The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

Ashley Hawkins

Salutatorian Gabriel de Leon’s biggest piece of advice for students is to utilize La Salle’s teachers as a resource outside of class and build a relationship with them. “Many of our students are scared of approaching a teacher through their flex times, but it really helps if you put yourself out there with your teacher,” he said. “Being able to talk to your teachers [and] make relationships with them really helps with your learning.”

Salutatorian Gabriel de Leon

May 31, 2023

With his K-8 years spent at St. Ignatius School, salutatorian Gabriel de Leon was in some capacity familiar with La Salle long before his eighth grade graduation ceremony. De Leon estimates that about half his graduating class ended up attending La Salle — including many of his closest friends.

However, for de Leon and his twin brother Raphael, the thought of attending La Salle — or any private school, for that matter — was initially far-fetched. “At first we were thinking of going to David Douglas, public school, [to] save money,” de Leon said. It was his parish’s priest that convinced de Leon and his family to consider private school.

“He has some connections to Jesuit,” de Leon said. “He was telling us to go to Jesuit, talking about how we can get financial aid, [how] it’d be affordable.”

With such a strong pipeline from St. Ignatius to La Salle, Gabriel and Raphael also applied to become Falcons. Due to a shorter commute and a stronger sense of community, they chose La Salle over Jesuit.

In retrospect, de Leon has no regrets about his decision. He is especially grateful to have attended a private school. “I feel like my education would have been a lot worse [in public school],” de Leon said. “Public school would be a big change from a very tiny sheltered one — with so many people I would have been really terrified.”

While the idea of being a salutatorian was something that appealed to de Leon at the beginning of his academic career, it wasn’t his main goal as a student. Instead, he concentrated on taking as many AP and dual credit classes as possible in order to save money for college. Being named salutatorian was a byproduct of the rigor of his academic coursework.

“I was honestly really surprised when Ms. Coughran told me,” de Leon said.

Even though the title of salutatorian caught de Leon by surprise, this accolade is no accident.

He heavily stressed the benefits of having a strong mentality and sense of prioritization. “Balancing between practice, having a social life, and education, I prioritize education a lot more,” de Leon said. Despite the social sacrifices that de Leon has had to make for his academic career, he believes that he has made the most of his high school experience.

“Maybe I’m not living the fullest social life that I could have, but I have close friends [and] I can still deeply connect with them,” de Leon said. “Maybe I didn’t go to every basketball game or all the sporting events, but I did have a good education, and I did save money for college.”

La Salle’s teaching staff was also something to which de Leon accredited his academic success. “Take advantage of the teachers,” de Leon said.  “In a private school where it’s so community-based, all the teachers love their students, so they’ll be happy to help you and give you more time if need be.” Specifically, de Leon named religious studies teacher Mr. Tom McLaughlin and science teachers Mr. Ryan Kain and Mr. Matthew Owen as three teachers that have facilitated his academic journey.

“Instead of just building a teacher-student relationship, they go beyond that,” de Leon said. “They really build a connection with you and keep it entertaining.”

Swimming has been a part of de Leon’s life since he was four years old, and the sport is something that he has drawn strength from academically. “Being able to do sports was able to almost just awaken me [and] give me more energy,” de Leon said. “Now I’m like, ‘Oh, I already messed around with my friends doing sports,’ and then I’m able to focus on my schoolwork.” Extracurriculars in general are something that de Leon strongly recommends for any student.

“It’s really helpful to find something that helps you move on and get past your hard day,” de Leon said. “For me, it was sports.”

Additionally, de Leon named his powerful relationship with his twin Raphael as another catalyst for his academic and personal development. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to because we’re going through the exact same things,” de Leon said. “We’re both around the same maturity [level] because we grew up together, [which] is really nice.” 

Is there a sibling rivalry between the two? Not really. “People would kind of put that on us,” de Leon said. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little bit of friendly competition between them. “At least for me, it helped me feel a little bit more like I needed to try harder,” de Leon said. “But it was just a friendly thing — we never really get into fights.”

From a very early age, de Leon was putting his brain to work. “My family tried to stay away from technology,” de Leon said. “So it was puzzles, reading a lot, going outside when possible.” That early tech-free environment is something to which de Leon attributes his academic aptitude. “Your development really happens when you’re a child,” de Leon said. “Having your parents push you to use [your brain] to problem-solve will help you later on in your life, even if at first you don’t see it.”

Despite the absence of technology in his early life, de Leon took a special interest in computers, and more specifically, coding and computer science. “I liked using my brain to solve problems, [and] coding is about problem solving — finding what’s most efficient.”

His interest in computer science truly blossomed during his time in high school, where he began with science teacher Mr. Kyle Voge’s Intro to Computer Science class during his freshman year. Computer Science II was not offered during de Leon’s sophomore year, so he jumped straight to AP Computer Science. He expressed some disappointment at only being able to take two computer science classes at La Salle.

Fortunately for de Leon, he will be able to expand his understanding of computer science at Oregon State University, which he chose due to its strong STEM program. At OSU, he will major in computer science, where he will look to pursue cybersecurity. One of his potential career avenues is ethical hacking, which was something that he first heard about at La Salle’s career day.

Aside from OSU’s strong STEM program, de Leon chose to become a Beaver due to the university’s affordability and location. While he didn’t want to move too far away from home, de Leon also wanted to have the chance to live on campus. He believes that having that independence better prepares you to become an adult.

“I just wanted to grow,” de Leon said.

While de Leon is excited for the college experience, he expressed some nerves about the transition. Oregon State’s massive student population is a contributing factor, especially compared to La Salle’s relatively small size.

Having a new level of responsibility is also a challenge that de Leon will have to get accustomed to. “You have the decision of when you sleep, when you wake up, what you do with your life,” de Leon said. “I don’t want to go, but I also do. It’s a mix.”

Becoming a salutatorian takes a great deal of academic commitment, but de Leon has still been able to get involved with the La Salle community. In addition to swim and cross country, de Leon is a member of La Salle’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) club. He also volunteers as a peer tutor each Tuesday morning.

An enduring memory of La Salle for de Leon was his time on the Journey retreat. While he went as a member of the Journey 85 group, he was also able to return for Journey 86 as a senior leader, which was “10 times better,” he said. De Leon had a “life-changing” experience at Journey, and he decided to come back to give that experience to his fellow students.

“I was able to create such a big change in their life,” de Leon said. “It helped me grow significantly as a person.”

La Salle’s interconnected sense of community is one of the biggest things that de Leon has cherished about his time in high school. “You’ll never find a close knit community [like] this,” de Leon said. “Being part of this big family is just insane.” 

It’s also something that he’ll miss as he moves to college. “That’ll be really interesting,” de Leon said. “La Salle just [has] a community focused aspect, [and] since it’s so small, in going to a public, big school, you won’t ever get that experience again.”

As he closes the book on his high school journey, de Leon had one last piece of advice for those still living the high school experience.

“Just make the most out of high school, because it’s a once in a lifetime thing,” de Leon said. “I feel like middle schools can’t capture it, and colleges are just way too big. High school is the perfect place to find your spot, really dwell in it, and just live it out.”

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About the Writer
Photo of Brooks Coleman
Brooks Coleman, Assistant Editor

Brooks Coleman is a senior at La Salle. He has lived in the Sellwood-Moreland area of Portland his entire life.

Prior to attending La Salle, Brooks...

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