Granada Hills Hills graduate Saul Ruvalcaba is congratulated by LAUSD board member Scott Schmerelson.

Saul Ruvalcaba stood surrounded by family members and friends, blending in with a crowd of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) officials and local politicians in the district’s downtown Los Angeles office and thinking to himself about the hard work he put into his four years at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills — and how it is going to pay off.

Ruvalcaba, 18, who lives in Sylmar, will attend UCLA this fall to study neuroscience and pre-med in hopes of becoming a doctor. He is also a DREAMer, whose parents brought him to the USA from Jalisco, Mexico when he was four. And he is part of the first class of LAUSD graduates who successfully completed the expanded curriculum requirements to qualify for entry into California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) schools.

Ruvalcaba and 11 others were named to represent all 2016 graduates at a special ceremony on Tuesday, June 21. They were presented certificates signed by board of education members.

“Honestly, it was more than I thought it would be,” said Ruvualcaba, who was presented to the audience by District 3 board member Scott Schmerelson. “A couple of the students are going to Ivy League colleges. I felt honored and blessed.

“In the eighth grade I didn’t think I would go to college cause of my immigration status. But it was an epiphany every time I heard someone’s name called today, and I was among them.”

Ruvalcaba wasn’t the only Valley area honoree. Twins Artin and Arthur Kasumyan of Verdugo Hills High were also present and awarded certificates. They are both headed to Yale; Artin will study computer science, and Arthur will study computer engineering.

Also recognized were Canoga Park high graduate Jeremiah Brown, and Panorama High graduate Melanie Ethridge who was unable to attend the ceremony in person but sent her remarks by video.

The higher standard, known as the A-G requirements, is a sequence of 15 college preparatory courses that must be completed for admission to the CSU and UC systems. Back in 2005, students, parents and community activists joined with district officials to have the curriculum additions made available to all LAUSD students.

But it was the class of 2016 who were the first district students required to meet that graduating standard.

Board President Steven Zimmer called it “a very important, historic moment” for the district.

“In affluent school districts where [there is] access for all students to a college prep curriculum, the courses they need to qualify for the California State and UC systems is an assumption. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, and other urban school districts across the nation, this is a fight. And this was an incredible — I would argue heroic — fight here in Los Angeles,” Zimmer said.

LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King echoed the sentiments.

“Our kids are able to realize this dream that we’ve had for a long time, in which they are graduating from this district — not only with more rigorous requirements but passed the A-G requirements. So each graduate is eligible and prepared to go on to realize the dream of post-secondary education if they choose,” King said.

“We’re still counting and not finished, because Bell High School finishes on June 30. But as we stand now, 74 percent of the graduating class of 2016 met the A-G requirements.”

For Ruvalcaba, who finished with a 4.2 grade point average from the biomedical health and fitness academy at Kennedy, the data is proof it was the right decision to demand and fight for tougher graduation requirements to qualify for college.

“I think it is really beneficial,” he said. “I’ve been in scenarios where people expect little from you. And the less they expect, the less you give them. The district is not asking for anything that is impossible. That is evident by the graduation rate.”

He flashed back again to his middle school days, when college seemed like an unattainable goal.

“When I culminated from the eighth grade, I was oblivious. I knew college was an option, but maybe not for me,” Ruvalcaba said. “I was a little discouraged but I did not give up. And I worked even harder in high school.”