Meet This Year’s Dynamic Dozen … Young Women and Men Making a Big Impact, Both Within and Outside Our Community

Faces of the future.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Madison Evangelist
  • Photographed by
    Michael Becker
  • Above
    Donné Ward Jr., 17 | Mira Costa High School

DONNÉ WARD JR., 17 (pictured above)


Donné Ward Jr. seized an opportunity to speak up for equity and inclusion. By speaking at city council meetings, he advocated for recognition of the Juneteenth holiday in Manhattan Beach, an initiative unanimously passed this year. 

“I believe that every person’s voice should be heard and understood, regardless of what an individual’s stance is,” says Donné, who is the president of the Black Scholars Union at Mira Costa and a member of the U.S. Chess Federation. 

He gets much of his inspiration from his father. “He’s a man of his word and always keeps things real,” Donné shares. “He’s always pushing himself to be better for his family.”

Donné was selected to attend the Black Men in White Coats Youth Summit hosted by Cedars-Sinai at the Los Angeles Convention Center, an event for young men pursuing careers in the medical industry. Recently he was appointed a Ben Carson Scholar, an award given to students who embrace high levels of academic excellence and community. He was also selected to participate in the Los Angeles Clippers Mentorship Assist Zone program, a youth mentorship that emphasizes assisting youth in underserved communities. 

Looking ahead, Donné hopes to attend Howard University and wants to become a neurosurgeon. “The kind of impact I want to make in the future is for people to be positive and open-minded to things in life,” he says. “I wish everyone would look toward the brighter side of things rather than always looking at the negatives.”




It only takes a measure, or two, to hear Cosmo Lieberman’s brilliance on the saxophone. What originally started during a required music class at school has evolved into a deep passion for jazz. Many hours of practice later, Cosmo was selected as a finalist for the YoungArts award for saxophone in 2023, ranking him among the best high school players in the U.S. 

For two years in a row, Cosmo played with the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, directed by Grammy-nominated pianist and composer Gerald Clayton, at the Monterey Jazz Festival. The orchestra brings together some of the most accomplished high school jazz musicians. 

In addition to his performances across the U.S., Cosmo was selected to join NYO Jazz—Carnegie Hall’s national youth jazz orchestra—on a six-city European tour in 2023. “I can say with certainty that the musicians I’ve been fortunate enough to be around, some of whom I’d call my friends, have made me who I am today,” he says. 

In March he performed with well-known jazz trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire in New York City to celebrate Harlem Stage’s 40th anniversary season. “For the last five years, Akinmusire has been one of my biggest musical influences and truly a hero of mine,” he shares.

Providing entertainment isn’t Cosmo’s only purpose for his craft. “It is my goal to use my music to help others gain emotional wellness and awareness, as well as to provoke thought about humanity and its current state among my listeners.”




In response to the awkwardness of trying to return to normal life post-quarantine, Kailani Melvin wrote a play called It’s a Daily Hassle. It is a series of vignettes, each starting with an everyday activity—like brushing teeth—and ending with something you do not see every day: lesbian beauty queens who are secretly witches, ghosts who get their periods, a time-traveling grandma. 

In 2021 Kailani received the Emerging Young Artists award from the Cal State Summer School for the Arts. Her biggest goal as a writer is for people to be touched by her stories. “I hope to tell stories that make people feel seen,” she says. 

At Notre Dame Academy, Kailani lives for theatre. For two years she directed her school’s entry performances for a competition hosted by the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California. This year she was a top 10 finalist for best “small screen” performance, a five-minute adaptation of a TV episode. This spring she will star as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. 

“One of the main reasons I love stories is because I love people,” she says. “I’ve been privileged to be surrounded by an incredible network of people—from parents to teachers to friends.” The support she receives from her community encourages her to take risks and truly express herself. 

Kailani wants to tell stories that highlight people struggling with and overcoming mental health challenges. For her, one of the most difficult parts of being a teenager is watching her friends struggle with anxiety and depression. “I think stories have the power to heal, comfort and generate empathy. I want to do that all through my work.”




Enzo Somers took his first discovery flight as an aviation enthusiast for his 15th birthday and has not taken his eyes off the skies since. He will earn his private pilot’s license this spring and plans to attend Purdue University this fall to pursue a professional flight degree through its School of Aviation and Transportation Technology. 

Growing up, Enzo was inspired by his great-grandfather’s bravery, recorded in diary entries from his time as a World War II fighter pilot. Enzo’s love for aviation is so genuine, he volunteered to pick up trash at Torrance’s Zamperini Field just to be near airplanes. While training for his pilot’s license, he worked as an aircraft lineman and was responsible for refueling aircraft and ground service equipment. 

“I love the feeling of freedom and seeing the earth from above,” explains Enzo. He is looking forward to what will be his biggest achievement to date: the cross-country solo flight that will help him earn his license in the spring. 

Off the runway, Enzo is a leader in his community. He is co-president of his high school’s Jewish Student Union and commissioner of the school’s Associated Student Body. Additionally, he served as captain of his school’s baseball team last season and participated in the Maccabi Games, an international Jewish and Israeli multisport summer program. 

Enzo hopes to become a commercial airline pilot. Along the way, he plans to volunteer for a nonprofit organization that offers free medical air transportation for patients in need, embodying his great-grandfather’s commitment to service.




Without a doubt, Elisha Gutierrez is a force of nature. The South Central Los Angeles native is an unwavering voice for women’s rights, immigration policy and social justice. 

She was selected for the School for Ethics and Global Leadership—one of only 24 high school students across the nation to be accepted. She took the initiative to create a celebration for Hispanic Heritage Month within the program. By connecting with local Hispanic business owners, she organized an opportunity for her cohort of fellow students to experience her culture. 

At Vistamar School Elisha is the co-leader of the Latino Students Association. Additionally, she worked as an intern for the L.A. County Democratic Party on map redistricting. Her passion for leadership led her to be selected for the Coro Fellowship program, which strives to equip young leaders with the knowledge, skills and networks needed to create positive change in the world. 

Meeting so many different people in the various programs she has been part of has inspired Elisha by reminding her that she is not alone in her fight for justice. “It reminds me that this journey will not be for nothing and that there are plenty more like me who are going to meet me at the top,” she says. “The collaboration and variety of passions will come together to make a strong team of leaders.” 

As Elisha navigates various spaces, she is encouraged by a memorable phrase from her youth: “Never trade your authenticity for approval.” Her drive and passion for being a voice for her community—and the world at large—will undoubtedly leave her unstoppable.




Race Serota is committed to fostering connections in his community. He dedicates himself to enhancing outdoor spaces in order to create an environment where everyone can thrive. 

Race was selected to be the only teen representative on Manhattan Beach’s Parks and Recreation Commission. During his one-year term, he explored potential programs for a new “pay and play” building to take advantage of unused space to bring the community together. He also recommended the addition of futsal, an indoor soccer game, for the local youth and adult soccer community. 

Currently Race serves on the Manhattan Beach Youth Council, a youth leadership development program. He also builds community on the soccer field. As captain of his Sand & Surf team, he leads with the values of dedication, teamwork and sportsmanship. 

Race plays on his school’s varsity soccer team and was awarded Most Valuable Player during the 2022–2023 season. In his spare time, he enjoys mentoring young soccer players as an American Youth Soccer Organization referee. 

For fun, Race earned his pilot license flying Cessna aircraft. In addition to his course load as a student, he supplements his flight training with coursework from the University of California, San Diego, on the history of space and astrobiology. 

Race hopes to impact the world by reminding people that everyone holds the power to do good and bad. “I want to make the world a smarter place where people think about their decisions and actions, and how they affect others and not just themselves,” he says. “I want to show people that being aware of one’s surroundings is one of the most vital things in life.”




Vailana Tu’ua is an unstoppable force on and off the soccer field. As a high school junior, she has already committed to playing soccer with the University of Arkansas, a Division 1 college that ranked first in the Southeastern Conference soccer standings.

In her age group, she was ranked nationally as a forward by the Beach Futbol Club. Vailana was selected to play on the All-American team of the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), a competitive national youth soccer club. The team consists of the highest-performing players across the United States who play in the ECNL. Recently, she transferred to the Slammers Futbol Club, one of the ECNL’s most prestigious teams. As a member of the Redondo Union soccer team, Vailana was voted the Most Valuable Offensive Player in the Bay League. She also scored the most goals and led the team in assists.

As a student and an athlete, Vailana shares that the most difficult part of being a teenager is balancing the expectations of everyone around her. “Being expected to perform well in my sport, soccer, and keep my academics at a high level can be difficult,” she says. 

Throughout Vailana’s life, she has found inspiration from her family. “I have always been inspired by Mom and everything that she has sacrificed to get me where I am today,” she shares. “Through her hard work and motivation, she has pushed and inspired me to be the best version of myself.”

As Vailana navigates her busy life, she keeps in mind Wayne Gretzky’s motto: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” She shares, “On the field and in life, if you don’t take that shot, you will most definitely not even have the slightest chance of achieving your goal.”




Jalyse Rodgers is the kind of person who will be featured in future movies—movies about brilliant lawyers who change the world. Over the past two summers, she has interned with local law firms and gained insight into the way law impacts communities. As lead intern, she was tasked with participating in depositions, sending notices to opposing counsel and recording case-by-case notes, among many other things. This foundational work is necessary to build any strong court case. 

Jalyse was selected to be part of the School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL), a semester-long residential program dedicated to shaping the next generation of ethical leaders. This experience during her junior year reinforced her love of law and opened her eyes to new perspectives. 

“SEGL was a very clarifying moment for me. Leaving all I’ve ever known helped me learn all the things I didn’t know about myself,” she shares. “I tried a lot of new things and was able to explore the interests I haven’t really considered pursuing.”

In the future, Jalyse hopes to use law to be the change she wants to see in the world. Currently she is building a nonprofit called Black Education Equals Protection, which will host seminars that teach Black parents and kids how to safely interact with law enforcement. 

“I want to have quality legal representation accessible to everyone regardless of their background, situation and financial status,” Jalyse shares. “My dream is to also help repair the relationship between the Black community and law enforcement.”




When he was in second grade, Kyle Smith saw an Irish dance demonstration and his life changed forever. He fell in love with the rhythm, music and jumps. “I knew I had to do it,” he says. Today he is ranked ninth in North America out of boys in his age group and holds the esteemed title of Western U.S. Regional Oireachtas champion, representing 14 states. 

Kyle’s genuine enthusiasm for Irish dance inspires him to spend six to 10 hours a week with Tara Barry-Phelan at the De Barra Academy of Irish Dance in Manhattan Beach. He always wants to tackle the hardest footwork and push himself to improve. As a male Irish dancer, Kyle dedicates himself to spreading the idea that boys can and do dance. 

“I hope to send the message that anyone can follow their dreams and passions, to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others, no matter what obstacles they face,” he shares. 

When he is not dancing, Kyle is a saxophonist with the North Torrance Youth Musicians Ensemble and plays beach volleyball. In his free time he enjoys volunteering with the Beach Cities Health District, the allcove center and the RUHS Red Cross Club. In addition to his schoolwork, he is engaged with the four-year biomedical science pathway through Project Lead the Way—an intensive science elective at RUHS. Kyle is interested in becoming a pediatric psychologist. 

He carries the lessons he learns through Irish dance with him every day. “My dance teacher always says, ‘Fall eight times, get up nine.’ This is true not only for Irish dance but for so many other areas in my life right now. It reminds me not to give in to defeat or give up.”




During the pandemic, Anthony Padnos fell in love with doodle art. By watching online videos, he discovered this spontaneous art style that combines a bunch of smaller doodles into one big drawing. 

Under the username AnthArt, he started posting his own art content and has now amassed over 50 million views across multiple social media platforms. In four years of posting, Anthony has gained 84,000 followers on YouTube and 130,000 followers on TikTok.  

He hopes to inspire others to draw and connect with the people and world around them. “I think the best way to help one’s community is to find something you love and share it,” he says.

Anthony spends Friday afternoons every month teaching art to kids in local homeless shelters. His AnthArt brand partners donate free supplies, which he distributes to recreational rooms at the shelters. 

He has also built a curriculum for Young at Art (YAA), which has been shared with over 7,000 students in South Bay elementary schools. His partnership with YAA includes donating markers and designing merchandise to help raise funds for the organization. 

“Recently I have heard a lot of great feedback about students now doing doodle art on their own time,” Anthony adds. “Knowing that my project made an impact on so many students fills me with pride!”

In addition to his art initiative, he plays on the Mira Costa varsity golf team and is a member of the Model United Nations program. Anthony is also passionate about promoting productive dialogue between Americans. In November 2023 he gave a speech at TEDx Manhattan Beach called “How to Have Tough Conversations in an Age of Polarization.” 

“By spreading tangible tools for difficult conversations,” he explains, “I know we can heal the divide in this country.”




Josephine Urbon saw a gap in mental health awareness and decided to take action. In the spring of 2023 she founded Self Care for Good, a nonprofit teen mental health awareness and peer advocacy initiative that teaches actionable ways to help someone during a mental health crisis. To honor her late grandmother’s memory, Josephine became certified in supporting teen mental health through the Beach Cities Health District’s teen Mental Health First Aid program as well as the Be There mental health course from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and

In collaboration with multiple local and regional nonprofits, she created a campaign to take mental health first aid presentations to schools and offer this potentially lifesaving training to students and educators. Her efforts have also enhanced the Ocean Therapy program at The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation, where she’s a volunteer.

“I launched Self Care for Good to showcase the relatively small things teens can do to support ourselves and each other,” Josephine shares. “After learning more about the problem of unempowered teens, I saw an opportunity to scale my message to help drive CPR-like mental health first aid training.”

Self Care for Good teaches teens how to recognize the signs and symptoms in people facing a crisis moment and shares actionable steps that can be taken until a trusted adult or professional arrives for support. The organization has received wide acclaim and has driven the highest monthly acquisition of new app users for Wave Health, a symptom tracker for people with chronic health conditions, cancer, mental health challenges and ADHD. 

“Self-care is not selfish,” says Josephine, who has written mental health articles for blogs distributed to more than 100 middle and high schools. “It’s centering and strengthening, which empowers you to build confidence, resilience, compassion and capability.”




As drum major at Redondo Union High School, Lani Young is the ultimate multitasker. During performances, she conducts 100 band members and is responsible for the band’s appearance, ceremonial drill and military decorum. As the highest-ranking member of the marching band, she also instructs the band to march with correct posture, foot timing, breath work and instrumental tone quality. 

As a leader, Lani ensures the well-being of each band member and the ensemble as a whole. She listens to and advocates for her band’s needs and takes action to make sure students can balance long rehearsal hours and outside commitments. She understands the importance of always encouraging her team and creating an environment where band members feel supported. 

“The most challenging aspect of being a teenager is often finding the confidence to navigate high school, where comparison and expectations are high,” says Lani. “Building confidence amid societal pressures requires resilience and self-awareness.” 

Lani strives to change the “band geek” label, hoping her fellow musicians will gain respect for their impressive third-place finish at the competitive California State Band Championships. The marching band is an opportunity for students to come together to share their love of music. 

“What fuels my hope for the future is seeing a group of individuals striving toward a common goal,” says Lani. “Working together for positive change inspires me and provides hope.” 

Looking ahead, Lani aspires to study in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field so she can research food allergies. As someone who has grown up with life-threatening allergies, she understands how restricting it is to be afraid of everything she eats when she’s not at her house. She hopes to set new precedents for people who share her struggle.

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