Hundreds of youngsters graduating from the NYPD’s youth program gathered Wednesday in police headquarters for a bittersweet send-off, as several of the graduates accepted scholarships named for slain former classmate Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz.
Guzman-Feliz, 15, had been a member of the NYPD’s Explorers Program before his death in a gang-related attack in June. Now, thanks to a scholarship fund founded in his honor, two teens leaving the program will head off to college in the fall with $5,000 to invest in their educations.
The scholarship recipients said they hoped to use the funds to further their dreams of pursuing law enforcement careers that would help make positive changes in their communities — changes they hope will reduce gang-related violence and prevent more deaths like that of Junior.
“Some of my friends, they’ve been through a lot, and I want to change that,” said Nahomi Zambrano, 17, who will study mechanical engineering and join the cadets at City College of New York. Zambrano went on to express gratitude for the scholarship money she will take with her.
“It feels amazing, and I feel honored to have this,” she said of receiving the scholarship.
The other scholarship recipient, Malachi Nelson, 18, will also attend City College, where he plans to study computer science and mathematics.
The atmosphere in the auditorium was mostly jubilant, with graduates shouting gleefully as video footage of their summer program was shown and cheering loudly as each uniformed youth walked across the stage to receive a certificate.
But the mood turned somber during a moment of silence for Guzman-Feliz, and was bittersweet as the slain teen’s parents took to the stage with the scholarship recipients to honor their son’s legacy.
The parents said afterward that they knew their son would be overjoyed by the scholarship in his name.
“As his mother, I know him — he would be so happy being here now,” said Leandra Feliz, Junior’s mother.
The Lesandro “Junior” Guzman-Feliz Memorial College Fund was established by the New York City Police Foundation, and will be awarded each year to two Explorers graduates to help pay for tuition and school supplies as they enter college.
Roughly 250 youths between the ages of 14 and 20 graduated from the summer program at One Police Plaza. In addition to the two scholarship winners, four runners-up received $1,000 each.