2020 Alumni Awards
There is no greater testament to The Webb Schools’ mission, culture of service and honorable leadership than our extraordinary alumni. Through our annual Alumni Awards program, the Alumni Council and the Board of Trustees honor alumni whose service and achievements truly exemplify the qualities and values that Webb represents.
We are pleased to announce the four distinguished recipients of Webb’s 2020 Alumni Awards:
ALUMNI OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT
The Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award acknowledges alumni who epitomize the core values of their school’s motto:
Webb School of California: Principes non Homines, “Leaders not ordinary men”
Vivian Webb School: Sapientia Amicitia Atque Honor, “Wisdom, Friendship and Honor”
Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong ’93
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge
Throughout her distinguished career, the Honorable Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong has exemplified the Vivian Webb ideals of Wisdom, Friendship and Honor. Upon graduation from Harvard University, she worked as a public high school teacher in Ghana. After earning her J.D. from Yale University in 2001, she clerked for a judge on the Federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, worked at an international law firm and then served in the Justice Department during President Obama’s administration. In 2015, she joined the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Washington, D.C., a foreign aid agency run by the United States government. Over the course of her legal career, Judge Frimpong practiced numerous areas of the law including white-collar crime, immigration, civil rights, international law, and consumer protection. She was appointed to the Superior Court of California by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015 and took the bench in 2016. She currently serves as an Assistant Supervising Judge of the Criminal Division and presides over a criminal courtroom in downtown Los Angeles.
Of being a judge, Judge Frimpong says: “I had wanted to become a lawyer to make society work better and fairer… and I truly loved advocating for my clients. Over time, however, I came to see that the judge is also an advocate – for justice and the rule of law. The more I considered it, the more I felt drawn to the role. And ultimately, the opportunity to grapple with complex legal questions, make difficult decisions, demystify the justice system for the public, and protect the rights of all who come before me was too intriguing not to try.”
Judge Frimpong has also been a strong supporter of her alma mater (from which she graduated as valedictorian) engaging with Webb students whenever she can. She’s been a guest speaker multiple times at Sophomore Career Evening, delivered the keynote address at the 2018 Honors Symposium, hosted alumni in her Los Angeles courtroom (including Jason Brooks ’99 and his class of high school students) and most recently, served as an alumni mentor for Webb’s first-ever black student-alumni affinity meeting earlier this year.
Watch Frimpong’s address at the 2021 VWS commencement ceremony.
Blake B. Johnson ’95
Entrepreneur and Investor
“My Webb education has played a part in every success I’ve had – it taught me to think, to lead, to have a great work ethic. It taught me to think about consequences and not just in a ‘is this smart or stupid?’ way but in a manner which raises the more important question: ‘is this right or wrong?’”
With that foundational testimonial, Blake Johnson ’95 provides what he believes is the basis for all that he has achieved – and it is quite a list. Johnson has successfully founded and cultivated a variety of businesses which currently exceed $1 billion in valuations. Both Currency Capital and IM Capital Access (companies in which he was the Chairman and Founder), were named to the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Best Places to Work, and several of his ventures have landed him on the Inc 500/5000 list of fastest growing privately held companies.
His most recent enterprise, Byte, a direct-to-consumer dental aligner company, has achieved significant success expanding to Australia, Canada, Europe and Mexico. In 2020, Byte converted their 150 Juell3D printers to make masks, face shields and ventilator parts for frontline healthcare providers. In January 2021, Dentsply Sirona announced that it acquired the clear dental aligner maker in an all-cash deal worth $1.04 billion. Forbes magazine confirmed Byte was the fastest company ever to reach a billion dollars in valuation that was not funded by venture capital or any outside investment. Blake Johnson built this unicorn in record time in what some have called one of the greatest direct-to-consumer success stories of the century.
In addition to his entrepreneurial endeavors, Johnson is an enthusiastic philanthropist, supporting Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Boy Scouts of America (he achieved Eagle Scout status as a teen), the International Justice Mission, and MOCA Los Angeles. He was the chairman of YPO Los Angeles in 2020. Through his Blake Johnson Alliance, founded in 2015, he follows his passion for creating and improving opportunities in his Southern California community by providing grants to deserving businesses and non-profits serving the advancement of education, arts, sciences, and social well-being.
It will come as no surprise to the classmates who knew him that Johnson serves with a generous spirit – he has also been a consistent volunteer and donor to Webb. He is a member of the Hastings Society, having given to Webb for 20 consecutive years. He has also served as a class agent for more than 10 years, co-chaired his 20th reunion, and been a guest speaker at Sophomore Career Evening and the Honors Symposium. Johnson was also one of the first supporters of the Webb@Work program, giving young alumni opportunities to gain valuable work experience with summer internships at his company.
YOUNG ALUMNI RISING STAR AWARD
The Rising Star Award recognizes recent alumni of the past 15 years who have used their success to bring good to the world, demonstrated exceptional achievements in their chosen field, and have shown an affinity for Webb.
Noreen Barcena ’05
Immigration Attorney at Barcena Law Office
When Noreen Barcena ’05 was majoring in Psychology and Organizational Studies (with a minor in Chicano Studies) at Pitzer College, she dreamed of entering the field of Neuropsychology. But while taking a course on Latin American migration, she performed an extensive research project on Salvadorean migration and realized that “the law” was the key to real change. The following summer, she clerked for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and promptly changed her post-graduation plans. In 2012, she graduated from the University of La Verne Law School, after which, she passed the California bar exam and obtained her license to practice law before all California state courts. She established her firm Barcena Law Offices and promptly began the work of dedicating her practice to immigration, criminal defense, and family law cases – the firm prides itself as being a professional law corporation “built on the philosophy of putting clients first.” She was named a 2021 Rising Star for Super Lawyers in January and recently earned her certification for Immigration and Nationality Law specialization.
Of her work defending and representing the often under-resourced, Barcena has said, “Immigration law is a constant uphill battle of trying to keep families together, helping people seek refuge from their countries and standing up to constant criticism and backlash.”
Barcena has argued before the Ninth Circuit Court and is a frequent attorney contributor for Telemundo, ABC7, Univision and Hoy. She is a founding member and executive board member of Ferias Legales, a non-profit dedicated to bringing knowledge and justice to under-resourced populations. She is also a volunteer with the Catholic Big Brothers and Sisters Program, and an executive board member of Casa 0101 Theatre in Boyle Heights. She is a former executive board member of the Mexican American Bar Association and has served as a speaker for the American Immigration Lawyers Association Southern California Chapter. She is also an active volunteer of IMAHelps, helping to organize medical missions to populations in need.
Her law office also engages in extensive volunteer work with several nonprofit organization including Public Counsel, Al Otro Lado, and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).
Barcena has volunteered her time as a VWS alumna by returning to campus as a guest speaker at Sophomore Career Evening, hosting students for Unbounded Days, co-chairing her 15th reunion and being a member of the Hastings Society in recognition of her consecutive years of giving.
One of her clients commented: “Noreen Barcena is not just a great attorney but also an amazing person with a great heart. Not something you can say about everyone in her profession.”
Click here to watch the awards video interview with Barcena.
COLBURN DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD
Named in honor of Ken Colborn ’47, the Colborn Distinguished Service Award pays tribute to an alumnus/a in recognition of selfless commitment and ongoing volunteer service to The Webb Schools and/or Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology.
Larry Ashton ’70
Manager, Star Investment Company
Chairman of the Board, Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology
At the 87th Commencement Exercises for Webb School of California, Larry Ashton shared his childhood memories of meeting a paleontologist from Southern California at the Ashton family store in Vernal, Utah. Dr. Raymond Alf was an annual visitor to the family market because Alf and his Summer Peccary Trip crew of Webb students needed to stock up on supplies before heading out to fossil sites nearby. Larry would talk to Dr. Alf on these visits about Webb and years later, Ashton would see Alf again – this time on campus as a student in his legendary 9th grade science class.
When Larry Ashton ’70 was a boarder at Webb (overlapping briefly with brother Michael ’67), he spent many hours with Dr. Alf, both at school and in the field, and he developed a deep affinity for the Alf Museum. Thus, as a devoted Webb alumnus, Larry has worked tirelessly to ensure that the legacy of his beloved teacher and the scientific contributions of the legions of Webb students who identified as members of the Peccary Society will remain at the core of the museum’s mission in perpetuity.
During Ashton’s 20-year tenure (2001 to 2021) as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the museum has transformed into a world-class institution renowned for its unique and innovative education and research programs. Other items accomplished under Ashton’s board leadership include renovations of the Hall of Footprints and Hall of Life, national reaccreditation by the American Alliance of Museums, creation of the Lofgren Research Lab where Webb students can conduct research on the specimens they find on peccary trips, modernization of the Malcolm C. McKenna Fossil Preparation Lab, addition of a compactor system for collections storage increasing capacity by 60%, expansion of professional staff (curator, collections manager, fossil prep specialist) needed to run a world-class museum, and doubling of the museum’s endowment – ensuring that the museum will continue to thrive in fulfilling its mission to Webb, the scientific community, and all who are touched by the museum’s educational programs.
Ashton has proudly made giving to the Alf Museum and Webb a regular part of his life since shortly after his graduation in 1970. Today he and his wife Alicia are members of the Hastings Society, having made annual gifts to both the Alf Museum and Webb year after year. They regularly participate in the annual Giving Days, the Class of 1970’s Scholarship Fund, special campaigns as well as sponsoring the annual Peccary Dinner and other annual financial support through his role as the Museum Board chair. The Ashtons are also members of the Thompson and Vivian Webb Society having made an estate commitment.
While the Alf Museum continues to be his passion, as Museum Board chair he also serves as an ex officio member of The Webb Schools Board of Trustees. Ashton holds a significant love for his alma mater and gives an equal amount of time to work that directly supports it. For seven years he served as Chair of the Investment Committee and now continues as a member on about 15 museum or school subcommittees, such as Finance, Development, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Ashton believes in active participation, virtual and in-person, as much as he possibly can. “I love my school and have tried to give back to it as generously as it has given to me,” says Ashton. “I take bragging rights whenever possible to our academic programs, our leaders, our faculty, our students, our staff and our school home, the Webb campus. I love and support all aspects of our institutions.”
John Lynas ’55, a Life Trustee of the Alf Museum, nominated Ashton for recognition by stating: “Larry’s generosity is legendary. He’s the first to volunteer his time, money, and resources. He always contributes to the peccary trips and makes his presence felt at conventions and other museum functions even though it’s not required. Both he and his wife, Alicia, go out of their way to promote the museum and to make others feel very welcome there.”
Don Lofgren, the museum’s director since 1991, described Ashton as the consummate cheerleader. “Larry has an extremely positive attitude in his leadership style that is infectious and inspiring, all who meet him are touched by his deep love of Webb and the Alf Museum. When Larry joined the museum board in 1999 and two years later was elected chairman, the museum’s path to eventual world class status was never in doubt as Larry and his fellow trustees overcame all the challenges needed to make that a reality. There is no better ambassador for Webb than Larry Ashton.
Click here to watch the awards video interview with Ashton.
Join us in congratulating these outstanding alumni. Due to the postponement of Alumni Weekend in 2020, we are celebrating and recognizing our four 2020 recipients with online presentations.