125 in 2013: The Nicholas Academic Centers Celebrates Its Fifth Annual Graduation Celebration

The Nicholas Academic Centers held its fifth annual NAC Graduation Celebration on Saturday, June 15, 2013, at the Hilton Anaheim Hotel in Anaheim, California.  Nearly 700 people gathered to celebrate this year’s 125 graduating seniors, up from 81 graduates last year. As in previous years, this year’s guests included friends, families, high school counselors & administrators, community leaders, and more.
It has become a tradition to feature the Santa Ana High School Mariachi Band during the opening reception, and this year’s wonderful performance left no doubts as to why. While the music played, guests not busy eating chicken skewers & quesadillas took pictures in one of two photo booths located on opposite ends of the ballroom promenade. In addition to a collection of more than 60 posters featuring NAC students, four large screen TVs lined the hall and continuously played two separate slide shows; one featured a pictorial retrospective of the NAC over the years, and the other presented portraits and biographies of this year’s graduating class.
Soon after the ballroom doors opened, Dr. Nicholas took to the stage to greet the audience. “Tonight, we’re here to recognize 125 students and their families, who through their hard work, diligence, and superior academic execution have managed to overcome, in many cases, significant economic and cultural barriers to graduate the rigorous program we have at the NAC.” While on stage, Dr. Nicholas also shared a number of impressive NAC statistics, including the fact that this year’s NAC seniors earned over $1.5 Million in scholarships and grants, bringing the cumulative total to over $4.5 Million, including $700,000 in direct NAC Scholarships.
The Master and Mistress of Ceremony, Jose Valdovinos and Mariana Hernandez followed Dr. Nicholas and introduced NAC Co-Founder and Retired Superior Court Judge Jack K. Mandel. During the introduction, Jose stated, “Retired Judge Jack K. Mandel has been perhaps a different kind of philanthropist in our community, donating more intangible but equally invaluable assets: his time and intellect.” Once on stage, Judge Mandel thanked the students for their hard work and congratulated them on their success. “Your success has validated my dream and Dr. Nicholas’ strong response in creating and supporting the dream and theories that I had. The success is yours, and the success is America’s as you take your role as committed members of the community following your graduation.”
Rosa Diaz, Director of Operations for the Nicholas Academic Centers, followed the Judge’s comments, and she noted, “Today’s graduation, this being the fifth, marks a very special one for us because we have seen that our program works, and now we see the results.” Rosa then recognized attending NAC alumni who graduated college this year, including Julio Cruz from UCLA, Lizbeth Pedroza from Allegheny College, and Mayra Orozco from Morningside College. Other graduating alums that could not attend include Elizabeth Moreno and Laura O’Campo from Allegheny College, Rocio Hurtado from UC Davis, and Ana Aguilar from Denison University. Rosa also recognized several NAC partners, including counselors and administrators from the Santa Ana Unified School District, Dr. Daniele C. Struppa and Chapman University, as well as City of Santa Ana Mayor Miguel A. Pulido, whom she welcomed to the stage to share a few words. Mayor Pulido mentioned how Dr. Nicholas’ work at Broadcom helped “create a better reality,” and he added, “Part of what the NAC is doing is enabling [its students] to get into the arena, to create a different reality, to dream and fulfill [their] dreams.”
For dinner, guests enjoyed one of three entrees, including steak, chicken, or vegetarian lasagna. Each meal also included a dinner salad to start and a chocolate mousse “bomb” for dessert. Shortly after dinner was served, Hugo Gutierrez, NAC Executive Director, addressed the audience. “I am continually impressed by the students, and I am also reminded of the many things we have in common.” Like many of the students, Hugo comes from a family who migrated to the United States from Mexico seeking a better future, and it was his parents’ support and the support of mentors like NAC Co-Founder Judge Jack K. Mandel that helped Hugo realize his goal of attending and graduating college. “All of you here today have a level of sophistication far beyond what I had when I was your age. If you continue your journey with the same dedication you’ve displayed so far, you surely represent the next generation of lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists, and leaders in our community.”
Immediately following Hugo, a number of graduating NAC seniors shared their NAC experiences. Daisy Espinoza, who will attend Georgetown University in the fall, thanked the NAC for allowing her to participate in a number of enriching activities, including museum visits, college fairs and presentations, Chapman University lectures, musicals, beach cleanups, and more. Hector Valencia, who will attend Hope University in Michigan, expressed his intent to “return the favor” for the support he has been given during his high school experience by becoming a “successful, devoted community member, a product of the Nicholas Academic Centers.” These and other student speakers were also featured in a video put together and presented by the NAC Media Club. (Watch It HERE.)
After the video, Mistress of Ceremony Mariana Hernandez talked about how she has spent her time in Washington D.C. over the last few years while attending Georgetown University. One of the opportunities she took advantage of was interning for the Honorable Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Congressional Representative for the local 46th congressional district, and Keynote Speaker for this year’s NAC Graduation Celebration.
During her speech, Congresswoman Sanchez congratulated the graduating class and thanked parents, teachers, and school administrators, as well as the NAC, for the support they’ve given to the students. Congresswoman Sanchez noted that the reputation for students in the City of Santa Ana does not reflect their potential, as is often the case for under-represented students. To illustrate her point, she shared the story of Elijah Cummings, the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 7th congressional district. Congressman Cummings came from humble beginnings and experienced discrimination in the school system at a young age. Tired of being told what he couldn’t do, he applied himself, learned to read, and went on to become a lawyer for 19 years before his election to the House of Representatives in 1996. Congresswoman Sanchez encouraged NAC students to continue to apply themselves as they move forward. “Whether [the people in your life] help you or fail you, when the book is written on your life, it is really about you and the motivation you have inside. You have the power within yourselves to achieve your dreams.”
Following the Congresswoman’s speech, Dr. Nicholas, Judge Mandel, and Mayor Pulido took their places on stage and presented this year’s graduating seniors with NAC diplomas and sweaters from the schools they will attend in the fall.
Here is the list of schools this year’s NAC graduates will attend in the fall (in alphabetical order):
Allegheny College
Birmingham-Southern University
Cal Poly Pomona
Chico State University
Connecticut College
CSU Channel Islands
CSU Dominguez Hills
CSU East Bay
CSU Fullerton
CSU Los Angeles
CSU Northridge
CSU San Marcos
Denison University
Fullerton College
Georgetown University
Golden West College
Hope College
Humboldt State University
Irvine Valley College
Juniata College
Missouri Baptist University
Morningside College
New York University
Orange Coast College
San Diego State University
Santa Ana College
Transylvania University
UC Berkeley
UC Davis
UC Irvine
UC Los Angeles
UC Merced
UC Riverside
UC San Diego
UC Santa Barbara
UC Santa Cruz
University of San Diego

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