Comstock seventh grader Rahel Abraha is a decade from college graduation, but on Tuesday morning she tried on a mortar board and had her "Class of 2020" photo taken.
The photo booth was one of the stations in "Road to College: Get on Board," Comstock Middle School Tuesday coordinated by the California State University system.
"I got excited when I took the picture," Abraha said. "I wanted my parents to feel happy that I will graduate from college."
That's the idea, said Margery Grey, assistant vice chancellor of communications for the state university system.
"It's a very intentional memento," she said. "We want them to not just go to college, but graduate from college — to visualize it."
This marks the second year that the "Road to College" bus tour has visited schools near the 23 college campuses. It is the first time the bus has stopped at Comstock.
The program is funded by a $500,000 sponsorship from AT&T. It's goal is to get middle school students in schools with high Latino, African American and Asian populations to start thinking about college and college applications before they set foot in high school.
"They typically have lower college-going rates than other students," Grey said.
Students from Sonoma State University manned laptop computers and helped the Comstock seventh and eighth graders watch inspirational videos, navigate campus websites and answer questions.
"Even though they live close to Sonoma State, they have never seen it," SSU third-year history major Juan Rodriguez said of many middle schoolers. "I describe it as if it's my first time on campus."
As competition ratchets up each year for space at both CSU and University of California campuses, educators said it is crucial for students to identify their goals early so they enter high school prepared to take the classes that will get them where they want to go.
College or other post-high school training has to be a focus before students get to high school, said Rebekah Rocha, community outreach coordinator for Santa Rosa City Schools.
"That vision has to be really strong when they leave eighth grade and enter high school," she said. "If they don't start high school knowing that that is their goal, it's too late before a lot of them know it."
Seventh grader Amando Camacho said he's already on his way.
Enrolled in Comstock's Foundation for Success class, Camacho has been discussing what classes to take in high school, what colleges to begin considering and what careers to pursue.
Camacho has an eye on UC Berkeley but on Tuesday clicked through websites for San Francisco State and SSU.
"I've been there on a field trip," he said of Sonoma State.