How did they get here? The Class of 2005—the most selective in Oxy history—hit campus on the heels of a "hot" Newsweek story in August 2001
Buoyed by a rise in alunni giving, record admission numbers, and a flurry of favorable press—Newsweek proclaimed Oxy one of the 10 hottest colleges in the country—"it’s an exciting time in Occidental’s history," we declared in the pages of this magazine in Fall 2001. "The Admission Office will kick off its first overseas outreach effort with a trip to Asia this fall, a new strategic planning process for the College is about to get under way—and there is the immediate task at hand of assimilating more than 460 incoming members of the Class of 2005, eight of whom you will meet in the pages that follow. As President Ted Mitchell notes, “We’re still turning up the heat.” As we catch up with eight first-year members of the Class of 2005 in the Fall 2021 magazine, let us page back 20 years to when we first met them.During his junior year at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon, Nathan Baptiste got a notion to call Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale. Teachers weren’t doing enough to promote African-American history, Baptiste says, and he refused to stand by idly. Seale, who lived in Philadelphia, listened to the young man’s concerns and agreed to travel to Baptiste’s high school to give four speeches, which served as vivid testimonials to American civil rights struggles of the 1960s. “I guess this was fate,” says Baptiste, son of Nila Epstein ’73 and the late Terry Baptiste ’71. “I was pretty amazed. It was as much for the white students as it was for the minorities in helping get rid of ignorance.”
Baptiste’s life has centered heavily on civil activism and diversity celebration. He took part this year in Oxy’s Multicultural Summer Institute, in which Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison’s classic treatise on race, was required reading. During high school, Baptiste participated in a political action seminar that encouraged community service as a catalyst for social change. He did just that during his junior and senior years, enlisting in a literacy program targeting children from kindergarten through the fifth grade.
Baptiste was attracted to Oxy in part because of its proximity to the film industry. He hopes to emulate Spike Lee: His favorite film is Malcolm X, and he was championing the writer-producer-director’s little-seen Bamboozled to classmate Gabriel Flores. “He gets in your face,” Baptiste of Lee. “I like films that deal with real issues.” He’s already given thought to producing a documentary investigating the nation’s prison-industrial complex.Calculus classmates at the Westminster School in Atlanta dubbed Sarah Candler the “queen of derivatives.” “I really like math a lot,” the Georgia native says. She has an equal passion for music, be it folk singing or playing the piano. The joint ardor comes as no surprise to those who know Candler. “I’ve always considered myself interested in things like languages, and math and music are sort of universal languages,” she says. “They’re another way to communicate.”
Candler acted on her global interest following her junior year in high school, when she traveled to remote western Nepal with eight classmates. Candler stayed with a family for 35 days, fully immersing herself in Nepalese culture and language. “It was really a shock and a reminder that we’re not the only race out there,” she says. “Even the worst off here is far better off than the best out there. In an almost pessimistic view, I realized how much we really are separated even in a technology age when we try to think of ourselves as very connected.”
Candler is attending Oxy as a Margaret Bundy Scott Scholar. She is the daughter of the Rev. Samuel Candler ’78, an Episcopal priest at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta. She hasn’t settled on a major, she says, because “I like too many different things.” Her interests, however, are guided by a social consciousness brought on by the Nepal trip. “I don’t waste nearly as much as I used to, because I saw what they didn’t have,” she says. Candler went on to start a recycling program at the Westminster School. “I like to get out there and do what needs to be done.”
Brooke Vuong’s journey to Occidental follows a triumphant storyline. Born in Houston to Vietnamese immigrant parents fleeing the Viet Cong, she lived out of a truck when the money ran out in the family’s new homeland. At 13, Vuong moved to Prunedale, Calif., and quickly set a course for herself, becoming active in student government and social causes. “Family problems and difficulties in life shouldn’t hinder you from succeeding,” says Vuong. “I wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t have a lot of these experiences. I think I’ve grown more as a person and am able to relate to more people as a result of that.”
Vuong chose Oxy over UCLA, UC San Diego, and Pepperdine because of the College’s down-to-earth appeal. After visiting campus and staying overnight, “I got the impression that the people are real,” she says. Vuong plans to major in biochemistry and wants to become an epidemiologist. If her extracurricular history is any indicator, expect her to take an active role in the Oxy community. “I’d like to get involved, I know that,” Vuong says. “I figure my first semester I’ll get into college life and see what I like.” While attending North Monterey County High School, she served on the California Association of Student Leaders, a core of 16 high school students who discuss methods to improve student governance.
Among Vuong’s proudest accomplishments was forming a campus tolerance committee and planning a Day of Respect during her senior year. The event drew 60 speakers who in some way had overcome discrimination, from a Tuskegee airman to members of the gay community. Says Vuong: “High school was more of a career for me.”Immigrating to Philadelphia three years ago from South Korea, Chi Gook Kim’s English language skills were virtually nonexistent. “I was in ESL 1,” he recalls. “That’s really low.” But Kim didn’t fret. Blinded at age 3 by a surgical mishap, he compensated by honing his auditory abilities. Studies have shown that the blind are faster language learners than those without impaired vision, and Kim mastered English within two years. He’d already shown an aptitude for all things musical, playing the piano at 4 and performing Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” by the third grade. “I don’t consider blindness a difficult disability,” he says.
Kim now lives with his sister in Los Angeles, and while he has not picked a major, he wants to pursue a career in Christian pop music. Kim also plays the guitar, saxophone, violin, and drums in various church combos, and he’s developed an interest in jazz as well. Kim attributes his academic and musical success to his parents, who challenged their son to develop the courage and confidence to excel. The family came to the United States in large part because of the wide array of services available to the blind (in Korean classrooms, he says, “They have Braille textbooks, but they’re outdated”).
Kim was among the first freshmen to arrive at Occidental in August, walking the campus with a good friend, memorizing the number of steps to every building, learning the location of every doorway. He chose the College for its small class sizes and the opportunities to forge close relationships with his professors, and will rely on Braille texts and books on tape to complete his studies: “I can do pretty much everything I want to do.”There may be more than one doctor in the house if Andrew Pace has his way. Father Steven Pace ’73 is a Fort Lewis, Wash., emergency room physician, while brother Aaron ’02 is a chemistry major who plans to attend medical school. The brothers—who are living next door to each other in Newcomb Hall this year—hope to one day open their own practice. “Since we were little kids, we’ve always thought about that,” Andrew says, adding that from watching their dad, “We know what it takes to get there.”
Pace’s academic credentials point to big things to come. At Steilacoom (Wash.) High School, he earned a 4.0 grade point average the hard way, taking 10 advanced placement classes en route to being named class valedictorian. He was captain of Steilacoom’s math team, which took fourth place in a statewide competition last year. Pace, a Margaret Bundy Scott Scholar who plans to major in biology or chemistry, doesn’t limit his accomplishments to the classroom. He was captain of the wrestling and cross-country teams during his senior year. He is proudest of maintaining balance in his life. “I don’t think of myself as traveling a narrow path and being too locked in to books or sports,” he says.
Pace got his first taste of Oxy last summer, when he took part in the College’s five-week oceanography program (he was drawn to Oxy in part because of the College’s lauded science curriculum). He attributes much of his success to his faith: “I give a lot of credit not to me, but to God for giving me skills and letting me use my talent,” says Pace, who leads a Young Life church group that ministers the Christian faith to young adults. “It makes me who I am.”As a campus leader at Oakland High School, Haneefah Shuaibe showed that student government isn’t limited to dances and rallies. The Bay Area native helped convince school district administrators to repair air conditioning in classrooms and install lighting on streets where students had been struck by passing cars. Throughout high school, Shuaibe pushed for student advocacy and helped incorporate the philosophy into the campus culture. Student input is even being incorporated into Oakland High’s re-accreditation process. “Teachers never really look at us now like we don’t have a voice,” she says.
Shuaibe—who shared her ideas at a statewide meeting of the Student Advisory Board of Education, whose attendees included Brooke Vuong—also led efforts to adopt a campus honor code, which was approved by representatives from each class. “I don’t think the students understood how they were supposed to act and what types of examples they were supposed to be,” she says. “The honor code is a constant reminder of where you stand and what you strive to be.”
Shuaibe can tout yet another accomplishment: She is the first in her family to attend college. She chose Oxy because of its ethnic diversity, and she’s wholly focused on graduating—not to mention serving as a role model for her 12-year-old brother, Mohammad. Although she hasn’t settled on a major, Shuaibe knows she wants to open her own business in the Bay Area. Having served as a summer lifeguard, she also plans to continue community service. Whether she gets involved in student government at Oxy is still uncertain: “I don’t know how college life is going to hit me.” The smart money says she’ll find a way.“I like road trips,” Rachel Shoemaker says to a classmate. “I’ll probably drive home for the holidays with some friends.” Home today is Katy, Texas, although Shoemaker doesn’t expect to settle there for good. “This is the one place I’ve lived where it’s been most difficult for me to fit in,” she says. “It’s sheltered as far as international things go.”
Shoemaker chose Oxy for its close-knit community and its location in the heart of cosmopolitan Southern California: “It’s a nice mix of both worlds.” The polyglot Shoemaker should know. She spent half of her high school career studying in the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates. The daughter of a BP Amoco engineer, her family’s frequent moves nurtured in Shoemaker a deep interest in global unity. She was born in Farmington, N.M., and at age 2 moved to Egypt. Thanks to her unorthodox upbringing, she learned to speak five languages.
At Oxy, Shoemaker plans to double major in Russian and Chinese, while minoring in German. She hopes to work as an interpreter with the United Nations or as a courtroom translator for the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands. Shoemaker already has Hague experience, having lived in the city and served as an ambassador for the Hague Appeal for Peace. The event drew together non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross and Greenpeace to call for greater diplomacy among nations. “I’m proud to be a part of any effort to help generate a better understanding of each other,” Shoemaker says. “I’m not happy if what I’m doing isn’t a progression for greater good.” Sounds like the makings of a natural globe-trotter.Stage fright has never bothered Gabriel Flores. You name it, he’s sung it, from Donizetti’s “Vaga luna che inargenti” to Irving Kahal’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.” He performed at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center with the Las Cruces High School choral department, and his skills as a tenor earned him a spot on the New Mexico all-state mixed choir and orchestra for three straight years.
His love of the performing arts dates back as far as he can remember. “Even as an infant, the radio was always on and music was always playing,” says Flores, who also plays the cello and performed in school plays. He even created the set for a production of Twelfth Night during his senior year. “For me, it was basically a big painting,” he says. “It’s a really big collaboration of a lot of aspects of the arts.”
Flores chose Oxy over any number of art schools in the hope that the College’s liberal arts emphasis will help him target a single interest: “I’m hoping to gain an intellectual basis for any form of art I decide to work with.” In high school Flores belonged to the art club, and his creations—in pencil, pastels, acrylics, and watercolors—adorn the family home. (“My father was the first in his family to go to college,” he notes proudly.) He sculpted a candleholder in the shape of a skull, a tribute to his hometown’s traditional Dia de los Muertos festival.
“Las Cruces is a small town with limited cultural resources,” he says. Through his own craft, he hopes to encourage “ordinary people”—the ones who don’t get the exposure to all the cultural offerings of a metropolitan community.
Main photo, clockwise from top left: Class of 2005 members Andrew Pace, Chi Gook Kim, Rachel Shoemaker, Haneefah Shuaibe, Nathan Baptiste, Gabriel Flores, Sarah Candler, and Brooke Vuong, photographed Aug. 25, 2001, by Max S. Gerber.