Five PYLUSD Students Identified as 2024 OC Register Artist of the Year Finalists

Hunaina Hirji of Yorba Linda, a senior studying at Yorba Linda High School, is a film and TV nominee for Artist of the Year in 2024. (Photo courtesy of Hunaina Hirji)Hunaina Hirji of Yorba Linda, a senior studying at Yorba Linda High School, is a film and TV Artist of the Year finalist in 2024.

Five Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (PYLUSD) students were recently identified as 2024 Artist of the Year Finalists by the Orange County Register Register.

The Orange County Register Artist of the Year Program is in its 11th year and open to junior and senior high school students. It is co-sponsored by The Register and Chapman University. Overall nominations this year reached 892 in 2024, up from 113 that first year in 2013: Film and TV had 60 nominees; Media Arts, 85; Vocal Music, 98; Dance, 101; Instrumental Music, 138; Fine Arts, 177; and Theater, 233.

Congratulations to:

JD Cavalluzzi, El Dorado High School

JD Cavalluzzi, Division 2: Cavalluzzi decided on taking a class in theater design at El Dorado High in Placentia because his best friend was going to and, what the heck, Cavalluzzi needed the credit. He found his calling. He’s designed props for seven shows, including doggie string puppets for “The Book of Dog.” Cavalluzzi, 17 and a junior, impressed the judges with his sophistication.

Fine Arts
Ethan Larsen, Esperanza High School

Ethan Larsen, Division 2: Album covers and the “vibe” of the hard-core punk and metal music he listens to are Larsen’s greatest inspirations. “I like to think of my work as myself and the music, which is why it looks rough around the edges.” He’s OK with mistakes when he’s sculpting; he leaves them in. He purposely nicks his pieces to “make them look all torn up.” The senior at Esperanza High in Anaheim explained how “good or bad, it still makes you feel something.” But ceramics isn’t cheap, the 18-year-old pointed out. That’s got him thinking about becoming an electrician.

Hunaina Hirji, Yorba Linda High School
Macy Patterson, El Dorado High School
Tahlia Pompel, El Dorado High School

Hunaina Hirji, Division 1: She is a repeat finalist. Her ability at creating bespoke sounds for a short commercial she debuted for her Artist of the Year presentation this year stood out to the judges. Her work was very precise, said Andy Lane, associate professor of storytelling at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, where Hirji hoped to study film design. “Great work,” Lane told the 18-year-old Hirji. “You’ll be in big demand.

Macy Patterson, Division 1: Patterson wrote and directed the short film “I Just Want to Be Pretty.” It explores the relationship between two sisters, the younger one’s desire to feel pretty like her sibling, and a cruel joke that brings them closer together. It was shot over 48 hours with a crew of 20 from El Dorado High for a film competition. A huge fan of “Barbie” and “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig, Patterson, 18, said she is tired of films that depict women tearing at each other. “It’s important to show relationships of being with each other, lifting each other up, and bonding.” She plans to attend film school at Chapman.

Tahlia Pompel, Division 1: Pompel, a cinematographer, did her Artist of the Year presentation by Zoom, from 5,000 miles away. She was in Edinburgh, Scotland, along with classmates and teachers from El Dorado High in Placentia on “kind of a school trip.” Even with a few glitches in the transmission, Pompel ably spoke about a PSA on the mental health of teens that was based in part on her own poetry. Her message: “Life will always be full of struggle. Find the little joys in between.” She’s 17 and a senior who was accepted into her dream school, New York University for film, but also got into Chapman and Emerson College in Boston.

Teachers from local high school, including 272 in all this year from 85 entities, nominate studnents for the recognition. A group of semifinalists are then given 15 minutes each to show their artistry and answer questions from a panel of judges tailored to each discipline. The judges are college and high school instructors, working professionals, and leaders from Orange County’s arts institutions.

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