Inaugural class of second USC-backed high school meets goals
For the first-ever graduates of East College Prep, college becomes reality
By Diane Krieger
A thousand parents, teachers and faithful boosters rejoiced last Sunday as 72 students from the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Lincoln Heights marched down the aisle of USC’s Bovard Auditorium to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Dressed in powder-blue commencement gowns, the first graduates of East College Prep, Ednovate with USC Rossier received their diplomas in a jubilant, sometimes-misty-eyed ceremony.
“We’re here to celebrate the Class of 2019—our first babies,” said Drew Goltermann, the school’s founding principal, who had himself become a new father only days before.
East College Prep is the second of five high schools founded by the USC Rossier School of Education and operated by the Ednovate charter management organization. The school’s doors opened in 2015, but construction at the permanent site on North Mission Road only began this past February, with the ribbon-cutting still to come early next year.
Speaker after speaker cited the obstacles the inaugural class had overcome. Not just the socio-economic ones faced by aspiring first-gen college-goers from mostly immigrant backgrounds, but real physical obstacles: Like the twice-daily rush-hour bus ride between their East L.A. community and the school’s temporary downtown site in the World Trade Center. And the many facilities challenges they endured, including repeated floods due to burst pipes.
Despite these obstacles, each member of East College Prep’s first graduating class received an admissions offer from at least one four-year college—matching the record set by Ednovate sister school USC Hybrid High, which holds a 100 percent university acceptance rate over its four-year existence, including this year’s graduating class.
Ednovate fills classroom seats by lottery, so these college-bound students were not cherry-picked for academic excellence. All reached this milestone by dint of tireless effort and steely will, including some students with disabilities and learning differences.
“In a city where only 50 percent of high schoolers are even eligible for college applications, every single one of you proved that your ZIP code does not have to determine your destiny,”
Goltermann said, in welcome remarks he delivered both in English and Spanish. “You have set a precedent for the Spartans that will come after you. You have modeled for your community what success looks like.”
Salutatorian Nelly Escalante emceed the mostly bilingual ceremony, also filling in as reader for presenters not comfortable delivering their remarks in Spanish. Escalante starts UC Davis in the fall as a biological science major. She aspires someday to be a forensic scientist.
Escalante’s 4.73 GPA was second only to Leslie Almaraz’s 4.74 GPA.
Almaraz, who delivered the valedictory address, will begin UCLA this fall as a biology major. She hopes someday to be a trauma surgeon.
Iverson Mitchell was the student keynote speaker. He, too, will attend UCLA in the fall with a double major in political science and business. Toward the end of his speech, the newly elected prom king brushed away tears, to the wild cheers of his classmates.
The student speakers shared the stage with USC Rossier Dean Karen Symms Gallagher and Ednovate president Oliver Sicat, who also stirred the graduating class.
“We have grown into a network of five college prep high schools, with several more to come,” Gallagher said. “We are demonstrating that it is possible to design and operate highly effective schools in historically underserved neighborhoods. Your success is making that mission a reality.”
Sicat affirmed the inaugural class’s remarkable achievements.
“Your results have been pretty amazing,” he told them. “You’re outperforming all the district schools, outperforming the statewide averages, getting all your college success stories. One of the proudest moments I’ve had was watching you on college signing day.”
In their comments preceding the diploma ceremony, all five advisory group leaders succumbed to emotion.
“Alphas, you are magic,” Bailey Shertzinger tearfully told the 16 girls in her group. “I hope you never forget the spell you cast on this teacher, because I know I will never forget you.”
In a humorous gesture, Chris Tavares saluted the 16 young men he calls his Avocados with a large specimen of the Hass variety as stage prop.
“There are many ways to ripen an avocado,” he said, holding the bumpy fruit aloft. “But when you open them up, you never know what you’re going to get. And now we’re opening them up. And they are perfect. They are perfect.”
The last diploma delivered, the students rose to the roar of applause. Tassels flipped from right to left, mortar boards sailed into the air. Camera flashes lit the auditorium. The pop-pop of confetti bombs exploded.
Mobile phone mounted on a selfie stick, his back to the stage, Goltermann composed one last group shot with his 72 “first babies.”