Photo provided by Itzel Luna
Determined, persistent, mature and responsible are a few of the words teachers and family have used to describe senior Itzel Luna. After applying to 20 schools with an unweighted GPA of 3.89, Luna was accepted into 18, including five Ivy League: Harvard University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania.
“I wasn’t that nervous until it was 3:59 p.m.,” said Luna, Print Editor-in-Chief for The Pearl Post. “It’s more nerve-wracking because they all come out at the same time, so I was checking one after the other. I just couldn’t process it at the time, I just had to keep checking. I’m still processing it right now.”
Yale University was the first of the Ivies that Luna checked on April 6. She got rejected. Next, she checked Harvard and saw the congratulations and confetti appear on her laptop screen. The next four schools accepted her as well. Luna was left shocked and completely speechless. She is the first student from Daniel Pearl Magnet High School (DPMHS) to be accepted into five Ivy League schools. In 2014, two students were accepted into four Ivy Leagues.
With this school year being conducted completely through distance learning due to the pandemic, there was a lot of uncertainty and challenges surrounding college applications and admissions. The process of getting a transcript or letter of recommendation took much longer. There was also the aspect of finding the motivation to do anything during this time. Being the first to go to college and continue with her education were huge motivators for Luna.
“It was very difficult because there was so much uncertainty. It was very nerve-wracking deciding to do test optional because there were a lot of conversations about whether that would hurt your application,” said Luna, who plans to become a political journalist . “(Being first-generation) is a huge motivation to me because it’s setting that precedent for my family and getting my family really excited about it.”
As a first-generation student, Luna has set a very impressive example for her brothers, family and peers. She has shown how hard work and persistence can pay off in the end. Although she is surprised by all of her Ivy League acceptances, her parents had absolutely no doubt in her.
“Well to be honest with you, I wasn’t that surprised. I was kind of expecting that because I knew how hard she worked for that,” Luna’s mom, Cecilia Ocegueda said. “We were so surprised by how many schools she got into. It’s really, really special and exciting. We have never gone through this before.”
After discovering DPMHS through a Meet-the-Magnets event, Luna knew right away that’s where she wanted to attend high school. Over the past four years, she has taken three honors courses, five Advanced Placement (AP) classes and nine college classes. Although DPMHS does not offer many AP courses, she sought out the different resources available to her, such as taking dual-enrollment college classes.
Throughout the summer going into her junior and senior year, she took part in various summer journalism programs, such as the Princeton Summer Journalism Program, that equipped her with lots of knowledge. Both Luna and counselor Martina Torres agree that underclassmen should seek out the many opportunities out there and become involved with their school and community early on.
“To be a competitive student, you need to show that you can handle rigorous classes like honors, AP and college-level courses,” Torres said. “These colleges want to know that you come in prepared to work above and beyond the basic level. They want a student that is going to be active in the school and in their community. Itzel was active since 9th grade and it shows in the way she has grown as a student and as an individual.”
After taking intro to journalism in the ninth grade and enjoying the class, Luna was inspired to join The Pearl Post staff her sophomore year. During that year, she covered many big stories, such as the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) strike. She considers it one of the highlights of her high school journalism career. After experiencing what it was like being on the front lines, that’s when it dawned on her that journalism was a big passion of hers and something she wanted to pursue as a career. She plans on majoring in communications and/or political science depending on the school she ends up choosing.
“One of the reasons why I love teaching ninth graders is because I can see their growth,” journalism teacher Adriana Chavira said. “In the tenth grade, I got to know Itzel a lot more than I did when she was a freshman and I saw the responsibility, determination and maturity that she possesses. I’m excited to see where she ends up going and definitely, I will follow her career. I’m excited to see how she’s doing 10 years from now.”
As National College Decision Day quickly approaches on May 1, Luna has been talking to many people to get their input. From counselors to teachers and students who either attend or are alumi from some of the colleges she was accepted into. Since she has known about her acceptance to Stanford since December, she has researched it the most. Although she is considering all of the schools, she would say Stanford is going to be hard to beat.
With many prestigious schools to choose from, Luna has acknowledged how special these acceptances are and the beauty with the bigger picture of it all.
“As a first-gen low-income kid, you never really see yourself at these schools,” Luna said. “It didn’t even feel like a possibility that I could ever get into any of these schools. I kind of felt like it wasn’t my place and I think that’s how a lot of kids that are first-gen or low-income feel. That these institutions are so wealthy and prestigious, that we don’t really belong there. It’s scary because I’m putting myself in a place that wasn’t designed for me but I think that it’s important for us as first-gen low-income kids to know that we have a place at these institutions. So, I think that’s why it’s really important to me.”
After gaining a lot of knowledge throughout this whole process, Luna’s advice for underclassmen is to realize that there is no set formula to get accepted into all of the prestigious universities.
“You’re worth isn’t defined by them,” Luna said. “I think that it really reflects in your essays and your application when you are doing something that you are actually passionate about. I see that with other kids that I’ve talked to that also got admitted to these schools. It’s like everybody kind of has something that they just really love to do and if you can really show that in your application, I think that’s really what can set you apart.”
Throughout the past four years, Luna has grown out of her shell and achieved so much in so little time. From receiving several scholarships and earning various write-off awards, she points out that her success can be attributed to multiple people in her life.
“I didn’t do this all on my own. I had an amazing family that supported me and I have amazing teachers and counselors,” Luna said. “Everybody that supported me throughout these four years, they’re also the reason why this all happened.”