Staff Report

Nearly 500 seniors from high schools in Santa Ynez, Lompoc, Santa Maria and Nipomo attended Hancock College’s annual Young Educated LatinX Leaders Conference, more commonly known as the Y.E.L.L. Conference, in March on the Santa Maria campus.

Organizers intend to empower and inspire students while showing them that a college education is attainable for everyone, especially with The Hancock Promise.

The Hancock Promise allows students who graduate from high schools within the college district to receive their first year tuition-free beginning this summer.

“We want students to know about The Hancock Promise and the steps they need to take to receive their first year free,” said Yvonne Teniente, dean of Student Services. “We also want students to connect and feel engaged with the college and understand there is a big group of staff and counselors here, ready to help them succeed.”

Hilda Zacarías, president of the college board of trustees, welcomed students to the event. She was one of the original founders of the conference several years ago.

“Y.E.L.L. is about helping young people discover their own inspiration,” said Zacarías, who hosted a workshop later in the day called Leadership Today and Every Day.

The event featured two keynote speakers: Dr. Victor Rios, a sociology professor at UCSB and a published author; and Ernie G, one of the most popular young Latino entertainers and comedians in the nation.

Ernie G wanted students to take away two key messages from his presentation: “Let your light shine” and “if it is to be, it is up to me.”

“Everybody’s light gets dim from time to time. We have to remember what it takes to reignite it and be who they truly are,” he said.

Millions of people have watched Ernie G on television. He calls his comedy Latino Edutainment – educating and entertaining with a Latino flavor.

“It is a lot easier to pass on powerful messages when people laugh, because they open their minds and their hearts,” he said.

Rios has published numerous books on inner-city youth experiences, education and adversity.

“Everyone faces adversity. Students need to know they can either let it break them or use it to break records,” Rios said. “Each student can overcome obstacles and become leaders.”

Students at the event attended one of 15 available workshops on topics such as self-empowerment, leadership, financial aid, nursing careers, and being undocumented, as well as a session on The Hancock Promise.

After spending the day at Hancock, many students said they could not wait to return to campus in a few months as part of the inaugural class of The Hancock Promise.

“I feel very inspired and motivated after this conference,” said Christian Camacho, a senior at Pioneer Valley High School who plans to attend Hancock as a Promise student in the fall. “To hear stories from so many people who were in my shoes and are now doctors and vice presidents, I can’t wait to be a Hancock student in a few months.”

“I learned a lot of important information about the college, as well as the services and people willing to help me thrive at Hancock,” added Carla Perez, a senior at Lompoc High School. “It makes me happy to know I will able to come back in a few months and be a college student for free and focus on making my parents proud. Hopefully one day, I’ll be a guest speaker at this conference.”

On top of free tuition and fees for one year, The Hancock Promise provides students with free tutoring, personalized counseling, priority registration and more.

To learn more about The Hancock Promise, visit