Two Chula Vista students among county’s most remarkable teens

Xiomara Villarreal-Gerardo

Twenty-five students in San Diego County were selected as San Diego’s 25 most remarkable teens by San Diego County Public Defender Randy Mize and the San Diego County Public Defender Youth Council at a recognition ceremony at the Central Library in San Diego on Nov. 10.

Two of the “remarkable teens” recognized are from Chula Vista. The Most Remarkable Teens program recognizes San Diego youths ages 13-19 for their contributions and efforts in 25 categories including environmental advocacy, arts and culture, technology, civic involvement, leadership, courage to overcome adversity and other outstanding accomplishments.

“Celebrating the contributions of young people is particularly meaningful this year as we are transitioning from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mize in a press release. “We received 159 nominations from all over San Diego County documenting inspiring stories of youth demonstrating courage, spirit and unparalleled tenacity these past 18 months. We plan to share some of those stories from the 25 teens we have selected as the 25 Most Remarkable Teens in San Diego.”

Jonathan Eppert

From Hilltop High School, senior Jonathan Eppert, 18, earned his distinction in the category of Personal Determination. Diagnosed with cancer on the second day of his junior year, Jonathan’s doctors said he would not have the energy to continue with the demands on homework and cancer therapy at the same time, so he dropped out of school to focus on his health.

Eppert was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a bump on his right clavicle grew to the size of a golf ball and went through surgery for a port and began chemotherapy immediately. He said, “two years out,” that he is feeling wonderful.

“Technically, I am a super senior,” said Eppert. “I was in treatment, so I took a year off, so I should be a freshman in college by now.”

Nominated by his school counselor, Eppert said he was shocked when he heard the news about the award.

“There are a lot of wonderful young adults and future global leaders,” he said. “It was a great combination of stories. I was truly honored to be part of it, and it was a special event.”

Eppert said he is applying for nursing school, hopefully SDSU. It would be my optimal choice. I want to go to nursing school then back to Rady’s Children’s Hospital, where I was treated, as an oncology nurse.”

Eppert spent this past summer as a counselor at a camp for children with cancer, and he serves on the Junior Council for an organization called Oncology and Kids. He is also a leader for SOMBFAB (Some Of My Best Friends Are Bald), a “thrivorship” support group for teens at Rady. Jonathan also volunteers for the Foundation at Rady Children’s Hospital, helping raise money and spread awareness for cancer support programs offered at the hospital.

Xiomara Villarreal-Gerardo is a 19-year-old graduate of Eastlake High School. At the age of 16 she went to Southwestern College where she received two A.A. degrees. She is currently a junior at San Diego State University. She earned her top teen award in the category of Journalism, nominated by her journalism professor Dr. Max Branscomb at SWC.

At SWC Villarreal-Gerardo was the editor-in-chief of SWC’s El Sol Magazine 2021 and associate editor-in-chief, sports editor, and campus editor of the SWC Sun Newspaper. At the 2021 Journalism Association of Community Colleges Awards, Xiomara won recognition for photo Illustration, editorial cartoon, sports writing, feature photo, and photo story essay. At the 2021 SPJ Journalism Contest, she was named one of the top College Media Journalists. Xiomara now writes for the Daily Aztec in both English and Spanish and is the Social Media editor of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists SDSU chapter. She said that she is working to get as much journalism experience as she can.

Villarreal-Gerardo was born in Chula Vista growing up in both Tijuana and San Diego. She went to a private Catholic school in Tijuana.

Villarreal-Gerardo said that she was honored for the nomination and the opportunity to interview.

“I am grateful for Dr. Max who nominated me for this astonishing award, and I feel honored and blessed,” she said. “I am really honored to receive this award under journalism as it is a very important part of my life. I still do not have words for how I feel. I feel extremely grateful for my family that has always supported me. My mom, my dad, my brother, and my grandparents, because I came here at 7-years-old not knowing how to speak English, and I fell in love with writing when I learned English. That is what brought me to my love for journalism.”