Three members of the Class of 2019 are recognized as this year’s Young Alumni Changemaker honorees: Olivia Castillo, Bruno Kai Ong, and Zoe Sokatch.
Live Oak School is pleased to announce the honorees for the 2023 Young Alumni Changemaker Award. Olivia Castillo ‘19, Bruno Kai Ong ‘19, and Zoe Sokatch ‘19 have been recognized for their work in their schools and communities in making a positive difference, demonstrating exceptional leadership, and exhibiting empathy in recognizing the needs of others. The award, in its second year, is given to a current junior or senior in high school who exemplifies changemaker values and inspires others to effect change.
Read more about the honorees:
An advocate for elevating the voices and academic opportunities for people of color on the Lick-Wilmerding campus, Olivia serves as the Student Inclusion Chair and Student Body President, while spearheading the formation of a new Ethnic Studies course at Lick. Olivia, a senior, also co-founded the Sexual Assault and Harassment Group and helped lead a walkout to raise awareness and unite the student body against instances of sexual harassment on their campus. Olivia is helping to foster a more unified, inclusive school community by opening up conversations about race, identity, and gender roles, while giving voice to the common experiences of her peers to effect progress toward greater equity.
Reflecting on how her experience at Live Oak influenced her social justice efforts:
“Live Oak was my first independent institution and I always felt safe; not until high school did I understand the realities of an independent school for a student like me. Live Oak fosters a community of care and empathy. Live Oak teaches students to be a family and cultivate connections through amazing traditions such as groves. Live Oak prepared me to use empathy and care for other people and fuel it into a motivator for change.”
Bruno Kai Ong
As the co-chair of the Bay Area Youth Climate Summit (BAYCS), Bruno is committing his energy toward a more environmentally-sustainable future. Bruno’s work with BAYCS involves empowering a network of over 3,000 youth across more than 60 high schools to take action on climate change within their local communities. Along with paving the way as Lick-Wilmerding High School’s first Environmental Co-Chair, Bruno helps break down the anxiety many teens feel in trying to tackle a problem as lofty as climate change by planning practical and accessible sustainability workshops, environmental restoration days, and letter writing events, among other events meant to engage his peers in developing effective climate solutions. Like Olivia, Bruno is graduating from Lick in 2023.
On how Live Oak helped Bruno develop his passion for climate work:
“I vividly remember a quintessential Live Oak 8th grade project: designing a country from scratch. After examining the United States’s justice system, carceral system, and the roles of each branch of government, I created a coastal utopia with two classmates. Our country evolved with personal stories and unique touches. We imagined yaks roaming our steep mountain range, a flag that embraced the color purple, and wackily-named cities. Our constitution emphasized a reformed carceral system, cities that were in touch with the surrounding landscape and had more public infrastructure (intricate train routes, large parks, etc), and public healthcare.
To me, this project is the epitome of a Live Oak education: thoughtful, insightful, and joyful projects that make us question what we perceive as normal. My Live Oak education empowered me to think ambitiously, tackling large scale problems with radical but realistic solutions. But more importantly, my Live Oak education taught me to find joy in collaboration.
I see these values in my climate work: we need radical solutions that upend the status quo - whether that be prefabricated tiny homes (one of my personal passions and something I have thoroughly explored!) or substantial climate legislation (such as the Inflation Reduction Act). Live Oak taught me that I had the power to rethink what was normal. And I have found joy in doing so, as I curate Spotify podcasts with climate-related songs with my peers, design tiny homes, or lobby for more transparency around our endowment and divestment at my high school.”
By taking action to raise awareness of the growing mental health challenges many teenagers are facing, Urban senior Zoe is building bridges for her peers to get the help they need, while recruiting others to build a support network across her campus and beyond. As Editor-in-Chief of the school’s student publication, the Urban Legend, and a member of Urban’s Peer Resource student group, Zoe uses journalism to shine a light on mental health issues within the school community. She wears many hats - writer, mentor, teacher - all feeding her passion to create positive change among her peers and her community.
On the motivation Zoe received at Live Oak to use her voice for positive change:
“During my time at Live Oak, I ran an affinity space called ‘Girls Group’ with a fellow classmate. I was completely and totally supported by faculty and staff and encouraged to host events like an RBG documentary movie night in the school library equipped with sheet masks and popcorn. At Live Oak, I was taught how to be a leader, and as a female-identifying person, this is a lesson I have never forgotten. As children, girls are often told to be quieter than their male-counter parts. However, at Live Oak, I was given the exact opposite message. This school fueled my voice and taught me to always stand up and be loud. I’m not sure I would have the courage to lead my school’s paper as a girl had it not been for my Live Oak education.”
Congratulations to all three honorees - Live Oak is proud to have you serving the broader community and we look forward to seeing you develop your leadership skills in the future!