Calexico High School graduate and top-ranked senior Ricardo Ozuna (from left) holds up a card indicating his acceptance to Harvard University, his “dream college,” in a December 2019 photo. Third-ranked senior and Gates Millennium Scholar Juan Baltazar, decked out in a white cap and down and wearing his summa cum laude sash, holds up the various awards he has won recently. COURTESY PHOTOS
Impressive feats are nothing new to science guys and recent Bulldog grads Ricardo Ozuna and Juan Baltazar.
As the top-ranked senior in the class of 2020, 17-year-old Ozuna was a pre-recorded featured speaker during an online streamed Calexico High School commencement ceremony and the only student his principal knows of who scored a perfect 5.0 grade-point average his senior year by taking nothing but Advanced Placement courses, some six in all.
As for 17-year-old Baltazar, he was the third-ranked graduating senior who continued the storied school tradition of adding to Calexico High’s lengthy list — the most in the county by a longshot — of Gates Millennium Scholars. He missed being a senior speaker on the video by a hair.
“We are very proud of Ricardo … We can’t wait till he comes back to share his stories with other students of dreaming big,” Calexico High Principal Gabrielle Williams-Ballesteros said June 10. “The same for Juan; we’re very proud of Juan. He was a very dedicated student throughout his four years at Calexico High School.”
The fifth-year principal said both students, who were among the seven seniors to graduate summa cum laude with GPAs of 4.3 or higher, had very involved parents and brought much pride to the campus with their impressive academic careers, which mostly revolved around the sciences, including stints on the school’s First Robotics team.
COVID-19 is the reason for this unprecedented break from more than 115 years of Bulldog graduation tradition, but it didn’t cause any deviation from Ozuna and Baltazar’s intended paths.
Although neither graduate is particularly fixated on the novel coronavirus taking away the second-half of their senior year, they both said it might delay the first part of their freshman term in college.
(Spoiler alert: More impressive feats to come.)
Ozuna has accepted a full-ride academic scholarship to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., where he plans to major in molecular biology and do his pre-medical studies. Baltazar was accepted to University of California, San Diego, where he wants to major in chemical engineering. Already a Millennium Scholar, Baltazar was informed he recently was offered a partial $20,000 scholarship to UCSD as well.
Both are waiting to hear whether they will start the fall at home, taking online classes. The pair said they would know more by July.
In the meantime, both are basking in the glories of their respective successes.
More About Ricardo Ozuna
Ozuna’s senior year, although cut short, came with many moments of perfection. Like his principal noted, Ozuna scored a 5.0 GPA by taking all AP classes in psychology, English literature, government, calculus, computer science and physics.
Adding to that, he went nine-for-nine in being admitted to every college he applied for, including three full academic scholarships to Harvard, University of California, Berkeley, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.
Still, Harvard was a goal for Ozuna from an early age.
“I’ve always looked at Harvard as my dream school, so when I got accepted, I said, ‘I’m going to Harvard.’”
Ozuna wants to be a doctor, specializing in oncology, or the treatment of cancer. Already planning ahead, he’s considering sticking with Harvard for medical school, but is also thinking about Stanford University in Palo Alto.
Ozuna, who graduated with an overall class-topping GPA of 4.43, said his four years at Calexico High were not as easy as he made it look. He said he had to work for everything.
“I’d say it was sort of a learning process … I learned how to handle the workload and the responsibilities over time,” he said. “I took more advanced classes (from the start), and it was an eye-opener for me. You have to put all your effort into it … to work toward something, you definitely have to work for it.”
In fact, little has been handed to Ozuna or his family. An only child, Ozuna and his single-parent mother have been alone since his father left the picture when he was 5 or 6 years old, he said.
At times, the family struggled financially, Ozuna explained, with his mom at one point leaving her career as a teacher at Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy to become a therapy aide.
He credits his mother with driving and inspiring him.
“Thank you for being there … thank you for pushing me to be the best I can,” Ozuna said to his mom.
While he did not participate in a ton of extracurricular activities, what he did he made count. Ozuna studied taekwondo privately all four years of high school, reaching first-degree black belt. He was on the First Robotics team his senior year, was a member of the Mathematics, Engineering, Science, Achievement (MESA) Club his freshman and senior years and ran cross country as a freshman.
A self-described writer who has submitted some poems for publication in New York literary magazines, Ozuna was also a member of the poetry club in his junior year.
Although it is just him and his mom, Ozuna considers himself “a big family man. I like hanging out with my four cousins a lot. They’re a big part of my life.”
Ozuna said of the secret to his success:
“It’s the people you surround yourself with, the people pushing you to do better, people who want you to do your best, even more so,” he added.
Baltazar moved to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was in the sixth grade. Once here, he worked hard to learn to speak in English in about a year.
Raised in a two-parent household with his two younger sisters, a 3-year-old and a 12-year-old, Baltazar said his mom stayed at home to take care of him and his siblings while his father traveled all over the state repairing slot machines for casinos.
Baltazar isn’t sure what he wants to do once he gets a chemical-engineering degree, but he hopes to focus on his grades quickly and try to land an internship with a chemical company that he might be able to have a career with after college.
A proud recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Millennium Scholars Program, Baltazar will have all his expenses paid for at least four years in college.
Baltazar was accepted to eight of the 10 colleges he applied for, and the third-ranked, 4.35-GPA senior also won partial academic scholarships to University of California, Davis and UCSD.
In addition to being a member of the First Robotics team as a junior, Baltazar won the geometry portion of the county-wide Imperial Valley College Math Competition as a sophomore.
Like Ozuna’s literary side, this Bulldog cannot live by science alone. Baltazar is a musician, playing guitar for the last three years with the worship group of his church, Amistad Familiar in Calexico.
A fan of Christian rock and heavy metal, this budding guitar hero also plays bass and piano and loves Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
“Faith is pretty important in our family,” Baltazar said. “God is a central part of our lives.”
Baltazar said he is excited to go away to college, even if it’s just around 90 minutes away in San Diego.
“I want to learn how to take care of myself without my parents around,” he said.
But it is his parents who Baltazar wants to thank most of all for his successes. “They always supported me throughout these four years, and my mom pushed me,” he said. “They were pretty inspirational to me. Without them, I don’t think that I would be top three.”