Pacific Beach Middle School student honored as ‘Most Promising Teen’ is shooting for the stars — or Mars

Pacific Beach Middle School student Lilian Franqui is one of 2020's "25 Most Remarkable Teens."
Pacific Beach Middle School student Lilian Franqui, 13, is one of 2020’s “25 Most Remarkable Teens,” as named by the San Diego County Public Defender Youth Council.

According to Lilian Franqui’s dad, she’s always been destined for big things.

“She’s a bright kid, on the bright side of any normal kid,” Ed Franqui said of the 13-year-old Pacific Beach Middle School student. “What she has is just an incredible work ethic. Even at this age, she outworks just about everybody. And so that goes for violin or whatever else. And I’ve noticed that from an early age.”

Lilian has been named one of this year’s “25 Most Remarkable Teens” by the San Diego County Public Defender Youth Council.

She received the award for “Most Promising Teen” due to her academic and personal achievements in music, schoolwork, sports and community service.

She boasts a long list of accomplishments. She’s been named International Baccalaureate Student of the Year at Pacific Beach Middle School twice. As a violinist, she won the San Diego Youth Symphony’s Showcase Concerto Competition in 2019 and is co-principal for the 2020-21 concert season for the Youth Symphony’s Sinfonia orchestra. She is a mentor to young players at the Youth Symphony and plays violin for young children through the Childhood Introduction to Music Education with Smiles program.

She received a scholarship and has been named first chair at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan. She is president of the Class of 2025 for the National Charity League Seaside chapter. She was treasurer of the Builders Club, a Kiwanis middle school program. She is on the U14 elite team for Coastal Clash Field Hockey.

While she might be a star student who goes above and beyond, her father says she’s also a regular kid who enjoys the same things other teenagers do.

“Honestly, she’s a normal kid, she’s a goofball,” he said. “When you look at her resumé, it looks like she’s just one of these kids that comes home and studies all the time and then practices her violin for three hours and then does all these service things and goes home and sleeps and is this robot. She’s not like that. I mean, she puts in the hours. But she plays ... she cherishes her time with friends. She loves surfing, not competitively, but she just does that because it’s fun.”

Though Lilian Franqui has a long list of accomplishments, her father says she’s also a regular kid.
Though Lilian Franqui has a long list of accomplishments, her father says she’s also a regular kid who enjoys the same things other teenagers do.

Lilian said just getting nominated for the teen award was an honor in itself.

“My math teacher actually nominated me for the award and I went through and I thought, ‘Oh no, there’s so many great people here, I bet I’m not going to get it,’” she said. “It’s just, they’re so great and I read all the bios and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, these guys are so accomplished.’”

Lilian said her parents are her biggest role models.

“I like to say they’re poking me in the right direction instead of pushing,” she said. “Also, my Uncle Greg. My uncle is really level-headed, a very good person to turn to whenever I need advice or any kind of thing I want to talk to him about. My Grandma Patricia is the same way, too.”

In turn, Lilian’s parents — who adopted her from China when she was 1 — are her biggest supporters.

Ed is a business development manager at Cisco Systems, while her mother, Sara, a former airline pilot, owns San Diego Saddlery, an equestrian tack shop in El Cajon.

“I’d like to think I’ve done well; I have professional pride or whatever,” Ed Franqui said. “If I’m going to credit any parent, my wife just plugs at it until she gets it right and she’s great at whatever she puts her mind to. She was an airline pilot before and she started when it was harder for women to get into that industry. And then when we adopted Lilian, she wanted to stay home, so she quit that. And then it’s harder to return once you get out, so she bought into and is now the sole owner of the saddlery. So I’m sure Lilian patterns herself a lot off of that.”

Lilian’s former English teacher Penny Novak said she “just has a beautiful soul. She’s very conscientious, she’s super kind, a really caring, open-minded individual. Any time she has a question, she always asks. She always wants to go over and beyond her work. ... She’s always a student who says, ‘Thank you very much for my lesson today.’ She’s just a really thoughtful human being. She will go quite far in life.”

The San Diego County public defender’s office names its “25 Most Remarkable Teens” to honor area teenagers who excel in 25 “nontraditional” categories, such as leadership, humanitarianism, entrepreneurship, arts and overcoming hardship.

Lilian Franqui plays field hockey with the Coastal Clash.
Lilian Franqui plays field hockey with the Coastal Clash.

Lilian said her favorite subjects are math (“Because there’s always one right answer; it makes me happy, super excited, when you find that one answer”) and languages (“I just think it’s so cool that there are so many ways to be able to communicate with others”). She speaks fluent Mandarin and is beginning to study Spanish.

During the pandemic, Lilian took up surfing as a hobby. She also regularly plays violin for her neighbors in the courtyard of the building where she and her family live — an idea she came up with after seeing it in other countries.

“I saw what they were doing in Italy; they were out on their balconies and everybody was doing little mini-concerts. So I thought I’d do that for our building, especially during COVID, because it’s difficult right now,” she said.

In her spare time, “after school ... I often go to Starbucks or friends’ houses or just hang out at the beach or go to the library to study,” Lilian said. “Any kind of bonding activity.”

As for the future, Lilian has high hopes — very high hopes.

“I really want to be an astronaut ... to be the first woman on Mars,” she said. “It’s been a dream since I was little. I’d dress up in an orange costume and my parents would have to drag me out of it to wash it because I just loved it.”

To her parents, the most important things aren’t accolades or even outer space.

“What’s important to me is that she’s happy,” Ed Franqui said. “I think that’s what we try to instill. Honestly, it’s simple, but I want her to be happy and enjoy what she’s earned. And go for what she can, obviously, but also appreciate what she has.

“My role is more about making sure she breaks a little bit to enjoy being a kid, and she does. ... And to guide this bullet train, make sure it doesn’t get off the rails. But it’s her own bullet train.”