SAN DIEGO – More than 140 local teens graduated from a special program Sunday to set them on the path to becoming first-generation college students.

They held pennants high over their heads featuring the names and colors of some of the country’s most prestigious schools from Yale to Stanford to UC San Diego, among others. It was part of a celebration marking the end of their time in Reality Changers, a San Diego-based nonprofit program which helps students to become the first in their families to attend college.

Many students in the program come from disadvantaged backgrounds, some with low-income families or little experience with post-secondary education. In it, they’re provided tools and backing to become “agents of change in their communities” by taking the leap into college, the program’s website shows.

“I got accepted into about 12 of the schools I applied to,” program graduate Natalia Armenta said. “I decided to go to Stanford.”

The program’s 22nd annual Scholar Celebration was held at UCSD’s Park and Market building.

It was a joyous recognition of area youth who soon are off to bigger and better things in life. And that’s why the program matters, Reality Changers CEO Tamara Craver said.

“Because with positive support from peers and from mentors, that can change a student’s trajectory into going into college,” Craver said, “and not only going but graduating college.”

Graduates also heard from Shakur Collins, who went through the program and found her voice through it.

“With me being a Black woman living with a disability, I have triple oppressed identities and I have been on the receiving end of what it means to be in a system that’s not accessible,” Collins said, “and so what I’m going to do is use a combination of my education and experience to get my own seat at the table so that I’m the voice for the underrepresented and the underserved.”

Now, many of these graduates will go on to attend the university of their dreams.

“I’m first-generation and my parents are low-income so it’s kind of hard to go through that college process and not having the support from my parents,” program graduate Fernando Sanchez said, “but having Reality Changers really helped me to go through that college process.”

Click or tap here to read more about Reality Changers and learn how to contribute to the effort.