Cuellar, Durbin, Galvan and O’Connor saluted as Students of the Month

The Students of the Month for May are, from left to right, Lilly Durbin, Kaylei O’Connor, Martin Cuellar and Melissa Galvan.

A talented artist headed for San Francisco. A globetrotting rugby star. A dedicated individual working two jobs and learning a new language while attending high school. A “straight A” student with designs on creating new food flavors. The Students of the Month for May are an impressive group indeed.

Melissa Galvan of Ivy High School and Martin Cuellar, Lilly Durbin, and Kaylei O’ Connor of Fallbrook Union High School were saluted May 4 at an awards breakfast hosted by the Fallbrook Student of the Month committee at the Fallbrook Community Center.

Galvan, who had a rocky start to her high school career, was nominated by science teacher Sheri Ryan and was the first to be introduced.

“Melissa is a just a beautiful, bright, friendly, sunny, wonderful kid, but, for whatever reasons, things don’t always work out at the beginning of high school,” said Ryan. “Melissa kind of got off track but she just hopped right back on that train really, really quickly.”

Ryan said art helped Galvan, who will be attending the Art Institute of San Francisco, find her way.

“Melissa is a fantastic artist,” said Ryan. “She really, really is gifted and has had some works in shows. I also like to get her in my garden classes. Whatever we have in the garden, she’ll go out and pick things and put them all together (in an arrangement) and it’s beautiful. We kind of joke around that she’s our ‘hippie chick.’ She’s also been in my science classes and achieved at a high level. Melissa has been a wonderful part of the Ivy School community and we are so proud of her.”

Ivy principal John Hayek noted that Galvan became Ivy’s student representative to the school board.

“Melissa really epitomizes what we want our students to do at Ivy, and that is they grow and they mature while they’re there,” said Hayek.

Galvan thanked her teachers for nominating her and gave a special thank you to former Ivy principal Melissa Marovich.

“I would like to thank Miss Marovich for allowing me to be a student at Ivy,” said Galvan. “Ivy is such a really great school, and having a chance to be there knowing that I’m going to graduate from high school is great. I really am thankful for that.”

Galvan then expressed her love for art.

“Art means everything to me,” said Galvan. “I know some people may say, ‘it’s just a painting, it’s just a drawing,’ but to me it’s a voice, and I’d like to inspire people.”

Teacher Adriana Lopez of Fallbrook High’s social studies department nominated Cuellar, who didn’t speak a word of English when he arrived in the United States 4 1/2 years ago.

“The first day of school that he walked in, he was a very determined, motivated, kind, respectful, hard-working student,” said Lopez. “He’s an organized, dependable, analytical, attentive, conscientious, confident, consistent, alert, and amiable student. He’s highly-energetic and enterprising and able to overcome extreme challenges.”

Lopez informed the crowd that Cuellar has a 4.0 GPA this semester and has managed to do so while holding down two jobs – one as a landscaper and another as an aid with the school’s FILA (Fallbrook Extension Learning Academy) program.

“He’s ambitious and high-spirited,” said Lopez of Cuellar. “He takes the initiative and encourages his peers to succeed and do well. He’s got perfect attendance and has been recognized for the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists Award for 2017.”

Cuellar admitted his road has not be an easy one.

“When I first came here I didn’t know how to speak, write or understand English,” said Cuellar. “It was very difficult, very hard because it was a new society I had to adapt to. I was thinking about dropping out of school and going to the workforce and that was going to be my life. And then I thought, ‘you know what, you can do it. It’s not that hard.'”

Cuellar said he will attend California State University San Marcos and major in criminology in hopes of some day becoming “an agent.”

English teacher Remy Kirkham nominated Durbin, who at the age of 17 was the youngest player ever to compete as a member of the USA Rugby 7s Team (the average age of her teammates was 27). Kirkham explained how “The Durb” has managed to keep up with her studies despite extensive travel due to rugby.

“Lilly as a student has demonstrated the capacity to be responsible, to be productive and to be diligent,” said Kirkham. “She’s indeed a top-notch student and she’s always made it a point to keep up with her studies while she’s traveling abroad playing rugby. Her traveling is mind-boggling. She’s traveled the world more than any of us will probably in a lifetime and she’s not even 20 years old yet.”

Kirkham said it isn’t Durbin’s success in rugby that makes her special.

“What I find all the more impressive is who she is as a person,” said Kirkham. “She’s modest, very humble, very unassuming, low-key, easygoing. With all the accomplishments that she’s made, she is not pretentious, she doesn’t have a sense of entitlement. She’s just groovy. She’s got this Zen vibe that’s really cool. She’s just an amazing person all around and I’m just honored to have had her as a student.”

Durbin thanked Kirkham for “always being the highlight of my mornings.”

“I’ve been extremely lucky to be one of your students, not only for how great a teacher you are, but because your passion is evident,” said Durbin. “Students know that you care.”

Durbin also expressed gratitude to her coach, family and friends..

“I’d like to thank my rugby coach, Craig Pinnell, for always pushing me to do my best even on my worst days,” said Durbin. “I’d like to thank my family and my boyfriend for always being there to support me no matter where life takes me. Without you guys I’d just be another out-of-touch teenager, but thanks to you I’ve blossomed into the Lilly I’ve always wanted to become.”

Durbin, who was accepted by both Harvard and Dartmouth, will be attending Dartmouth in the fall.

O’Connor, whose report card features nothing but A’s, was nominated by chemistry teacher Marin Pinnell.

“Kaylei is a really hard worker,” said Pinnell. “I asked her mom about the little routine that she does every day after school. She comes home, she does school work, she goes for a walk to get some exercise, and then she comes back and she works on her school work. To me, that’s dedication, and its great to see that work ethic present in Kaylei.”

Pinnell added that O’Connor is a “wonderful artist” in addition to being a stellar student that challenges her in chemistry class.

“She’s currently in the (advanced placement) studio art program and is really into watercolor,” said Pinnell. “And she loves chemistry. I love chemistry and I love teaching chemistry. Kaylei is an excellent student in that she is not hesitant in asking questions. She is a joy to have in class and I am just so proud of her.”

O’Connor, “super shy” according to Pinnell, thanked Pinnell for nominating her and also thanked those in attendance. She said she plans to use chemistry to create the next taste sensation.

“It’s great to be here with this wonderful community,” said O’Connor. “I don’t have much to say. I am going to UC Irvine to major in chemistry and make new flavors.”

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