University High School is mourning the tragic loss of two beloved teachers. English teacher Violeta Ponce passed away from a rare form of cancer, Adnoid Cystic Carcinoma, on the morning of May 31. Fellow English teacher and journalism adviser Olga Kokino suffered from breast cancer and passed on the morning of Sept. 8.
“Both ladies shared the same desire to live their lives to the fullest despite their terminal illnesses,” wrote Maria Lomeli, the World Language Department Chair.
Kokino and Ponce will be greatly missed by the students and staff members at University High School.
“They faced their destiny with courage and grace,” Lomeli said. “I will always remember my very dear friends, Violeta and Olga.”
Kokino loved listening to the Beatles, traveling around the world, going to museums, and hanging out at a dog park. She was not only fun-spirited, but she also had a great passion for her students. Kokino wrote many grants, which were used to fundraise for journalism conventions and provide computers for the digital media lab we have today.
“I would love her to be remembered as a very passionate teacher who would do whatever it took to better education and enlighten your life,” said Technical Arts Department Chair Danna Coonen-Lee, Kokino’s friend of 20 years.
Kokino had a great desire to push her students to strive for the best they could. As the president of the Los Angeles Journalism Teachers’ Association, Kokino herself was well accomplished, publishing six to eight pages for a nationally acclaimed newspaper every week.
“Thank you for truly unleashing the creativity in me and urging me to continue writing after graduating high school to do bigger and better things,” wrote Lubaba Haque, Kokino’s former student and graduate of UCLA.
Ponce was a strong-willed and determined English teacher who dedicated 15 years of her life at University High School. Despite her tough battle with cancer, she continued to do her best to help educate her students.
“Ms. Ponce was the face of supportive and dedicated teachers at Uni, despite limitations and adversities,” former student and junior Guillermo Hercules said. “When I was going through tough times, she was always there to listen.”
As an avid dessert-eater and film enthusiast, Ponce was passionate and convivial. When Rosaisela Lomeli’s family cat passed away, Ponce saved one of the kittens that her cat had, to cheer up Lomeli’s father. Ponce supported others during their difficult times, even as her own health faded.
“Although I didn’t get to know Ms. Ponce much due to her illness, I saw that she tried her best to come in class and engage herself as much as she could,” former student Eunice Ki said.
“Ms. Ponce will be missed by her students, including myself,” junior Julie Han said. “I wish I could have had the chance to experience more of her lessons. She was truly a warm-hearted teacher.”
In lieu of flowers, Kokino’s family has requested for contributions to be made in Olga’s name to the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara with Sansum Clinic. Ponce’s Gofundme page is no longer accepting donations, as it raised over $13,000, passing the initial goal of $5,000.