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April 7, 2010 > Local high school races to the top

Local high school races to the top

By Alissa Gwynn

What is your "mission?" According to students at Mission San Jose High School (MSJ) in Fremont, the answer varies from climbing El Capitan in Yosemite and becoming a Supreme Court Justice to raising $5,000 for refugees in Darfur. For their entry in President Obama's Race to the Top Commencement Challenge for public high schools, MSJ students collaborated to create a video that shows "the school's culture and character and highlights how it is a model of educational success for other high schools around the country."

According to U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best High Schools," this year MSJ has been ranked 36 out of 21,786 high schools all across the nation for college readiness based off of Advanced Placement test scores. Additionally, MSJ has a 99% graduation rate-an awesome accomplishment that is contributing to Obama's goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

However, beyond test scores, Mission students possess a certain vibrancy and drive for excellence in all aspects of life; some of Mission's accomplishments include: having the youngest candidate for public office in the history of the United States, many nationally and internationally ranked athletes, nationally renowned debate programs, first-place state-wide Go team, national finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, and much more.

After (Associated Student Body) ASB President Kylan Nieh found out about the Race to the Top Commencement Challenge from his sister, he decided to bring the idea to the other ASB officers as well as the Senior Class Officers. Among the nine of them, Nieh says that they all agreed that it would be "a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to have the first African-American President speak at our graduation."
Later, ASB hosted a "Warrior Forum," a meeting in which the entire school was invited to attend and let their voices be heard. Discussions included the pros and cons of entering the contest and the possibility of winning; the main drawback students found was that the graduating class of 2010 would have the spotlight taken away from them, that Tak Fudenna stadium (where the graduation ceremony is held every year) would be swarming with security and media if the president was present.

However, ultimately the proponents won out, and through Facebook and the school's morning announcements, ASB invited everyone to participate in the making of the video submission. Kevin Shen, founder of the student film organizer, GoodPoint Media, directed the video which can be found at

After hours of hard work (on the day of filming, Nieh and Shen set up at 11 a.m. and didn't wrap up until 7 p.m. that night), the video was completed, and there has been extremely positive student response ever since.

Junior Christine Gan says, "I was pretty touched actually when the series of people listing their dreams started appearing [in the video]...People at Mission are really talented, and we have so many people with such big dreams...when I saw the faces of Mission kids matched with their dreams, I felt that these dreams were all tangible and extremely do-able...I really believe these students can and will achieve their dreams."

In addition to a video submission, MSJ had to submit data such as: attendance, student achievement, graduation rates, and college enrollment rates. The White House and Department of Education are currently in the process of choosing six finalists, which will then be featured on the White House website for the public to vote for. The top three schools will then be presented to the president, who will choose the school he will speak at for their graduation.

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