March 28, 2023
Matt and Rhea Weiss

On Saturday, March 4, 2023, Irvine Public Schools Foundation (IPSF) hosted its 12th annual Spirit of Excellence Gala at Karma Automotive in Irvine. With over 250 guests in attendance – including a mix of civic, business, and community leaders – and chaired by Rhea and Matt Weiss, the event raised over $830,000. Funds raised will help fund critical programs and classroom support for Irvine Unified School District (IUSD).

The evening also celebrated the accomplishments of current IUSD students and alumni whose education in Irvine has set the stage for their success. Three honorees received the Spirit of Excellence Award in their respective fields, in recognition of their achievements.

Javad Mokhbery and Neda Eaton

“We are so honored to have the opportunity to showcase the talent and achievements of both current and former students that have become the hallmark of Irvine Unified School District,” explains Neda Eaton, President and CEO of Irvine Public Schools Foundation. “Our annual gala is a shining example of how community support of education can effect real change for our young people. We are proud to facilitate public-private partnerships that provide innovative programs and opportunities to inspire students to follow their dreams and make the world a better place.”


The evening’s honorees included:

Jim Rome and Christian Munden
  • Spirit of Excellence in Service Christian Munden, hometown hero, Munden served eight years in US Naval Special Operations and was among a select few Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians assigned to provide direct support to Navy SEAL teams in Afghanistan and Bahrain. (Irvine High School, Class of 2000)
  • Spirit of Excellence in Philanthropy FUTEK, an industry leader in sensor technology and high-performance robotics, has set an example of what it means to be a leader in both business and philanthropy.
  • Spirit of Excellence Rising Star Award Derrik Diza, a local muralist finds a unique way to combine his passions for art, entrepreneurship, and giving back to empower the artists he represents to create long-lasting impact in their communities. (Woodbridge High School, Class of 2012)
Shani Lin

Throughout the night, guests enjoyed vibrant musical performances by the University High School Marching Trojan Regiment, directed by Corey Heddon; Portola High School’s String Quartet, directed by Desmond Stevens; and Violinists Shani Lin of Northwood High School and Damon Ko of Cadence Park School, directed by Dianna Gray.

In addition, local celebrities and community leaders joined the celebration to show their support including Chef James Hamamori, Chef Brian Han, Chef Sandro Nardone, Chef Amar Santana, Young the Giant drummer, François Comtois, Senator Dave Min, and the Mayor of Irvine, Farah Khan.

“The success of the 2023 Spirit of Excellence Gala is a testament to the unwavering support the Irvine community has for education,” said Eaton. “The funds raised will make an impact in the educational experience of over 36,000 students in our community.”

This year’s Diamond Sponsors included Experian, FivePoint/Great Park Neighborhoods, and FUTEK. Other leading corporate sponsors included Gorjana, Montage Laguna Beach, Sun Labs, Total Wine & More, and UCI.