“Zot, zot, zot!”
Scores of high school students cheered during an explosion of blue and yellow streamers in the Bren Events Center at UC Irvine on Wednesday morning after being called to the stage at the end of the school’s College Signing Day rally. They had committed to attend the Irvine institution.
The university invited about 1,100 college-bound seniors from high school campuses throughout Orange County for a celebration of their commitment to higher education.
The College Signing Day rally is part of a larger celebration, co-hosted by the UC system and Reach Higher, an initiative by former First Lady Michelle Obama that seeks to inspire students to pursue education beyond high school. Last year’s College Signing Day was celebrated at Temple University in Philadelphia.
This year the event was held on the West Coast with the primary celebration taking place at UCLA from which Obama addressed all nine UC campuses via live stream.
“We are proud to partner with the University of California, which is committed to opening the doors of college opportunity to all Californians and students across the country,” said Eric Waldo, Reach Higher’s executive director, in a statement released by the UC Office of the President.
This year’s College Signing Day fell on May 1, which is a common deadline for colleges and universities for students to accept offers for the fall semester. This is the first College Signing Day event that has been hosted on the West Coast, according to a statement from UCI.
“College will open up a world of possibilities for your future that you can’t even begin to imagine right now,” UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said in a statement at the rally. “It will change your life and the lives of those around you. You will live a more satisfying and meaningful life; you will be a knowledgeable, thoughtful and discerning contributor to your community; and you will be a force for good in the world.”
“You all did the work. You filled out those applications. You finished all your classes, did all the assignments, and you applied. You did it. You got into the colleges of your choice. You overcame so many hurdles and I know that,” Obama said during her live stream.
“So, I know it must have felt special to get those acceptance letters,” she added.
For Jessica Lopez, an undocumented student from Estancia High School who plans to attend UCI in the fall, it didn’t “hit [her] right away” after receiving her acceptance letter.
“It hit me when I went to their welcoming orientation and just how hyped they were for the students who got admitted to their school,” Lopez said. “It made me feel so welcomed there. Not only myself, but my parents as well. I just knew there that I wanted to go to UCI.”
She said she applied to UCI because “[it] has so many resources for undocumented students like myself.”
Lopez, who came to the United States from Mexico when she was 6, said she didn’t start telling people she was undocumented until her junior year. She plans to major in child-care development and hopes to pursue a career helping children after graduation.
“There’s so many things, as an undocumented student, that you can’t surpass. Many people don’t know that,” she said. “It’s just there’s so many challenges that you can’t really overcome, and we have to live with it and find a different plan.”
For fellow Estancia senior Kyra Avila, UCI was “just the perfect fit for me.”
“I was in shock. I couldn’t believe I got accepted. Once I got in, I told my mom, and she was so happy for me. And I told my family, and they weren’t in shock, but, they were like, ‘Wow. You did it.’ Like, everything paid off,” she said.
Avila plans to major in criminal justice at the Irvine campus. She said she hopes to one day join a police force and work her way up to being a homicide detective.
“[Signing Day’s] been fun. When I was in karate, this is where we used to have our tournaments. So like, being back here at the Bren Event Center is pretty cool. Everything’s going well,” Avila said. “I love it here.”
She said she was excited and ready to move on to college after graduation, but said she was going to miss her friends “and miss being still a kid. But, I’m ready to grow up.”
Yamileth Bello, also a senior from Estancia who plans to be an elementary school teacher, said she will be committing to Cal Poly Pomona in the fall. She said she was in shock after she was accepted and wasn’t sure if it was true at first.
“After I reread the email a couple of times, I was like ‘Oh my God, this is true. This is a dream come true,’” Bello said.
All three students are first-generation students and said they look forward to college and their high school graduation ceremony at Estancia High, which will be held on June 20.
Sheri Ledbetter, a spokeswoman for the university, said more than 100 students in attendance were committed to UCI.