Henry Ortega figured that it would take a dollar from each of the 25,000 or so graduating seniors in the Los Angeles school district to pay for his freshman year at Brown University.
Either that or a miracle.
But the 17-year-old San Fernando High School senior, the son of a machine operator, won't have to beg for his Ivy League education.
His angel showed up in a three-piece suit.
Ortega is one of four students at San Fernando High to receive a $12,000 college scholarship from the downtown law firm of O'Melveny & Myers. Financially, they are the largest scholarships awarded in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
The firm this year has pledged to contribute as much as $96,000 a year in scholarships as an incentive for San Fernando students to stay in school. The only catch is that scholarship winners must have attended O'Melveny School, an elementary school named for the father of the law firm's founder, Henry O'Melveny.
Ortega, who entered O'Melveny in kindergarten, said he is ready to take a peek at the world outside the blue-collar, largely Latino neighborhood where he was raised. The scholarship money, along with financial aid from Brown University, will reduce the cost of his schooling next year to about $2,300.
"I've lived in the same house, in the same city, all my life," said Ortega, who plans to study law at the university in Providence, R.I. "Now I have a chance for something different."
Charlotte Bonner, the school's longtime college adviser, said the scholarship money could not have come at a better time. State and federal budget cuts have drastically reduced the amount of money available to her students.
Although scholarships and government grants are dwindling, San Fernando High School this year has its highest percentage of seniors signing up for two- or four-year colleges, Bonner said. About 80% of the school's 545 graduating seniors say they will attend college in the fall, she said.
Dropout rates at the school mirror the entire school district, where more than a third of all students fail to receive their high school diplomas.
Warren Christopher, chairman of O'Melveny & Myers, said in announcing the scholarship program last fall: "Our goals are quite simple: to encourage students to stay in school, to do well and to continue their education after high school."
Those eligible for scholarships must rank among the top one-third among high school seniors statewide.
Two of the scholarship winners, Andres Rubalcava and Maria Cervantes, are attending Cal State Northridge. The fourth winner, Patsy Amaya, will attend UCLA in the fall.
Rubalcava, 18, said the money will allow him to attend CSUN as a full-time student without having to hold down a job.
"I know a lot of people who are smarter than me, but who have to work or only go to school part-time because they don't have the money," said Rubalcava, who wants to become a physician.
The winners credit the strict nature of their families with keeping them from the temptations of drugs and gangs that have claimed many of their friends.
"It's a big problem," Rubalcava said. "Kids are killing each other."