Tonight, 25 minority students from Oakland will each be awarded a $16,000 scholarship and the guarantee of support and mentoring for the duration of their college careers.

The students are recipients of scholarships awarded by the Berkeley-based East Bay College Fund, which is holding its annual awards ceremony this evening at Nile Hall in Oakland’s Preservation Park.

Guest of honor at the ceremony is Pearl Fryar, whose inspiring story is the subject of a documentary, A Man Named Pearl. Fryar challenged expectations in 1984 when he set out to win “Yard of the Month” for his home on the outskirts of Bishopville, SC, creating in the process three acres of stunningly beautiful topiary (watch the trailer, above).

At the EBCF ceremony, the 25 new scholars, all of whom attended Oakland high schools, will be introduced to, and paired with, their assigned volunteer mentors who will be on hand to provide guidance throughout the students’ college careers.

EBCF co-founder Andy Fremder says all the new scholars have compelling stories. “They have all demonstrated resilience and an ability to overcome tremendous obstacles to achieve their dreams,” he says. “That is why we chose Pearl as our keynote speaker. His key message is that you can’t let obstacles determine your fate.”

Fryar is today sculpting some of his signature topiary which the EBCF hopes to put up for silent auction at the event. The ceremony is open to the public.

Read about how the East Bay College Fund has proved to be a model for other Bay Area non-profits working with minority students, in my March 18 article for the New York Times.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...