Students (lto r)  Emily Santos-Cordero, Eric Wilson and Ricardo Ortega.

Scholarships were recently awarded to 170 college-bound young adults who grew up in foster care.

To big applause from friends, foster parents, family members, and social workers, the graduates walked proudly across the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage this week to celebrate this significant milestone in their lives.   

Vaneisha Reed, a Celebration 2012 alumna and a Harvard University graduate, shared her success and challenges since leaving foster care. In addressing the students, she encouraged the graduates to stay focused on their academic goals and personal dreams

Each graduate had a moving story of their own that was an example of  triumph over adversity.

Emily Santos-Cordero lost her mother unexpectedly at the age of 15, leaving her with a 5-month old baby and an 8-year-old sister to care for. Emily and her sister found support from her godparents who have been there for her along the way. Being a teen mother has been challenging, but has motivated her to succeed and achieve her dreams. Emily will be attending California State University Northridge to study criminal justice (forensic science). 

Being separated from his parents and siblings taught Ricardo Ortega to advocate for himself and others. Ricardo is actively involved in his community and is currently an Immigration Commissioner for Assemblyman Mike Gipson, and Civil Service Commissioner for the City of Huntington Park. He was also chairman of the Los Angeles chapter of California Youth Connection. Ricardo will be attending Cal State Dominguez Hills, and plans to declare a major in Public Policy/Public Administration.

Eric Wilson endured his parent’s separation, lost his father to cancer and suffered an accident that left him immobile for about two months. But that has not stopped him from pursuing his dreams. Eric stays motivated through his music, films and playing sports. He has received awards for his outstanding performance in track and cross-county, medals for his short-films, and has composed many songs, resulting in connections in the music industry. Eric feels he has received “the best gift anyone could ever ask for; love, stability and an extremely bright future.” He plans to attend Cal Arts to study music. 

Since 1990, the annual Celebration event has recognized foster youth who graduate from high school with a 2.8 grade point average or higher and plan to attend a college, university, trade or vocational school. All participating foster youth receive financial aid in varying amounts.