Cristo Rey Valedictorian Alanna Perez spent the final hours of 2020, a “brutal” year, on the phone in the Dominican Republic working with a school counselor to finalize her college applications.
She was also caring for her ailing grandmother while juggling midterms online as the narrow window between her deferral from the national college match program QuestBridge and the deadline to submit college applications was closing in on her.
Last Saturday, Perez addressed a crowd of her peers and their families at a ceremony many expected wouldn’t take place: Cristo Rey Boston High School’s in-person graduation. Together, they celebrated her graduating class’s emergence from the “most stressful, scariest period of [their] lives.”
The 18-year-old Dorchester native is bound for Princeton University in the fall, an academic feat that exemplifies the private, college-preparatory school’s mission – seating students from impoverished and under-resourced communities in high places.
“Having the highest-grade point average doesn’t give me life experience, so I’m not in the position to tell my friends what to do,” Perez told the Reporter, “But I have hope for us – we’re the best class, and this will always be our family.
“School has always been an escape, and it’s always been my main priority. With high school coming to a close, it makes me want to cry thinking of all the work I’ve put in. I finally did it,” she said.
Cristo Rey, which exclusively admits students who are at or below the poverty line, is not unfamiliar with the financial barriers to education. Its president, Rosemary Powers, said that the last year has been an especially difficult one for families and educators alike.
“The effects of the pandemic have been overwhelming for our families. We’re a small school with a very dedicated team, and we had to make sure we met our kids where they were, and kept our kids engaged, and helped them cut through the clutter of the outside world to focus on their academic success,” said Powers.
“We go to extraordinary lengths to make sure all our students go to college, and now that they’ve reached graduation, we’re reminding them that, while they’ve done a great first chapter, their story is still unwritten,” she said.
To accommodate fully synchronous learning and curb absenteeism during the “brutal year,” the school extended its hours and expanded wraparound services for neurodivergent students, and school staff made house-calls to academically at-risk seniors. At the school year’s end, Cristo Rey boasted a 93 percent attendance rate.
“We focused on their success, and their ability to stay focused and persevere – those are the themes from this past year, perseverance and focus,” said Powers. “We’re really hoping those lessons remain for future graduating classes, as well, that they also know the value of these virtues.”
Graduating senior Jamil Boykin, also a Dorchester native, reflected on his “lost year” after convening with his class for the first time at Cristo Rey’s senior banquet, another in-person event held in lieu of a traditional prom.
“It’s just hitting me that we’re graduating. Applying to college was difficult and required a lot of independence – if you didn’t do it, it didn’t get done – but it’s nice to be able to see each other again and be together again,” he said.
Boykin, who participated in a work-study program with the cellphone company Harvard Networks his senior year, is headed for Wentworth Institute of Technology following his departure from Cristo Rey. He said he’s “excited” to experience college in-person.
“I’m looking forward to college. It’ll be very different because everyone’s moving in different directions and we don’t even really know what ‘normal’ looks like anymore,” said Boykin. “But I like new; new is exciting to me.”
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The Class of 2021 from Cristo Rey Boston graduated in an in-person ceremony on Sat., June 5 at 12 p.m. at Saint Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Dorchester.
Army – Miguel Guerrero, South Boston; Daniele Veriguete, Dorchester
Assumption College – Elesber Ariaris Tejeda, Hyde Park
Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology – MiguelAngel Guerrero, Mattapan; Eliezer Laforest, Roslindale;,Jimmy Ezequiel Rosario, Roxbury
Bunker Hill Community College – Emely Guerrero, South Boston; Mya Denae Sykes, Dorchester Center
College of the Holy Cross – Stephanie Hernandez-Munoz, Dorchester; Lufus Junio Philip, Dorchester; Marquis Ali Wilson, Mattapan
Curry College – Armine Cherfils, Dorchester
Eastern Nazarene College – Damani Cadet, Roxbury
Emmanuel College – Red Molina, Brighton
Fitchburg State University – Maria Mejia, South Boston
Framingham State University – Regina Galette, Dorchester; Maya Haywood-Hicks, Roslindale; Adrian Oller, Dorchester; Brianna Ashley Ann Ross, Dorchester; Desiree Tri-Shauna Sheets, Quincy; Travis Micheal Sturdivant, Newton; Chanelle Trinity Tubman, Roxbury
Johns Hopkins University – Edwenly Michelle Baez, Charlestown
Marines - Jael Nunez, Roxbury
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences – Jonaisy Soto, Dorchester
MBTA – Alan Gomez, Dorchester
University of Dayton – Christina Diaz, Dorchester; Aniyah Bones, Dorchester
University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth – Omarion Braggs, Roxbury; Xavier Depina, Dorchester; Paybo Mondjolo, Roxbury
University of Massachusetts - Amherst – Allison Samuels, Dorchester; Ahsim Ahmed Shaaban, Jamaica Plain; Simone J. Walker, Weymouth
University of Massachusetts - Boston – Melody Yaiza Chavez-Rodriguez, South Boston; Akinyele Lumumba Crawford, Dorchester; Anisa Fernandes, Dorchester; Bryan Gonzalez, Brockton; Alizea Hiduchick, Revere; Yuleisi Margarita Martinez, South Boston
Northeastern University – Emily Araujo, Roslindale; Dannya Burdier, Dorchester; Airalis M. Colon, Dorchester; Lizbeth Gonzalez, Roxbury; Laighla Hernandez, Hyde Park; Tamia Amya Jackson, Dorchester; Kelvin J. Ramirez-Arias, Mattapan; Caitlyn Samantha Rodrigues, Dorchester
Princeton University – Alanna Perez, Dorchester
Quincy College -- Rhayana Dely, Dorchester; Gordiny Doret, Dorchester; Perla Suazo-Herrera, Dorchester
Simmons University – Juana Veronica Marte, Dorchester
Stonehill College – Katrina Desir, Randolph
Suffolk University – Ray Bosquet, Dorchester; Mariyah Correia, Roxbury
Wentworth Institute of Technology – Jamil Boykin, Dorchester
TBD – Deanna Baptista, Randolph