President’s Spotlight honors aid recipients

Eugenia Ko

Nearly 300 alumni and parents and 10 students on financial aid attended the annual President’s Spotlight Dinner March 9.

“It is a wonderful way to honor [the students on financial aid] and impart the message that financial aid is a big part of our excellence and community,” President Rick Commons said.

Oscar Cancio ’04 and Ellie Wen ’05 spoke about their experience receiving financial aid and its impact on their careers.

Cancio, one of the senior assistant admission directors at the University of Southern California, said he didn’t realize the impact Harvard-Westlake had on his life until his freshman year of college. He began by describing the transition from his public school to freshman year. Although he was a star athlete and “teacher’s pet” in middle school, Cancio recalls crying himself to sleep because of how much homework he had.

“I wasn’t the smartest kid in the class anymore,” he said. “I wasn’t the best athlete on the field. This place was a place where you actually had to study and go to practice to do well. What a concept, right?”

Cancio remembers his surprise when he was admitted to 25 out of 26 colleges, including Bates College, where he succeeded when students from other high schools struggled.

“All those nights crying, all that reading, all those challenges, it was for this,” Cancio said. “Harvard-Westlake broke me down, but it knew that it was only to make me a better student and a better person. In college, I got that healthy confidence back.”

Wen also spoke about what a Harvard-Westlake education meant to her. During high school, she was able to combine her love of literature, performing arts and community service by creating Repeat After Us, a website that features text and literature with audio clips to help people speak English.

She is now an independent filmmaker working on a documentary about the positive effect of social enterprise from around the world.

“Looking back today, I can trace my roots to my days here,” Wen said. “But above all, going to Harvard-Westlake means being part of a family — a family that lasts even after you’ve graduated.”