Smiling Student Receives Award for Kindness


Gerardo Ochoa and Brianna Mercado

CUPERTINO—A nice guy finished first at Homestead High School at the end of the 2011-12 year, as senior Gerardo Ochoa received the school’s first Sandlot Award.

The award was created specifically to shine a light on students who display kindness to their peers and the community at large. Ochoa, described as someone who always has a smile on his face, was nominated by teachers who told the selection committee that he always sought to make himself and those around him better.

Although this is the first year for the award at Homestead, it started four years ago as the Justin Perkins Sandlot Award primarily at Monta Vista High School, named after the inspirational Monta Vista student who died from cancer in 2008. It was created by Justin’s father, Albert Perkins, and two friends, Steven Young and John Loiacano, a Monta Vista alumnus. Young is one of the founders of a nonprofit website, Sandlot Hero, dedicated to sharing inspirational stories of people making a difference. The site includes stories about past award winners.

The award spread this spring from Monta Vista and Cupertino high schools to the Homestead and Lynbrook campuses of the Fremont Union High School District. Monta Vista senior Raelle Alfaro won this year, and at Lynbrook the Sandlot selection committee decided to honor a teacher, Jeffrey Bale. Winners this year received a unique trophy created by an artist, and an iPad.

At Homestead’s Senior Awards ceremony on May 30, the first-ever recipient of a Sandlot Award, Brianna Mercado, presented Ochoa with his prizes. Below is the text of her speech.

Good evening ladies and gentleman.

I want to begin by telling you a story about a young man named Justin Perkins Justin attended Monte Vista High School, and was a great football player who loved all of his teammates. He was know for being a soft spoken, All-American kind of guy, who approached life with a open heart and a kind spirit. But during his junior year of high school, the unforeseeable had happened, when Justin was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

It would have been easy for him to give up. It would have been easy to mourn and lose hope. But Justin was a fighter, and he refused to allow his cancer to dampen his academics as well as his passion for sports. During his senior year, before undergoing chemotherapy, Justin made a promise to himself that he would play on his high school’s football team, and he fulfilled this promise, playing in the last three football games of the year, despite having cancer.

The thing I want to point out, was that Justin was just like all of you. Hard working and high achieving student– BUT there was one quality that really made his stand out from the rest. Before the cancer took his life in October of 2008, he said one thing: “I want to help people after I’m gone.”

Thus, this award was created in his honor- The Justin Perkin’s Sandlot Hero Award- to acknowledge student and teachers in our community who truly exemplify Justin’s spirit, courage, and willingness to help others.

I was the first recipient of the Sandlot Hero Award back in 2009 from Silver Creek High School, and it is my honor to present this award here at Homestead High School for the first time to someone who truly is a Sandlot Hero.

This year, the award goes to an individual who always seeks to make himself and those around him better. As a student in the Avid Program, he may not have had the best work ethic coming into high school, but his realization that education is the foundation for a successful future has allowed him to grow into one the most hard working and passionate students his teachers have ever known. This individual believes in the goodness of life and others. He always has a smile on his face and his passion and positive attitude is infectious to those around him.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Homestead High School’s Sandlot Hero for 2012, Gerardo Ochoa.




  1. Pat Plant says:

    Lovely story and idea!