The Milken Scholars, a joint initiative of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation, has chosen 11 talented students from Los Angeles for its 2021 scholarship program after a rigorous nomination, application and interview process.
Open to college-bound high school seniors in Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles County, Milken Scholars are selected based on academic performance, community service, leadership and their ability to persevere in the face of personal challenges. Past recipients include inaugural poet Amanda Gorman; Ruben Harutunian, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, Belarus; Dr. Joelle Simpson, chief of emergency medicine at Children’s National Hospital; and award-winning entrepreneur and author Ali Kriegsman.
The 2021 Los Angeles Milken Scholars are:
Enrique Cabrera, Verbum Dei High School (University of Southern California)
Brayant De Leon-Duarte, South East High School (University of Chicago)
Addison Lee, Archer School for Girls (UC Berkeley)
Abigail Maemoto, Palos Verdes High School (Stanford University)
Mihret Melaku, New Roads School (Harvard)
Bryant Mendez-Melchor, California High School (Stanford University)
Joshua Pereira, Granada Hills Charter High School (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Antonio Preciado, Inglewood Charter High School (Stanford University)
Fernando Rax Lopez, Nogales High School (Vassar College)
Victoria Taylor, Santa Monica High School (UCLA)
Nathan Varghese, Gretchen Whitney High School (University of Houston)
Mike Milken and his wife Lori founded the Milken Scholars Program in 1989 to promote and assist young people as they navigate the transitions from high school to college and from college to graduate school or the world of work. Recipients receive a $10,000 scholarship, but more importantly they gain a lifelong support system that includes ongoing career-related counseling, assistance in securing internships, opportunities for community service, and a fund to assist their pursuit of post-undergraduate career goals
“For more than three decades, the Milken Scholars have inspired us with their achievements, leadership and dedication to community service,” said Mike Milken. “At this difficult time for our nation, we know that they — like all the scholars over the years — will be lifelong leaders for a better world. Whether they become doctors, research scientists, educators, entrepreneurs or diplomats, the common denominator of Milken Scholars is a genuine sense of service.”
Because of COVID-19, instead of attending an in-person summit in Los Angeles, the L.A. Milken Scholars will attend a three-day online summit starting July 23, along with over 100 Scholars including new scholars from New York City and Washington D.C., undergraduates and alumni facilitators.
When Addison Lee began to explore her mixed-race identity — her father is Korean, her mother Caucasian — she turned to the Internet. To her surprise, she couldn’t find an online community that celebrated and explored stories like her own. Undaunted, Addi decided to create her own. As founder and CEO of MixedLife.net, she leads a multi-generational staff of writers, artists and other creators who produce content about life as a person of mixed race. The site now reaches more than 30,000 people around the world, has published more than 150 works by mixed-race creators, and led Addi to present at the Mixed Heritage Conference at UC Berkeley and UCLA.
A graduate of the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles and a member of its Diversity Conference Leadership Board, Addi produced a roundtable series called “Who Can Tell What Stories?” to raise awareness and create change in her community.
Addi received Archer’s Pioneer and Gary David Goldberg Awards, the Princeton Certificate of Achievement in Race Relations, a Scholastic Silver Key for graphic design, and the Governor’s Medallion, California’s highest distinction for young artists. She was selected for Princeton’s DesignNation conference and the American Legion Auxiliary California Girls State.
Addi was a finalist in the Brentwood Film Festival and interviewed BeautyCon CEO Moj Mahdara in a video about imposter syndrome for the Built by Girls National Day of Women. Addi co-hosted the 2020 Archer Film Festival, which took place online because of the pandemic. The event featured several short works by female Southern California filmmakers and included discussions with entertainment industry icons Greta Gerwig, Geena Davis and Fred Savage.
Thanks to Addi’s work with Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote, more young voters and people of color than ever participated in the 2020 election cycle. As the West Coast regional lead, Addi led six states and more than 250 ambassadors in voter registration efforts at their schools. She appeared on Conan O’Brien’s talk show in a thank-you video to Michelle Obama and served on the organization’s national advisory council.
Addison will focus on English and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.
Abigail Maemoto’s work in STEM is already changing lives. When an assistant principal at Palos Verdes High School (PVHS) was diagnosed with leukemia, Abbie became a student ambassador for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, raising $85,000 for research by organizing a community cancer walk and soliciting corporate sponsors.
To tackle gender and socioeconomic disparities in science, Abbie founded BiomediGirls, a student-run organization with an integrated social networking platform that offers access to free online courses and connects students with scholarships to participate in research internships. Recruiting STEM professors from Stanford, Yale and other universities as guest speakers, Abbie designed a six-week introductory course and a four-week series on science advocacy, hosted a research competition, and mentored 100 students from 14 states and four countries in research projects.
The organization now includes a newsletter, a podcast, and 20 branches in schools across the country and abroad. Sales of her self-published children’s book “What Is So Special About an Unspecialized Cell?” have funded six scholarships for students from low-income communities to attend a hands-on stem cell research program.
The PVHS valedictorian, Abbie is a Coca-Cola Scholar, National Merit Commended Scholar, National AP Scholar, and member of the National Honors Society. She received the Elks Most Valuable Student Scholarship, Yale Book Award, Herbalife Excellence in Microbiology Award, Society of In Vitro Biology Award, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Hero Award, California State Parent Teacher Association Scholarship and Presidential Gold Service Award. The Southern California Biomedical Council named her a Top 5 Research and Development Biomedical Scholar.
An accomplished scientific researcher, Abbie studied urchin eggs as indicators for reproductive success and optimized algae growth for biofuel at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. She researched novel metastatic mechanisms at the Los Angeles Bio Medical Research Institute and interned at the Lundquist Institute for Biomedical Innovation and USC’s Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine. Abbie led summer science camps at the Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles, organized advanced math outreach at an elementary school, and worked to pass the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative of 2020 (Proposition 14).
Abbie will study biomedical engineering at Stanford and plans a career in biomedicine and patent law.
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As of 2021, more than 500 Milken Scholars have been selected from nearly 200 high schools in Los Angeles County, New York City and Washington, D.C. Milken Scholars embody a variety of ages, backgrounds, and academic and professional interests, and attend some of the top colleges and universities in the country. Twenty-five percent were born outside the U.S. and 75 percent have parents originating from 74 countries. Over half were the first in their family to attend college.