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The first group of students who completed all four years at Cristo Rey High School graduated Tuesday.
Purple and white was the color of the day as 53 students crossed the stage of St. Ignatius' hall, family and friends looking on with pride. Many students will attend prestigious schools, including the University of San Francisco, St. Mary’s and Loyola universities in Chicago.
The Cristo Rey High School, which started in 1996 in Chicago and established a Sacramento facility in 2006, is known for accepting students from lower-income families. The school provides employment programs, which pay for up to half of students' tuition, and financial aid.
Through their jobs, students acquire skills they can apply to their lives.
“It opened my mind,” said Cristian Polanco. “I got a better idea of what I wanted to do with my life,” said the 18-year-old, who received the school’s highest honor, the Mercy-Goodness-Service Award.
Reflecting on what makes Cristo Rey so exceptional, he emphasized the private school's personal touch of the private school and its impact on his life.
“I think the biggest accomplishment was that I was able to learn English,” Polanco said, which he didn't speak before his freshman year at the school.
Every one of the Cristo Rey graduates has been admitted to a college and most have received scholarships or grants.
School spirit ran high among the grads.
“The smallness, the family aspect, everything is great,” said salutatorian Nicholas Ramirez, 18. “We all get along, the teachers are amazing. It’s a great experience overall, I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
As with any graduation, there were words of advice. “It is no longer permitted, to anyone, to be mediocre,” the Rev. John Foley told the students. “No one else is going to miraculously appear to make this world a better place.”
Valedictorian Tasvir Kaur Singh reminded her peers of the good times: a famed rock-paper-scissors match, a “Hamlet” dance, and the school’s boy band. She ended her talk on a loving note.
“You will all do amazing things, whether you believe it or not,” she said. “How do I know? Because you are a group of people that do not give up. What I ask of each and every one of you is to never give up, no matter where life might lead you. Believe in us and believe in yourselves.”