Napolitano's message for students -- college is within reach.
"If your family makes less than $80,000 dollars a year, you pay no tuition at the University of California," she said. "Not a single dollar."
At Oakland Technical High School, many college-bound students will need some financial help. 83 percent of students there graduate, five percent higher than the state average.
Napolitano hopes even more will stay in school if they know it'll get them somewhere like UC Berkeley.
"Think about your own passion, your own choices, you own pathway, right up the hill from where you are today," she said.
But as Napolitano was speaking inside, a ruckus was brewing outside the high school -- protesters who believe Napolitano should never have been appointed UC president.
"Hey hey, ho ho, Napolitano has got to go," the group chanted.
A small group of mainly UC students point to record numbers of immigration arrests and deportations while Napolitano was head of Homeland Security.
"She's attacked the immigrant communities of Oakland and we're just saying she's not welcome here," one protester said.
Some worry she could bring heavy-handed immigration policy to university campuses.
"High school students are already thinking about not applying to the UC schools, just because she's there, because they are undocumented, or because their families are undocumented," UC Berkeley student Isamar Ochoa said.
But when reporters asked about those concerns, Napolitano responded with a commitment to children of immigrant families:
"We're going to do more for all first generation students whether they be documented, undocumented, than has ever been done," she said. "We're looking for ways to do that, and I would say, you know, watch what I do, don't rely on rumors from the past."
And in a plan revealed Wednesday night, the UC system will be giving $15 million to students, including those living illegally in the U.S., in an effort to help with their education.
Three groups will get $5 million each -- undocumented students, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students.
Napolitano says the money's coming from non-state funding.