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Graphic celebrating Character Trait Award winners


At the May 16 Board of Education meeting, Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) recognized seven high school seniors who exemplify a pillar of leadership. Since 2012, the Superintendent Character Trait Awards Program recognizes one graduating senior from each high school who personifies a specific character trait: caring, citizenship, courage, fairness, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness. 

Each high school is asked to submit the name of the senior they believe represents a designated pillar. Each student received a letter of recognition during a surprise visit from Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith. The students’ accomplishments are also honored with banners displaying their names, photos, schools and character traits in the district office for a year. 

Join us in congratulating the 2023 Superintendent Character Trait Award winners:

Caring: Elly Goan, Estancia High School

2023 Character Trait Award winner Elly Goan with Principal Dr. Mike Halt and Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith

To anyone who knows her, it was no surprise Elly Goan was selected to represent Caring. From her involvement in the Best Buddies Club and Link Crew school clubs to her participation in Lyceum Academy to her role as captain of the Varsity Girls Soccer team, Elly is a positive force who exhibits genuine concern and compassion for everyone. 

“Elly has a maturity and sense of responsibility for others that is beyond her years. She is someone other students can confide in, someone who will actively listen to them and connect with them,” said Principal Michael Halt. “But what impresses me most about Elly is her humility. Her desire to help others often goes under the radar because she never looks for acknowledgement or praise,” he said.

While serving as vice president of Estancia’s ASB, she shared her school spirit by coordinating an event for future Eagles that helped eighth-graders explore the opportunities offered at Estancia. She went above and beyond to act as a liaison between the adaptive PE coach, the ASB Activities Director and Best Buddies, an on-campus club that encourages friendships between students and their differently abled peers, to organize a lunchtime Fans in the Stands Unified Sports basketball game.

“It is no accident that Elly is chosen for leadership roles in all of her endeavors. Others recognize the leadership potential she has, her caring demeanor, and her natural ability to be a positive influence on those around her,” said Assistant Principal Jennifer Chamberlin.

After graduation, Elly intends to study mathematics at University of California, Los Angeles.

Citizenship: Luca Fasulo, Corona del Mar High School

2023 Character Trait Award winner Luca Fasulo with Principal Dr. Jake Haley and Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith

In his six years at Corona del Mar Middle/High School, Luca Fasulo has become a model of good citizenship, starting with his longtime involvement in ASB. As a senior leader this year, he was instrumental in producing the school’s rallies and dances. For one rally, some of the performers’ costumes went missing, which was not discovered until two hours prior. Luca took charge and sacrificed his time, missing the run-through to instead find replacement items so that the rest of the rally could go according to plan. Though it can be challenging for students with such drive and initiative, Luca recently shifted his leadership abilities as he stepped back and prepared underclassmen to take the reins, listening to their ideas and guiding them in managing school events.  

Luca also led the way as captain of the Varsity Boys Soccer team, working alongside the coaching staff to motivate teammates to be better players, often leading them in workouts before school. 

“Luca is mature beyond his years. He has high character and always does the right thing,” said Principal Dr. Jake Haley. “He has certainly left his mark on CdM.”

Through his roles as CdM’s representative on the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee and member of the School Site Council, as well as the aforementioned positions, Luca exemplifies excellent citizenship as he collaborates with teachers, peers, parents and the community. 

Luca plans to study both political science and law, societies and justice at the University of Washington, with the goal of a career in law. 

Courage: Davian Gonzalez, Back Bay High School

2023 Character Trait Award winner Davian Gonzalez with Back Bay High School staff and Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith

Davian Gonzalez once described himself as a “failure in the education system” because of his  grades and spotty attendance. But in the past two years he has shown the courage to ignore the stereotypes that come with poor grades and unlock his limitless potential. He is now considered a role model and mentor for other students.  

“Finding a way to create your own success is what courage is all about, and Davian is the best example of that,” said Principal Dr. Kirk Bauermeister.

Through his involvement in Back Bay’s Spyder Lab program, he has earned multiple career-advancing certifications and now helps his fellow students acquire valuable skills. Davian also participated in the school’s new mentorship program, building his skill set by learning from industry professionals in the real estate, construction and entrepreneurial fields.  

“He has taken ownership of his education and career goals. When he came to Back Bay, he was intent on dropping out so he could financially support his family, but he instead made it his personal goal to succeed in his education, and he has done just that,” said Teacher Jason Kovac.   

Davian attended an evening presentation on financial aid leaving with the determination to apply for scholarships. He will attend Orange Coast College in the fall and plans to major in business.   

Fairness: Alizé Castellanos, Early College High School

2023 Character Trait Award winner Alize Castellanos with Principal Dr. Dave Martinez and Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith

Though Alizé Castellanos’ early years in life were anything but fair, one would not know it based on her fair, kind and positive attitude. She does not complain of hardships or make excuses, and that is especially true when it comes to her education and her relationships with her peers. 

During classroom debates, Alizé searches for the truth and ensures that all her peers have an opportunity to be heard. She also defends  her opponents if she believes they are being unfairly represented. “She listens to and considers all points of view to achieve a balanced perspective among her peers and those with differing views. Her reasoning and analysis is consistently fair and kind to all people and groups, and she demonstrates a sense of civic duty and responsibility,” said Principal Dr. David Martinez.

Determined to end the lack of education in her family, Alizé Castellanos has pushed forward to create a bright future. When she graduates in June, she will have earned not only a high school degree, but also Associates Degrees in Math and Science, plus Arts and Humanities. The dedicated AVID student was recently selected as an Angels Scholar by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, rewarded with a four-year scholarship that will help fund her pursuit of a degree in medicine.

“My dream is to fulfill my calling to help people by becoming a doctor. I am going to show other Latina girls that there is a place for us in the medical field despite currently making up such a minority of physicians,” Alizé said. “The pain I have experienced in the past has become my purpose and will fuel the impact I am going to make in the future.”

Alizé intends to start her next journey at University of California, Los Angeles, majoring in cognitive neuroscience.

Respect: Shay Wood, Newport Harbor High School

2023 Character Trait Award winner Shay Wood with Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith and Principal Dr. Sean Boulton

Shay Wood is well-known throughout the Newport Harbor High School community as being among one of the most respectful students. Teachers, counselors and administrators praise her maturity and genuine kindness. During a recent trip with her peers in the International Baccalaureate Diploma program, she gave her full attention to everyone from the chaperones to the bus driver, listening carefully to instructions and respecting rules.

She puts in the effort to be punctual and prepared, considerate of the time of her teachers and peers. Shay is also respectful of her peers’ thoughts and contributions, always allowing others the opportunity to share and collaborate.

After she sustained a leg injury that led to her using crutches, she was mindful of her classmates’ feelings. Though teachers would offer to allow her to leave a little bit early from class to beat the crowds during passing periods, Shay would decline without complaint. Although appreciative of special consideration, she did not want any special treatment.

“Shay is not only the top academic student in her class, but she is also a prime example of a respectful student. She is always conscientious of those around her and advocates for herself and others with grace and humility,” said Principal Dr. Sean Boulton.

A Sailor in every way, Shay is also active on the school’s sailing team. “She shows complete respect for her teammates at all times. She never seeks the limelight, but instead lifts up the efforts of others,” Boulton said.

Shay was accepted to Stanford University.  

Responsibility: Lauren James, Cloud Campus

2023 Character Trait Award winner Lauren James with Principal Dr. Racquel Stephens and Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith

A dedicated student, Lauren James is described by teachers and peers as exceptionally responsible. When she takes ownership of a task, she is known to be proactive and tenacious.

In addition to several Advanced Placement courses, Lauren attends a weekly, two-hour Korean class to learn the language and culture. In her free time, she tutors younger students, and she intends to travel Korea while in college so she can teach English.

She takes an active role in caring for younger family members, plus she volunteers at California Elementary School, tutoring students in multiple subjects. “Education is so important to Lauren, and we’re just so proud of how she shares her love for learning,” said Principal Dr. Racquel Stephens. “She always completes her work in the highest quality, asking questions if she doesn’t comprehend something to ensure she has the greatest understanding of the material. She consistently demonstrates responsibility in her academic life,” she said.

In addition to her academic achievements, Lauren is an accomplished, classically trained singer who has performed on campuses throughout the district, as well as for the Costa Mesa City Council. 

Lauren intends to major in sociology at the University of California, San Diego; University of Minnesota; University of North Carolina at Greensboro; or University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Trustworthiness: Tiana Luong, Costa Mesa High School

2023 Character Trait Award winner Tiana Luong with Principal Dr. Dipali Potnis and Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith

Tiana Luong is so trustworthy her teachers claim they would trust her to manage their classrooms, trust her to watch their own kids, and even trust her with their bank accounts. 

 “I would trust Tiana to make the most critical decisions. She can always be counted on to do the right thing. In her six years here, she has made a positive impact on everyone at Costa Mesa Middle and High School,” said Principal Dr. Dipali Potnis. “I have a handwritten note of encouragement from her in my office that I know will still be there long after she graduates,” she said.

Whether it is through her academic responsibilities or commitments to ASB and other student groups and activities, Tiana follows through. As president of the school’s National Honor Society, Tiana prepared agendas, sent out notifications and planned service projects without any reminders from the advisor. For classes such as AP English, she is reliably ready every day, with writing and reading assignments completed, and always willing to mentor others. She was trusted by her peers to plan and execute the school’s successful gridiron game. And though she can be depended upon by her classmates and teachers alike, Tiana also knows her boundaries and will not overcommit so that she can put her best effort into everything she does.

As the child of Vietnamese immigrants, she plays a pivotal role in her family as a translator. “I know that I can trust her to get the right information to her parents. She can be counted on to handle everything, and she does so with such gravity and humility,” said Teacher Carey Delzer.  

Tiana is interested in becoming a nurse and recently committed to attending the University of California, Irvine.

Congratulations to all the 2023 Character Trait Award winners, and thank you for being exemplary role models!