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NAI graduates celebrate at USC gala

Jessica Alcazar and Tristan Baizar chat with Thomas S. Sayles, senior vice president for University Relations, during the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative graduation gala. (USC Photo/Gus Ruelas)

USC held a graduation gala on May 9 for this year’s 57 graduates of the university’s Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), a college preparatory program for public school students in the surrounding neighborhoods.

More than 450 guests filled Town & Gown to honor the graduates and their families — supporters who included USC senior administrators, donors, civic leaders and elected officials.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas PhD ’89 and Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) congratulated the students during the opening reception, while representatives of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Los Angeles Unified School District President Monica Garcia delivered proclamations commending the students’ achievements.

KABC-TV news correspondent Alysha Del Valle ’99, who recently joined the newly established USC Civic Engagement Advisory Council, served as the evening’s emcee.

A special recognition was presented to USC Trustee Mónica Lozano, president and CEO of impreMedia and La Opinión, for her advocacy efforts in education and college access programs.

Lozano praised the parents for their struggles, sacrifices and hard work in helping the NAI scholars realize their dream of going to college.

“Tonight doesn’t happen without exceptional support,” she said in both English and Spanish.

Lozano then addressed the graduates.

“Not only have you demonstrated that si se puede (it can be done), but that you will,” she said. “When I’m asked where are the leaders of tomorrow, I say ‘They’re in this room.’ ”

One of the graduates was Tristan Baizar, who came to the United States from Belize with his older sister and single mother when he was 4 years old.

“While almost 100 percent of us are the first to go to college,” he said, “we will experience many other firsts: first time away from home, first time flexing our independence and first time making our own decisions.”

Fourteen of this year’s graduates will attend USC on a full-tuition scholarship, including Baizar, who will join the university this fall. Other graduates will move on to universities in California and across the country.

Gloria Reyes credited the NAI for providing her with the tools to help her daughter, Diane, who will continue her studies at California State University, Long Beach.

“While it is ultimately my choice, the classes, counselors and conversations with other college-bound NAI scholars have made it much easier for me to let her move out,” Reyes said. “My daughter has wings and now I feel much more confident letting her soar out into the world.”

View additional photos here.

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NAI graduates celebrate at USC gala

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