WESTWOOD, Calif. -- Music and celebrities lit up the stage at UCLA’s college signing day. 

But the work really started years ago, when first-generation immigrant Leyna Nguyen was inspired by a teacher to go to college back in the fifth grade.

“Just being offered this opportunity to pursue higher education is basically a dream come true. I am a single child, so my parents are really looking for me to be able to pave my way for a newer and brighter future for me and my family,” said Nguyen.

She committed to UCLA weeks ago, expects to graduate with a degree in psychology, and hopes to add a graduate degree after that.

“As a minority we always advocate and push for education, and a higher education means a great opportunity and a better life,” said Nguyen.

A message echoed by the event’s headliner, former first lady Michelle Obama:

“Personally, you’re going to make the best investment that you could make," said Mrs. Obama, speaking from the stage.

A four-year education has become more critical than ever, with college grads on average earning a million dollars more over their lifetimes than those with just a high school degree. Reports suggest education is still the surest path out of poverty. 

“And that’s true whether you’re going to a trade school, or the military, or a community college, or a four-year university,” said Obama.

The challenge for many, now that they have made it to college, is finding a way to pay for it. 

Student loans are now a $1.5 trillion-dollar crisis, the second biggest debt category, only behind mortgage debt. Nguyen got a scholarship and the biggest financial aid package available. She says she’s worked hard to get to where she is, and to be ready for classes.

“I’m just really proud of myself to even get this far, just being able to attend a school such as UCLA it’s a huge honor, my four years of high school speak for itself, I’m very proud,” she said.

For now, she’ll make her way back to Orange County, but come this fall she’ll be walking this UCLA campus as a freshman.