.”
Most proud of: “The work I’m doing in a laboratory at UCLA at the radiation oncology department. I’ve been working with breast, brain and pancreatic cancer. I’ve been learning how to grow and maintain cells in a sterile environment. After we treat the cells with drugs and/or radiation, we analyze them. I’m so lucky. When I started I was expecting to sweep floors and clean beakers.”
Future: “Grad school. I want to explore other research opportunities. I’m interested in the brain and cognitive sciences.”
Key influence: “My older sister, Milana Bochkur Dratver [a VB “Top Teen” in 2014]. She really set a high bar. She made me see the sheer possibilities out there and my potential. She’s at Harvard Medical School right now.”
My mentor: “My grandfather. My parents are immigrants from the Ukraine. He was always there to help me with homework, and he is a walking encyclopedia. I learned to have a breadth of knowledge from him.”
In my free time: “I cook—everything. I learned from watching YouTube videos like Gordon Ramsay. For my birthday present, I asked for things like foie gras from the Hudson Valley and a sous vide.”
18 | Viewpoint School
What blew us away: Kristen is a well-known, well-liked leader and change maker on the Viewpoint campus. Last year she was named the inaugural recipient of the Viewpoint Parent Association’s Social Justice, Ethics and Leadership Award. Whether it is organizing a walkout to recognize and honor the victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting or a voter registration campaign, she is fearless, unassuming and unapologetic.
What she wants to change: “People often misunderstand the term ‘student activist.’ I actually prefer ‘student organizer’ because most of my initiatives revolve around creating spaces for people so they can have a voice.”
Finds confidence through: “Art. I’m a president of the poetry club and in the beginning, I’d write about body image and what it meant to be a girl. I really thought about the fact that I’m Asian, more emotional and empathetic. Those are special things about me. I wouldn’t have known that if it weren’t for exploring it through art.”
Regarding Crazy Rich Asians: “I support TV and movies made by Asian artists, but all of the South and Southeast Asians—brown Asians—are shown in servant, guard and other lower class positions. We need more stories that feature South and Southeast in the same class. The brown Asian community feels like their voices aren’t being heard, just those of East Asians.”
I really value: “Conversations with people from other political parties. I advocate free speech. I want to be true to who I am but respectful of others.”
16 | John Burroughs High School
What blew us away: Her bravery and fearless pursuit of life in the face of cystic fibrosis and her efforts to raise money for research. Also her fun, infectious spirit.
The specifics: With fashion shows, events and her clothing line “Rosie G” (which she kicked off at the age of 10), Grace Rose has helped raise over $300,000 for cystic fibrosis research. Last year she partnered with TOMS here in LA to host a fundraising event.
What she’s most proud of: “I’m still here. I have surpassed the age they thought I’d live to. CF is a life-threatening disease that attacks your internal organs. I take 45 pills a day and give myself several lung treatments each day. I wear a vest, and it is plugged into a machine that breaks up mucus in the lungs. And I’ve had several surgeries.”
Her secret weapon: “My drive. It carries me through everything I want to do in life. I’m not lucky to be here—I worked for it.”
Who inspires her: “My mom. She raised me by herself. That in itself is pretty incredible. She taught me how to give myself pills and do my own lung treatments. And whenever I’m scared, she reassures me.”
Where she’s headed: “I’d like to be on Broadway in a musical someday. I’d also like to be a second-grade teacher and have a comedic talk show. And I’ll always be running my clothing line.”
15 | Calabasas High School
What blew us away: The way he is putting his passion for gaming to use for a greater purpose. He recently organized and threw a gaming tournament, Fortnite Battle Royal and raised $12,000 for cancer research. It was his fourth fundraising endeavor; he founded Game On for a Kure when he was 12 years old, to honor his grandma Aileen who passed away from a rare cancer. To date Game On for a Kure has helped the Aileen Sherman Memorial Fund raise over $26,000.
Why it was such a colossal effort: “We put a lot of pieces together, and it took a long time. We had to contact the game creators and get our own server; find a gaming place that had enough PCs; get all the prizes donated.”
His secret weapon: “I never give up. When a problem comes up, I work my way around it.”
Where he’s headed: “My dream has always been to be a role model through gaming. I’d like to be a tournament influencer.”
For fun: “I play tennis for my high school tennis team. I’d describe my game as consistent.”
Plus, the owners on their secret for success.
Talk about defying odds!