One of Pacific Beach’s own honored as a ‘Most Remarkable Teen’

San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery presenting the “Most Remarkable Teen” award to Makena Stumpo at the ceremony.
San Diego City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery presenting the “Most Remarkable Teen” award to Makena Stumpo at the Nov. 10 ceremony.
(Courtesy of San Diego County Public Defender’s Office)

Makena Stumpo was among 25 teens countywide to receive the award


Pacific Beach Middle School eighth grader Makena Stumpo, at his young age of 13, is jack of many trades.

Talented and determined, Stumpo has spent the better part of his life diving headfirst into an array of extracurricular activities. From athletics to music to balancing school and a social life, Stumpo’s time is well spent.

Out of all his interests, music has long played a role in the teen’s life.

“I’ve always loved music, always listened to it, always had it playing somewhere,” Stumpo explained.

On Nov. 10, Stumpo’s hard work and musical dedication came to fruition when he was named among San Diego County’s 25 “Most Remarkable Teens” for 2022 during an awards ceremony in the San Diego Central Library. His honor was in the category of performing arts.

The Most Remarkable Teen Award is an annual recognition for 25 of San Diego’s most exceptional youths. It is hosted by the San Diego County Public Defender’s Office.

The program is a way for the community to honor and recognize some of San Diego’s most remarkable young individuals. Recipients come from across the county and range from ages 13 to 19, making Stumpo one of the youngest recipients.

There are numerous categories for awards, including environmental advocacy, arts and culture, technology, civic involvement, entrepreneurship, courage to overcome adversity and more.

Officials said this year more than 155 teens were nominated. They participated in virtual interviews before 25 honorees were selected for their talents, drive to succeed, overcoming adversity or passion about civic issues or projects.

“San Diego youth are acting as leaders, innovators, activists and trailblazers throughout the county,” said Public Defender Randy Mize. “Demonstrating courage, spirit and tenacity, these 25 teens are leading the way to a successful future with creative, smart solutions both for their lives and our community.”

“I found out that I was nominated, and everything happened very fast. I had a Zoom interview, I typed up a biography and then found out that I was picked for one of the spots,” Stumpo said.

On the night of the event, Stumpo said he was surrounded by other young, talented individuals with a deep passion for what they do.

“When I met the people, they were all so inspiring. They have all done so much for the community and so much for themselves,” Stumpo said. “There were a few people there that had lived in hotels for most of their lives. It was really cool to see that so many people had come from such little and really blossomed.”

Stumpo’s path to receiving the Most Remarkable Teen award has been one of genuine talent. From a young age, Stumpo wanted music lessons, knowing from the start that he was drawn to music and musical instruments.

“When I was three, I went to a camp where local parents got together and did sing alongs and I did a lot of different summer camps along the way,” Stumpo said, recalling his first experience with music. “When I was five, a lot of my friends were playing music and I really liked piano so I asked my mom ‘can we try piano?’”

From that point, Stumpo began lessons and quickly fell in love with the art. But he didn’t stop there. A couple years after mastering piano, Stumpo began teaching himself guitar, a demonstration of his dedication to preforming arts.

In addition to guitar and piano, Stumpo enjoys singing and in 2021 he began performing in public places. Stumpo has performed at retirement homes, on the streets in downtown San Diego and other venues.

Makena Stumpo playing his electronic keyboard and singing for a public audience.
(Courtesy of Makena Stumpo)

Over the summer, Stumpo and his parents found a spot in downtown San Diego. Stumpo brought his electric keyboard and sang, collecting money and ultimately donating it to the Prevent Drowning Foundation. It is a water safety education foundation. Stumpo raised $200 for the cause.

The teen’s music teacher Naomi Smentkowski, who nominated him for the award, said Stumpo’s ability to play music by ear is extraordinary. Often he will formulate new chords and songs from scratch, loosely based off sheet music.

“His attention to music composition and chord structure continually surprises me. I have never had a student like him before,” Smentkowski said.

Outside of music, Stumpo participates in sports through his school and extra-curricular programs.

“Everybody does sports, and I was like why not do sports? I have always been athletic. I do track and field through my school, but all the other sports I do are not through my school,” Stumpo said. “I do beach volleyball and I may or may not start doing volleyball through my school.”

Surfing and water sports have also been a big part of his life. Stumpo participates in San Diego Junior Lifeguards, a program aimed at enchaining youth ocean skills and leadership.

Each year, a captain award is presented to two outstanding Junior Lifeguard students who demonstrate compassion and athleticism. It is an award Stumpo has received three times.

In his spare time, Stumpo has taken up a new hobby unrelated to music or sports — cars. Recently, he bought himself a remote-control car and steering wheel simulation set.

“I have always liked anything to do with motor sports, I love anything to do with cars,” Stumpo said, explaining that his dad’s passion for cars introduced him to the world of motorsports.

Moving forward, Stumpo is confident music will continue to play a large role in his life. Years of practicing and fine tuning his abilities does not end here.

“I think it will definitely be one thing that will stick with me,” Stumpo said.