Skip To Main Content
2024 Superintendent's Character Trait Award winners


High school seniors Samantha Forbath, Marcelina Sanchez, Skylar Ford-Noel, Peyton Vovan, Connor Do, Jenny Fernanda Vazquez Bernal, and Haifa Afridi were recognized as Superintendent’s Character Trait Award winners at the April 2 Board of Education meeting. These Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) students were nominated by their respective schools as representing one of seven specific pillars of leadership: Caring, Citizenship, Courage, Fairness, Respect, Responsibility, and Trustworthiness. 

Each student received a certificate of recognition, and banners with their name, photo, school, and corresponding character traits will be displayed in the district office for one year.

2024 Superintendent's Character Trait Award winners

“I am honored to recognize our amazing students who serve as a powerful example for our entire school community as they embody the values we strive to instill in all our 18,000-plus students. Their achievements attest to their sterling character and underscore the supportive environment fostered by our dedicated educators and families. Congratulations to each of you for being a shining example of admirable character," said Superintendent Dr. Wesley Smith.

Caring: Samantha Forbath, Newport Harbor High School (NHHS)

Samantha Forbath

As Associated Student Body President, Samantha “Sammy” Forbath leads with empathy, inclusivity and authenticity. Whether in class or at an event, she actively listens to her peers and exhibits exceptional interpersonal and empathetic skills.  

Samantha has been a vocal advocate for creating an environment where every student feels valued and heard, regardless of their background. Her ability to connect with people from all walks of life is a testament to her genuine and caring nature. 

Forbath has a passion for inclusivity and diversity. According to NHHS Principal Dr. Sean Boulton, she has taken concrete steps to ensure that Newport Harbor High School is a place where diversity is celebrated. Her leadership in organizing events, workshops, and initiatives aimed at promoting diversity and cultural understanding has had a profound impact on her school community.

She also makes an impact on the larger school community as the president of Students for Seniors. Members of the club spend time with senior citizens as a way to enrich both their lives and those of their elders.

Forbath’s teachers have described her as approachable, compassionate, and always willing to lend a helping hand, with an emotional maturity as a leader that was evident from a young age.  

She successfully navigates a rigorous academic and extracurricular load in high school, as well as the demands of playing varsity soccer. Forbath intends to major in political science at a University of California school, with a future career as a lawyer in the area of public interest.

Citizenship: Marcelina Sanchez, Early College High School

Marcelina Sanchez

Marcelina Sanchez is driven to serve her community. Whether as a teaching assistant or as vice president of Early College’s Community Service Club, she is always looking to help give a voice to those in need.

In her role with the Community Service Club, a partnership between Costa Mesa’s Key Club and the Rotary Club of Newport Beach, she is responsible for organizing fellow students as volunteers for a variety of events. Sanchez has compiled more than 200 hours of community service.

Sanchez currently serves as the president of the school’s ASB and represented her campus as a Student Member of the NMUSD Board of Education last year. 

“Marcelina understands that education is a foundation in being a contributing citizen of impact,” said Principal Dr. Dave Martinez. 

Last year, Sanchez invited Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Kerrie Torres to the Early College campus to present her ideas on how to promote the school’s visibility, campus atmosphere, and culture. Thanks to Sanchez’s research and dedication, a classroom was remodeled into a tutoring/study room for students, and a student-designed mural program was created. (Two works of art have already been unveiled, with a third expected in the spring.)

Sanchez plans to attend USC, UCLA, or the University of San Diego, where she plans to study biology, human sciences, and child development as she pursues her goal of becoming a pediatrician. 

Courage: Skylar Ford-Noel, Estancia High School

Skylar Ford-Noel

Skylar Ford-Noel exhibits a maturity not often seen in someone his age. That maturity is borne of overcoming childhood hardships. 

Through his courage and steadfast mindset, Ford-Noel is overcoming obstacles in life and is determined to succeed. He assists and supports his grandmother, acting as her caretaker while also balancing a calendar of academic, athletic, and extracurricular pursuits at Estancia. He is enrolled in two Advanced Placement courses, plays on the varsity basketball team, and is actively involved in drama. 

According to Estancia Basketball Head Coach Xavier Castellano, Skylar doesn’t give up on the court or off. He is the epitome of hardworking, dedicated, and dependable, always bringing forth his best effort. “Skylar never makes any excuses; instead, he works harder and figures out how to make things happen," Castellano said.

Drama Teacher Amber Marroquin credits Skylar’s dedication to excellence and innate kindness for his courage in tackling new challenges. He enrolled in Estancia in 10th grade, and despite not knowing many students in the drama program and having zero experience performing on any high school stage, the next year he auditioned for and won a role in the spring musical.

“Skylar stepped beyond his comfort zone, created friendships, and emerged as a leader among his peers. He excels in leading roles, fearlessly stands up for his beliefs, displays the strength to acknowledge when he’s wrong and strives toward becoming the best version of himself,” Marroquin said.   

Ford-Noel plans to attend the University of California, Irvine, where he will study environmental science.

Fairness: Peyton Vovan, Corona del Mar High School (CdM)

Peyton Vovan

Peyton Vovan keeps the words of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt close to her heart: “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” This is clear in how she treats everyone around her, from fellow students to the community at large.

As ASB President, Vovan is well-known for ensuring equal representation and listening carefully to her peers. 

In times of conflict, Vovan can be counted on as a leader to settle things fairly. During ASB discussions, she balances constructive criticism with positives and can redirect those who are not participating fairly. She represents the school’s ASB values, listens carefully, and helps convert negative conversations into more inclusive language.

Vovan currently represents the CdM High School community as a Student Board Member. She takes the responsibility seriously, reviewing her talking points in the days leading up to meetings to ensure she is acting fairly on behalf of her fellow Sea Kings. 

“Peyton is one of the best leaders I have seen in all my years in education. She supports her community by attending every ASB event, sports game, performing arts event, board meeting, back-to-school night, and more. She would never ask someone to do something she doesn’t do herself. She walks the walk and talks the talk. And that’s what makes her an amazing, fair leader,” said Principal Dr. Jake Haley. 

Vovan is considering a future in political science and/or finance.

Respect: Connor Do, Costa Mesa High School

Connor Do

In the coveted role of drum major for Costa Mesa High School’s marching band, Connor Do is the embodiment of respect. Whether leading the band or interacting with school administrators and staff, he demonstrates confidence and respect, which are recognized and reciprocated. 

“The motto in my classroom is to give what you want to receive, and it is clear that the respect that Connor shows when assisting his peers is repaid to him. Connor is an outstanding model of the Mesa way and an outstanding citizen of this community. I cannot wait to see what this young man has ahead of him,” said Teacher Zaid Batarseh. 

Do knows that everyone has a different way of expressing themselves, and he is encouraging and thoughtful in his communication with others. He has volunteered at a senior home, engaging residents in conversation, assisting with social and recreational events, and helping them with technological needs. 

“He engages with the community with care and purpose. Connor always takes the time to genuinely check in with staff members and his peers. He shows a natural respect in all of his interactions, which further demonstrates his leadership skills,” said ASB Advisor Carey Delzer.  

A skilled multi-instrumentalist, Do prioritizes open communication with other musicians when performing in marching band or jazz competitions, concerts, and community events. 

He hopes to attend Stanford University as a medical student, intending to work in the surgical or physician’s field.

Responsibility: Jenny Fernanda Vazquez Bernal, Back Bay High School

Jenny Fernanda Vazquez Bernal

Jenny Fernanda Vazquez Bernal’s parents were migrant farmworkers for most of her life before moving to Costa Mesa. Despite the barriers presented by being an English language learner, education was a priority for Vazquez Bernal. 

Every day, she eagerly showed up for her classes at Back Bay High School, ready to learn. “Jenny took the responsibility of making sure to attend all her classes every day while also supporting her older sister in her educational journey. That amazing level of support and dedication is commendable,” said Principal Dr. Kirk Bauermeister.

Vazquez Bernal stayed on top of her studies, checking in with teachers regularly to ensure she was doing well. She advocated for herself when she needed assistance with schoolwork, even though she often felt shy. Though she had a job outside school and helped take care of her grandparents, she was always organized and never missed an assignment. “I know Jenny will be successful in whatever she chooses to do in the future. She is an exemplary example of what responsibility means and a great role model for her peers,” said School Community Facilitator Hugo Solorzano.

Thanks to her hard work and unwavering dedication to her education, Vazquez Bernal graduated from Back Bay a semester early. She intends to continue her education at Golden West College or Orange Coast College and hopes to study cosmetology to open her salon someday.

Trustworthiness: Haifa Afridi, Monte Vista Independent Study

Haifa Afridi

Haifa Afridi personifies trustworthiness as a student at Monte Vista Independent Study High School. She is praised by her teachers for demonstrating a strong commitment to academic honesty. She always gives credit where it’s due while prioritizing submitting work that reflects her unique efforts. While artificial intelligence software can be helpful and purposeful if used responsibly, Afridi generally avoids utilizing it, preferring to dedicate time to owning her assignments through careful planning and collaboration with teachers. 

“Haifa lives with a moral compass. Because she is passionate about learning, she understands the importance of integrity in her schoolwork. She sees the connection between taking ownership of her education now and how that will impact her in the future,” said Teacher Kira Quesnell.

Her perseverance extends past her schoolwork to her community. For her Experiential Learning Project, Afridi explored the topic of food insecurity. She was dedicated in her commitment to understanding the impact of food insecurity on her local community and helping to determine a relief effort. She coordinated and advertised a food drive, knowing that the less fortunate members of her community would be relying on her efforts.   

“So much of what Haifa does and how she expresses herself shows the concern she has for the people and the world around her. She exhibits an upstanding character and has a true passion for learning. Having known her the past couple of years, I trust her to do great things in the future,” said Principal Dr. Racquel Stephens.

Afridi intends to pursue a career in law as an attorney or judge.

Since 2012, the Superintendent Character Trait Awards Program has recognized one graduating senior from each high school who personifies a specific character trait, as nominated by their high school administration.

The Newport-Mesa community congratulates all the 2024 Character Trait Award winners and wishes them continued success.