Meet the 2015 Scholars

Each year, 826 Valencia awards several scholarships to college-bound students from the Bay Area. This season, we received over a hundred applications, making this the most competitive year yet.

These eight scholars truly stood out from the pack, impressing us with their exceptional maturity, their ability to clearly and eloquently share their stories and aspirations, and their admirable determination to give back to their communities.

We are honored to introduce you to the 2015 recipients of 826 Valencia’s college scholarships.

Akram Alakel, 2015 ScholarAkram Alakel
As a youth in Yemen, family tragedy and revolutionary chaos interrupted Akram’s education, and his mother made the difficult decision to send him to America to finish school. At S.F. International High, Akram was eager to deepen his community involvement. His commitment to fighting bullying on campus inspired Akram to preserve his school’s faltering Peace Club. He led a team that was instrumental in securing a grant to save the club and used that funding to implement educational programs fostering peace and understanding that are now part of the school curriculum. Akram plans to study petroleum engineering in college. His goal is to return to Yemen to help develop a domestic oil industry, and on a more personal level, he hopes to become a positive role model and work to dispel discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.

Elilita Geletu, 2015 ScholarElilita Geletu
Elilita is an independent thinker and approaches obstacles with determination, positivity, and humor. When Elilita was 12, her mother moved to the U.S. from Ethiopia while Elilita remained behind, on her own, for four years. As she told us in her application, “at 12 years old, it is hard to be the wiper of your own tears.” This period shaped her character, making her a mature young woman who aspires to be strong for herself, her family, and her community. In addition to excelling academically at John O’Connell High, Elilita co-founded a successful tutoring group for younger students in her community. She plans to study math in college, aspires to attend medical school, and dreams of one day returning to Ethiopia to create an institution where children in rural areas can receive education and healthcare.
Emily Guo, 2015 ScholarEmily Guo
Emily is a scholar, author, journalist, and activist. Her list of extracurricular activities is formidable: volunteer for the S.F. Food Bank and SPCA, high school officer for the Red Cross, proud and active member of the S.F. Youth Commission, and after-school tutor at 826 Valencia. She is also an accomplished writer and editor of her school newspaper, and one of her op-ed pieces was featured in the San Francisco Examiner. Emily plans to study journalism in college and to pursue what she considers the ‘calling’ of being a journalist. Growing up in China, she experienced first-hand the perils of government-controlled media, and through journalism, she aspires to be “part of something that seeks to penetrate indifference, apathy, and obtuseness in the pursuit of truth.”
Giselle Perez Guzman, 2015 ScholarGiselle Perez Guzman
Giselle is an animal lover through and through. Her pets have ranged from geese to hamsters to cows, she volunteers regularly at Northern California Family Dog Rescue, and she created the PAWS club at Gateway High, which helps fundraise for dog shelters around the world. Giselle is a venerable 826 Valencia alumni, attending tutoring and writing programs at 826 throughout elementary and middle school. She was one of the first students to be honored on our Young Writers Wall, has had her writing published in numerous 826 publications, and credits her time here with giving her the courage to communicate. Giselle plans to take her passion for animal rights awareness with her to college, and hopes to one day work in a field that involves caring for animals.

Wequi Liang, 2015 ScholarWeiqi Liang
Weiqi came to San Francisco from China at the age of 15. When she started school at Mission High, Weiqi couldn’t speak or understand English, but she met that challenge with courage and determination. She requested after-school tutoring and dove into many, many extracurricular activities, including serving as Chinese Club treasurer and tutoring students with mental disabilities. At home, Weiqi helps care for her younger sister and provides crucial assistance to her family as they navigate life in the U.S. Weiqi has a deep appreciation for the ways education has improved her life and plans to study economics and education in college. She believes that education is particularly important for young women and aspires to work with low-income, immigrant students to provide them with access to education.

Khalil Meftah, 2015 ScholarKhalil Meftah
Khalil is a mature young man who has faced his challenges with ambition and excitement. His family escaped the turmoil of the Arab Spring in Yemen where he’d finished high school and was ready to begin college. Moving to the U.S. meant he had to complete another two years of high school before he could apply to college here. At age 16, Khalil handled this frustration with grace and determination, taking on the challenge of a heavy academic load and learning a new language in addition to work and numerous extracurriculars at S.F. International High. Khalil has won the Koshland Young Leader Award, which recognizes the next generation of leadership in the Bay Area, and was nominated to participate in an internship at UCSF, where he worked with a mentor doing research and testing. Khalil plans to study environmental science or biochemistry and hopes to one day use his skills in scientific research as a way to create change.
Maria Soto, 2015 ScholarMaria Soto
Maria is a brilliant and confident student, and a proud and dedicated mother with a deep desire to use her education to make a difference in her Latino community. Maria came to the U.S. from Mexico at age 14 with her mother and infant son. She faced the challenges of learning a new language, navigating a new culture, and raising a child as a single mother in high school with strength and resilience. Her social studies teacher at Mission High describes her as an intellectual leader who has achieved “stellar academic success.” She plans to major in social science and aspires to return to Mission High to “teach new generations the events from the past that connect with the present, and are affecting, and benefiting, our lives.”
Yuling Wu
Yuling is an outstanding athlete, a compassionate leader, and an aspiring medical professional. Across these roles, she has demonstrated an unwavering ability to approach challenges with generosity and positivity. After her grandmother passed away from an untreatable illness, Yuling resolved to devote herself to developing medical treatments for those facing similar ailments. As the first in her family to pursue an education beyond elementary school, Yuling took one step closer to achieving her dream by becoming a volunteer at UCSF Medical Center, where she helped organize events for patients and their families—all while occupying several leadership positions and acing her way through a rigorous course load at John O’Connell High. In college, she plans to study biochemistry and biology to prepare for a career in medical innovation.

Read more about the 826 Valencia College and Career Readiness programs available.

Many thanks to the talented and generous Erol Ahmed for these beautiful portraits. Erol is a Bay Area-based photographer and designer who donated his time to photograph our scholars. See more of his awesome work at