Some of Hollywood’s finest gathered last night to celebrate five deserving students at the Children’s Defense Fund-Calfiornia 23rd Annual Beat the Odds Awards. The Children’s Defense Fund-California is a non-profit child advocacy organization that has worked relentlessly for 40 years to ensure a level playing field for all children. CDF-CA helps lift children out of poverty, protect them from abuse and neglect, and ensure their access to healthcare and quality education.

Five Los Angeles-area high school “stars” were honored by celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner, and Matt Damon for beating the odds, and overcoming tremendous personal obstacles in order to achieve academic excellence. Other attendees included Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Josiah Bell, Conan O’Brien, J.J. Abrams, and Katie Lowes. Witherspoon, who serves on the CDF-CA’s National Board, spoke highly of the work the charity performs. “What I really love about this organization is that it is truly all about the kids,” the actress stated. “I am so proud to be a part of the organization.” This sentiment was echoed throughout the evening, in more ways than one. Each winning student was honored individually, and gift bags were forgone in favor of creating five gigantic gift bags for the honorees. “These kids are going to be really excited when they open them later this evening!” Witherspoon said.

As the emotional and inspiring evening came to a close, CDF President Marian Wright Edelman recognized the many accomplishments of the organization, but asserted that there is still much further to go. “Building on the leadership of young people and those that are here tonight, we can force our nation to make new choices and to really make large strides forward. We must not move backwards. We’ve got to turn this around. We’ve got to change it and we will change it,” Wright Edelman concluded.

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