Oakland teen sworn in as student member of California board of education

Gema Quetzal Cardenas speaks in a megaphone in this undated photo. Courtesy: Oakland Unified School District.

An Oakland 17-year-old with a long history of civic involvement and whose focus now is on providing sanctuary for undocumented students was sworn in Thursday as the only student member of the California State board of education.

Life Academy senior Gema Quetzal Cardenas was sworn in at 8 a.m. in Sacramento to represent California's 6.2 million public school children as the lone student member of the state board for the 2018-19 school year, the Oakland Unified School District said in a statement. The position rotates yearly, and there is always a student on the board to represent the state. 

Governor Jerry Brown appointed Gema to take over the position in March. 

At the time she said, “I am very humbled, honored and excited. This is a huge responsibility because I will be representing millions of my peers across California. We all share a common goal and that is a quality education for all."

Gema has a long history of civic participation. 

She has been a co-founder of Life Academy Student Leadership since 2016 and a student at the Life Academy of Health and Bioscience since 2012. She was an intern for the Student Engagement Office at the Oakland Unified School District from 2017 to 2018. She was the health and wellness director of the Oakland Unified School District’s All City Council Student Union from 2016 to 2017, where she was vice president from 2015 to 2016. She has been a member of the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education, and was a student representative for the Oakland Unified School District Sanctuary District Task Force and an ambassador for Oakland Promise. 

“With the rise of the new political climate targeting immigrants and Muslims, the most important issue to me today is the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants," she said, in a statement provided by the district.

Last year, Gema created a GoFundMe page to attend an ACLU summer institute in Washington, D.C. so that she could learn about grassroots organizing. She said one day she hopes to be a civil rights lawyer and then run for state or federal office.