Oscar Leyva spent the first half of his life in Ecuador serving as a missionary with his parents, who are both pastors. It wasn’t until five years ago that the family moved back to the United States. Their son, then in middle school, only spoke Spanish.
In his freshman year at Tokay High School, he was enrolled in an English support class. English teacher Jennifer Cassel noticed his intelligence, work ethic and potential and encouraged him to take pre-Advanced Placement (AP) English his sophomore year. Though he was discouraged to by others, Leyva took Cassel’s advice and scored straight A’s in advanced English throughout high school.
“I try to always challenge myself. I took theater, joined the International Thespian Society and participated in speech and debate,” Leyva said. “I did all of this to get out of my comfort zone to learn and improve my language.”
It wasn’t just English that Leyva excelled in. As a member of the Lodi Spanish Church of God, he has helped prepare and serve community dinners, is the band’s bass player and also serves as their multi-media manager. He is also a member of Tokay’s Go Green Club. And that doesn’t include the level of excellence he achieved in the classroom in all other subjects.
Leyva’s high-achieving academic career at Tokay, in conjunction with his community service and demonstration of leadership, earned him acceptance to Stanford University this fall where he will major in biology or chemistry. He was also the recipient of the coveted Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship, which provides a full ride through college graduation.
When asked what he would say to encourage younger students, Leyva said, “Be brave. Take on challenges. Do what you like by following your passions, not just making a checklist of what you should do. Make life a journey for self knowledge.” This message will be shared at the promotion ceremony at Lodi Middle School where Leyva was asked to speak.
Though self confident, Leyva makes it clear to others that his ability to succeed is beyond himself. His motto is Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.”