13-year-old girl becomes valedictorian at Antioch High School

Ella Nguyen. Photo courtesy of Antioch High School

By Luke Johnson & Jesus Cano

While many kids her age are excited about watching PG13 movies without their parents for the first time, Ella Nguyen is focused on graduating high school at the top of her class.

At just 13 years old, Ella is this year’s valedictorian at Antioch High School with a 4.43 GPA.

Principal Louie Rocha said he believes Ella is the youngest valedictorian in the school’s history, confirming that she is the youngest graduate during his time at the school. Rocha graduated from Antioch High in 1979 and has been an administrator on campus for over 20 years.

“Being at the top of my class was something that had never really crossed my mind,” Ella said. “I’m thankful to have gotten to where I am, but it’s more of a bonus than anything. It’s simply a part of my journey as a high schooler.”

Ella first skipped kindergarten, then third grade. By the time she finished fifth grade, she had an IQ of 147.

Ella’s parents and Mission Elementary administrators approached Rocha with the idea of Ella bypassing middle school and entering high school at nine years old.

He had concerns at first and immediately thought of worst-case scenarios.

“I asked her, ‘Are you willing to take the risk of being around older kids?’” he said.

Rocha was worried that Ella could possibly be on the receiving end of collateral damage from a scuffle in a hallway. She was around 4-foot-8 and 70 pounds at the time. He also wondered how the school would accommodate Ella in P.E. — who might risk injury by competing with bigger kids — and in health class — which covers sex education.

With Ella’s parents and Mission Elementary administrators insisting that she’s a genius and ready for a higher-level education, Rocha said he turned to Ella and asked why she wanted to attend Antioch High so badly.

“She looked me in the eye and said, ‘Mr. Rocha, I have never been challenged in school before. I hope by coming to high school that it will push and challenge me to be successful,’” Rocha said.

After enrolling at Antioch High, administration ultimately waived Ella’s health and P.E. classes. It was also agreed that then-Vice Principal Michael Flosi would walk her to class everyday.

However, by the third day of freshman year, Ella told Flosi that she was embarrassed of being escorted to class and she needed to find her own way.

Some classmates were “freaking out” when they initially discovered that a nine year old was a student on campus. However, Rocha said that quickly changed as several students wanted to befriend Ella, because they were inspired by her profound academic skills and wanted to learn from her.

Jason Ebner, a teacher at Antioch High, worked closely with Ella. Over the years, he’s seen her grow firsthand.

“The young lady speaks with such confidence and grace, Ebner said. “It’s scary to understand in four years to hear the level she was to the level where she is now — the conversations that we have had about what she thinks about education, where she thinks her life is going to go.”

Now Ella and her family are getting ready to move to Stockton while Ella gears up for college at the University of Pacific. She was accepted into the pre-dentistry program and — with some of her undergrad classes out the way from attending Los Medanos College — she could possibly become a licensed dentist at 18 years old.

Ebner and Rocha both compared Ella to Najee Harris — who graduated from Antioch High in 2017 and was recently drafted first round in the NFL — because their academic and athletic talents are in the “top one percent” of the world.

“As we honor Najee for putting Antioch on the map, we should do the same for Ella,” Rocha said.

Antioch High’s commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 will take place Friday 8 p.m. at Eells Stadium with limited capacity. Ella will be one of the speakers.

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