C.H.A.M.P. Graduates Head to College Mighty Proud

by Shannon Linton '07

"Isaac Macias, future musician; Alex Rodriguez, future professional soccer player; Ashley Reyes, future artist; Ryan Estrada, future architect!" One by one the hopes and dreams crossed the stage.

Family members, friends, teachers, and students cheered them on. More than 150 smiles of anticipation covered the faces of these fourth graders from Azusa elementary schools on the evening of Wednesday, November 28. These were the fall 2007 graduates of the College Headed and Mighty Proud (C.H.A.M.P.) Program.

"Remember that tonight, we celebrate not an end, but the beginning of a worthwhile and remarkable dream," President Jon R. Wallace said at the start of the ceremony.

Several attendees nodded their heads in agreement, including principal of Paramount Elementary Victoria Avila.

"I have been impressed and inspired by how C.H.A.M.P. has really helped our students," Avila said. "This program shows us that it is never too early to start thinking about your future."

Formed in 1991 as a partnership between APU and Azusa Unified School District, C.H.A.M.P. is a semester-long program designed to introduce the idea of college to fourth graders from local schools through a variety of activities that offer them a taste of college life first-hand. At the start of the semester, C.H.A.M.P. participants are paired with "buddies," or APU students who serve as mentors.

These buddies stayed by the fourth graders' side as they entered the Felix Event Center at the start of the graduation ceremony. The students represented three schools in Azusa: Paramount Elementary, Magnolia Elementary, and Powell Elementary. One at a time, the principals of each school addressed the audience, all thanking APU and emphasizing the importance of the C.H.A.M.P. program.

"This is truly an amazing example of how, through a system of support, students can be motivated to great things," principal of Magnolia Elementary Randi Carbajal-Cuccia said.

The graduates expressed similar sentiments about the program. "Without C.H.A.M.P. I would never have realized how important college is," fourth grader Vanessa Magana of Magnolia Elementary said. "I'm now inspired to follow my dreams and never give up."

Students graduated by school, beginning with Paramount. Their teacher read their name and their desired future occupation, and then handed them a certificate. Standing at the end of the stage to greet them was President Wallace, their principal, and Azusa Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Alexis Ruiz-Alessi.

Future occupations ranged from best-selling authors to prosecuting attorneys to animal rescuers. "The majority of these students' career goals require a college education," said Avila. "That's why C.H.A.M.P. plays such a key role in motivating them toward that end goal by encouraging them to go to college."

Ruiz-Alessi emphasized the importance of having a plan of action to reach that goal. She challenged families to set aside five dollars each week to make college more attainable for these students by the time they graduate from high school.

David Luevanos, principal of Powell Elementary, also offered a challenge. "I challenge each of you to commit to your goals, to commit to graduating from high school and to going to college, and most importantly, to commit to the belief that you can do it," he said to the graduates.

Fourth grader Janice Hinojosa smiled as her teacher called her name. "Future lawyer!" her teacher said. Hinojosa marched forward to receive her certificate. Her determined face said it all—"I can do this."