Home » Mt. Diablo HS Student Receives Prestigious Gates Full Ride Scholarship

Mt. Diablo HS Student Receives Prestigious Gates Full Ride Scholarship

By Theresa Harrington Brandt, Public Information Officer

by CC News
Mt Diablo High School

Mt. Diablo High School and the Mt. Diablo Unified School District are proud to announce that senior Tori Umaña Almaraz has received a prestigious Gates Scholarship, which will enable them to attend their dream school – the University of Southern California (USC) in the fall.

Tori (who uses the pronouns “they” and “them”) plans to major in math and minor in education for their undergraduate studies, then pursue a master’s degree with the goal of becoming a high school or community college math teacher.

“Whenever I tell people I want to be a math teacher, they’re like, ‘Ew, why?'” Tori said. “People hate math because they think it’s really difficult. I like math and the reason I’ve been able to do well is because of the teachers I’ve had.” But, in middle school, Tori said they had one math teacher who really wasn’t very good at explaining the concepts, so they struggled a lot. “That’s part of the reason I want to teach math,” Tori said, “because if I can make a difficult subject like math easier for many students, that’s something I think is enjoyable, and that’s my contribution to the world and society.” Like some of their favorite teachers, Tori plans to be available to future students by inviting them to ask questions during regular office hours, and being available via email. “I understand students learn differently, such as by hands-on learning,” Tori said. “I want to incorporate that and make my teaching more accessible for my students.”

The “highly selective” Gates Scholarship is awarded to “outstanding, minority, high school seniors from low-income households” who are “exceptional student leaders, with the intent of helping them realize their maximum potential,” according to the website.

This year, Tori said 750 students were selected out of 51,000 applicants, based on the application, essays, letters of recommendation and a personal interview.

Tori, who is Latinx, has a weighted GPA of about 4.4 and has also been selected as Mt. Diablo High School’s valedictorian for the Class of 2023. They are taking five classes at MDHS this semester – public speaking, physics, AP English literature, AP government and statistics. In addition, they are taking AP Calculus BC through the UC Scout program, with oversight from MDHS math teacher Kyle Kondo, who wrote a letter of recommendation for the Gates Scholarship.

“I recommended Tori for the scholarship because of their confidence and the growth that they demonstrated taking AP Calculus AB last year,” Kondo said. “It’s very rare for me to encounter juniors in AP Calculus AB at our school. Tori demonstrated a lot of resilience through the class and in the end was very successful in both the class and on the AP test. Tori has continued forward and has been self studying AP Calculus BC this year. I feel very honored that Tori is interested in becoming a math teacher. I honestly really want them to explore the other options too though. I hope that when they are at USC that they will get to see how many different choices and options that there are to explore.”

Tori was busy last week taking AP exams, while also juggling softball practice and games, and planning an upcoming field for the school’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club.

At age 17, Tori has figured out the importance of maintaining a balance in their life both inside and outside of school. But this has not always been the case. As a child, Tori said they “failed” at fully enjoying their childhood, including fun activities outside of school.

“When I was younger, I let other people’s expectations of me decide my life,” Tori said. “But I’m doing my own thing now. I’m choosing my own pathway. I was good at school at a young age, and I feel like in elementary and middle school, I wasn’t focusing on myself. I was trying to do more than I could and that was really stressing me out. Now, even though I’m still working hard, I can hang out with friends or take a walk to take some time to myself. I can organize my time. If I get a B on a test, I’m fine with it. If I need to raise my grade, I will talk to the teacher. There are other things I want to do, too. I’m trying to learn how to roller blade.”

At graduation, Tori wants Mt. Diablo High students to stand tall and proud, even though some have been discouraged at times by a negative perception of the school by some in the community, which Tori believes is unfounded.

“In 9th grade, I told someone I went to Mt. Diablo High and they said, ‘I’m sorry,'” Tori recalled, voicing a desire to show that the school doesn’t deserve such a reputation. Tori plans to tell their classmates that they are proving the doubters wrong. “You’re going to do great things,” Tori will say, stressing options such as college, trade schools or starting work. “You have all these opportunities in front of you. You are here now and you know what you are capable of.”

Just as Tori has learned to chart their own path, Tori wants their classmates to know that they too, can overcome misperceptions that others may have about them or the school and realize their dreams.

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