Rio Mesa student named top Star Scholar

Sne Kanji, headshot.
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Sne Kanji tells her little brothers to work hard and not give up.

She studied hard, volunteered and took part in extracurricular activities, from dance to concert band. And now, she has her pick of top universities and a $5,000 scholarship as the 28th annual top Star Scholar.

“It wasn’t easy when I did it, when I was in the middle of it,” said Kanji, a senior at Rio Mesa High School. “But now, I think it’s all worth it.”

Kanji, 17, of Camarillo, was one of 87 high school seniors recognized Tuesday night at the Ventura County Star event at the Serra Center in Camarillo.

High schools throughout Ventura County chose students for the recognition based on their academic achievements, school activities and community service. Students then wrote personal essays, which were read by a panel of judges from The Star.

Each year, that panel picks one student to receive the $5,000 Julius Gius Star Scholarship. Gius was the editor of the Ventura County Star-Free Press from 1960 to 1988.

Kanji — this year’s winner — said the money will help her realize her dream of going away to college.

“Right now, I’m deciding between UCLA and UC Berkeley,” she said.

She plans to pursue a degree in sciences, possibly molecular biology, neuroscience or human biology.

She hasn’t pinned down a specific career, but she’s sure it will be in medicine.

“I can’t see myself doing anything else,” she said.

In her essay, Kanji wrote about the challenges she faced as she worked hard to get to college. Her parents supported her dream, but some extended family members did not. She said she thinks they might not have had the same opportunities or may have been concerned about her leaving home.

But their lack of support only added motivation.

“I used to think education was something one uses to enlighten themselves, but for me it has become much more than that,” Kanji wrote in her essay.

Education is her independence, she said.

On Tuesday, Kanji sat next to her mother, Malti Kanji, who wiped away tears as her daughter accepted her award on stage. She worked “very hard” to succeed in school and she was proud of her achievements, her mother said later.

Before the Star Scholars were announced Tuesday night, students, parents and school officials listened to guest speaker Stephan Pastis, cartoonist of “Pearls Before Swine,” a comic strip from United Feature Syndicate that appears in 700 newspapers worldwide.

He told them how he went to UC Berkeley after high school. Then he went to UCLA Law School and got a job at a law firm. But he hated being an attorney and had always dreamed of being a cartoonist.

“If you learn anything from my story, let it be this: Find what you want to do in life and figure out a way to do it,” Pastis said.

He told them there were years of rejections and a lot of work before he got his break as a cartoonist. The students, too, may not be able to control a lot of what happens, including the setbacks and disappointments, he said.

But they can control how they respond.

“In the end, only you can give up,” he said.

Pastis told them that if they can treat rejections as just part of the path to success and learn from them, they can go far.

“Keep going and defy the odds,” he said.

Each student who was recognized at the awards ceremony will get a scholarship from the Ventura County Community Foundation through The Scholarship Fund for Ventura County.

“Our hope is that we can give $500 … to each student, but that depends on how much money we have raised,” said Hugh J. Ralston, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. So far, it has about $26,000, about halfway to that goal.

“This is really a vehicle for everyone in the community to donate, so at least one student at every high school has a chance to move forward,” Ralston said.

Accomplishments of students recognized Tuesday included a 4.7 GPA and community activities from local beach cleanups to building houses in Tijuana, organizers said.

“Congratulations to all of our scholars,” Joe Howry, The Star’s editor and vice president, told the students Tuesday. “We look forward to what you will do and bring back to our county.”

The Star Scholar Awards was sponsored by the County Schools Federal Credit Union and The Star in Education Foundation.

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