16 San Francisco high school graduates receive Bridge to Excellence Scholarship

A select group of San Francisco high school grads are on their way to college thanks in part to the Bridge to Excellence Scholarship.

The program makes sure that kids who could have fallen through the cracks can follow the path toward high education.

With friends and family looking on 16 high school graduates from San Francisco took their first steps toward higher education on Thursday, receiving the Bridge to Excellence Scholarship in a ceremony in city hall.

Students like Mission High School graduate Ayinde Hamilton who is headed to UC Berkeley. He says it wasn't easy to get here.

"Honestly, I didn't see myself being here, due to like, my community and growing up in the Fillmore," said Hamilton. "With all the gun violence and stuff that was going on I just didn't see myself being here."

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Hamilton's mother says education was a priority for the family.

"He is definitely setting the tone for his siblings, but not only that, for other African American young boys and peers to know that as long as you set your mind to it, you can do it," said Crystal Brown-Hamilton.

Winona Chhith-Phasavath is headed to San Francisco State University and says even with all of her hard work, the cost of college was still a challenge, so every piece of financial aid is critical.

"Honestly, without the scholarship, I felt really nervous about going to college, because I'm a first-generation college student," said Chhith-Phasavath. "My mother is the only one who raised me, so I would have to work a lot to pay for college."

Her mom says all of her own struggles are worth it to see her daughter's successes.

"I want to cry," said Khaly Chhith. "I'm just so proud of her. That's all I can say."

Jordan Nickelson-Smith, is headed to Southern University in Louisiana, but she says at first she struggled in high school with a .87 grade point average.

"At that point it was, you either have continuation school, or get your life together, and so as you can see, I chose to get my life together," said Nickelson-Smith.

Her mom says she could have wound up a statistic and took a moment to remember those who never made it to graduation.

"One of her very good childhood friends was murdered a couple of years ago and he was an excellent young man," said Rev. Aisha Jordan.

Mayor London Breed launched the Bridge to Excellence scholarship program three years ago, offering each recipient $5,000 to help students who had already faced obstacles to their education.

"This is really about making sure that money is not a barrier to your success," said Breed.

The students even had a special guest, certified platinum recording artist and San Francisco native 24kGoldn was on hand to help distribute the scholarships and congratulate the college-bound students.