"I'd like to thank my posse group," Ellis said at his graduation ceremony.
In urban America, your posse is the group that has your back. They understand you — and that's the concept here. This group was picked four years ago by the Posse Foundation in New York. The students are all from the inner city, almost all minority, almost all low income; and they got scholarships to go to Lafayette — together, CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports for Shades of America.
"They absolutely can succeed at great schools," said founder Deborah Bial, who started the Posse scholarships after an inner-city student told her he would have graduated college — if he'd had his posse.
"And we thought: 'What a great idea. Why not send a posse, or a team of kids, together to college so they can back each other up,'" she said. "It's a team."
A wildly successful team. In just one group, Tito Anyanwu is an engineer. Egharevba is going to medical school. Terese Brown will be a fashion buyer. Ellis is off to Lehman Brothers. So the question is — why did kids this smart need a posse?
"I think one of the main reasons for posse is the support," Mancebo told Andrews.
"I personally would not have survived without posse," Maly Fung said.
One harsh truth about America today is that many inner-city teenagers grow up with almost no contact with white or affluent America. So for Egharevba, who grew up in the Bronx, mostly white Lafayette College was alien territory.
"It was culture shock," Egharevba said. "You notice that you're that poor black kid and that everybody else is white, and so you feel left out and isolated initially."Only On The Web: Lafayette College President Dan Weiss talks about how students in posses contribute on campus
Is that where Posse helped?
"Definitely," Egharevba said.
What's truly groundbreaking is the way the group finds these students to begin with. When Posse recruiters go out to inner-city high schools, they're not just looking for good grades and SATs. What they're looking for are the leaders.
"We're seeing beyond what the transcript says, beyond what a test score says," Bial said. "We are finding young people that these universities can't find themselves."
The remarkable result, at 26 different colleges, is a graduation rate of 90 percent. That's almost double the national average. The program has produced 500 graduates so far — who, without Posse, might have been overlooked.
"Those are the young people who are motivated, ambitious, driven to succeed in a competitive college environment," Bial said.
"We're going to do big things," Terese said.
Now, after four years of supporting each other, graduation for the posse brings the pain of farewell … and the joy of pure achievement.
"You guys have been there for me," Ellis said at his graduation ceremony.
"I love you with all my heart," Pablo Torres said.
This is what it feels like when you come to a place you never imagined — and then succeed beyond imagination.