USC's Neighborhood Academic Initiative bids farewell to 56 grads at annual gala

EXPOSITION PARK, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The USC Trojan Marching Band was on hand Thursday night to help celebrate the 56 graduates of USC's Neighborhood Academic Initiative program.

"It just changes your life," NAI graduate Mauricio Garcia said.

The pre-college enrichment program offers intensive classes and tutoring to hundreds of low-income children who live in the shadow of the university.

The high school students grew up within a mile of the USC campus and may not have had the means to attend college.

"When you're the first in your family to go to college, you're now the beacon in your family," said NAI Executive Director Kim Thomas-Barrios.

Lakers president and USC trustee Jeanie Buss was Thursday night's champion award honoree.

"It touches my heart, it's my first time here. The kids are fantastic. It's really life changing, and I couldn't be more proud and now I'm hooked," Buss said.

ABC7 Traffic Reporter Alysha Del Valle served as the mistress of ceremonies. But Thursday night's stars were the kids who will all be receiving help whether they decide to attend USC or another prestigious university.

Garcia was accepted to USC, UCLA, Yale and Stanford but will be attending Harvard in the fall, where he'll be studying molecular and cellular biology.

"Every Saturday we have to be here at 8 a.m., taking classes in English and math and science, so that definitely prepares us for the next level," he said.

A lot of hard work that has now paid off.
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