“I feel very proud”

Viviana Padilla began her academic journey with the help of her father 17 years ago; He did not live to see her finish her studies

She obtains the master's degree at USC with the support of the Neighborhood Initiative for children of South Los Angeles
Viviana Padilla (Photo courtesy of Aurelia Ventura / La Opinion)

Viviana Padilla has a great gift for her parents, she will be graduating with a master’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of Southern California (USC).

The dream was achieved with the support of the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative, an intensive and rigorous college prep program that focuses on working with children in south and east of Los Angeles. The goal is for children to go to college with strong support from their parents.

“I feel very proud,” says a very satisfied Viviana, who on the third attempt managed to be accepted to do her postgraduate studies at USC.

“I had given up until I decided to try a third time, and with more experience they accepted me,” she says.

Unfortunately, during her graduation ceremony that will take place on May 10th, she will be missing her father, Julian Padilla.  Mr. Padilla was a Mexican immigrant who lost his life a year ago due to liver failure, it was he who was her main coach so that she could go to college.

Viviana Padilla, USC Masters student, photographed sitting at a desk with a book in the USC library.
Viviana Padilla studied for her masters at USC. 
(Photo courtesy of Aurelia Ventura / La Opinion)

“My father always helped me with math and my mom with rehearsals,” she says.

Many times, her father volunteered in the classroom to make sure his daughter stayed in class. He was her main cheerleader and together with her mother, they became great allies to get ahead with their duties.

Viviana graduated from USC with a degree in psychology and occupational sciences in 2016. In 2017, she managed to be accepted for a master’s degree in occupational therapy in a period of two years.

She grew up in south central Los Angeles in a working family that did not have the resources to send her to college.

However, she says, “I did not have to pay anything to go to college at USC.” This achievement was made possible, when in the sixth grade, she enrolled in the Leslie and William McMorrow Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI) program.

Viviana Padilla photographed as a child, with her father Julian Padilla (standing behind her) who, as a child, pushed her a lot to go to university.
Viviana Padilla with her father Julian Padilla who, as a child, pushed her a lot to go to university. 
(Photo courtesy of Aurelia Ventura / La Opinion)

Students who remain in this program from the sixth grade until they graduate from high school, are eligible for a full scholarship if they are admitted to USC.    

USC NAI supports more than 1,000 children in college access programs, and more than 600 in preschool and early literacy programs.

It is a seven-year college prep program designed to encourage and empower the students in the neighborhoods surrounding USC, to prepare for college.

Under the guidelines of this arduous program, students commit to a seven-year after-school tutoring plan and classes on Saturday mornings. Parents are required to attend a program at the Family Development Institute twice a week. It is here that parents support their children in achieving their academic goals and maximize a healthy home environment.

Viviana Padilla photographed with her parents Julián (left) and María Padilla (right) when she graduated from USC.
Viviana Padilla with her parents Julián and María Padilla when she graduated from USC. 
(Photo courtesy of Aurelia Ventura / La Opinión).

Since the inaugural class of graduates in 1997, USC NAI’s achievements include almost 1,100 students completing the program with a 99% success rate, with 83% of NAI scholars gaining admission and attending four-year universities, 35% have been admitted to USC.

Viviana was barely a preschooler when she visited the USC campus, it was a part of her neighborhood. In fact, she attended a preschool in one of the five schools that are a part of the USC family of schools, an alliance of five educational sites near campus.

She started sixth grade at Foshay Learning Center, which is located just one mile west of the USC campus.

When she graduated from high school, she was accepted to several universities, including University of California at Berkeley, University of California at Los Angeles and USC. ” I decided on USC because I was in my neighborhood and I wanted to be close to my parents, ” she says.

Viviana Padilla, photographed standing in the book stacks at Doheny Library at USC, looking into the camera.
Viviana Padilla graduates with a master’s degree at USC on May 10. 
(Photo courtesy of Aurelia Ventura / La Opinion)
Viviana Padilla photographed in a headshot style photo, standing in front of the Tommy Trojan statue at USC.
Viviana Padilla was the first of her family to go to university. 
(Aurelia Ventura / La Opinion)

Throughout her professional training, Viviana has had the support of her family in the USC NAI program, and for six years she has been an English and mathematics tutor for the program.

She plans to continue her doctoral studies in occupational therapy.

“I start in September right here at USC, and I’ll finish in a year,” says Viviana, who dreams of working in health care and to help people recover.

“I would like to educate and help on this topic, but also with therapy I want to support people to take control of their lives,” she confides.

On May 2nd, Viviana was the keynote speaker at the USC NAI Gala.

“I feel very grateful for all the support they have given me, and to assure me that I could get a college degree and now my master’s degree,” says Viviana, for whom completing her graduate course was a challenge in the face of her father’s unexpected death at age 54.

By Araceli Martínez Ortega

>Read the original story on La Opinión’s website.