Every student in Cristo Rey Jesuit High School’s inaugural graduation class of 2019 is the first in their family to go to college. Each was accepted into at least two four-year-universities and, collectively, the class has earned more than $3.5 million in institutional scholarships and grants toward college education.

On May 31, 85 seniors graduated during a ceremony at the Church of the Gesu on the Marquette University campus. Being a member of the founding class is a great honor and meant a lot to Josue Tepach, who plans to attend Marquette in the fall.

“Not only am I super fortunate that the school was opening right as I was to enter high school, but I’m lucky that I was able to be part of this amazing journey,” he said. “I didn’t expect much with the school being new. Cristo Rey was the only high school I applied to and luckily was the one I got accepted into.”

The school, which consists primarily of Hispanic students, is part of a national model in which freshmen through seniors are matched with different companies and do professional entry level work through the school’s Corporate Work Study Program (CWSP). Those companies pay the students’ high school tuition along with assistance through community donations. The school is part of a network of 35 Catholic, college preparatory high schools around the country for students of limited financial means.

“The CWSP program is very unique and what Cristo Rey is all about,” said Tepach. “I was accepted to a variety of colleges, such as Marquette, Loyola University in Chicago, UW-Milwaukee, Carroll University and more. I plan to major in applied physics and computer engineering.”

President Andrew Stith said, “We are tremendously proud of the Class of 2019, the group of young people that began this journey with us four years ago. Cristo Rey Jesuit will continue to support these students through college, and when we revisit them four years from now, I know we will be amazed with what they’ve accomplished and with the plans they have for their future. With their ambition, dedication, and sense of responsibility to work for justice in our world, the Class of 2019 will be leaders in Milwaukee, giving back to the community that helped make their success possible.”

Salutatorian Wendy Gutierrez-Perez said that attending Cristo Rey was being part of something bigger than herself.

“It was about being part of a founding class and contributing to the excellence of the school and our education,” she said. “Sure, we had ups and downs, changes in the grading systems, but those were the ones that built up our accomplishments. Going to Cristo Rey meant growing as a person while gaining academic and professional skills both inside the classroom and the work places.”

Gutierrez-Perez was accepted to 16 different schools, including Marquette, UW-Madison, Holy Cross, St. Louis University, Loyola and Mount Mary. She has chosen College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, where she plans to study science to become a physical therapist.

“Cristo Rey is a school that works. It allows for students to work on time management and professionalism. There are definitely high standards set for each student, but it is all for their own success. The mission of Cristo Rey is proven through the college acceptances and scholarships,” she said. “I would tell other students that if their goal is to graduate high school and go to college, then Cristo Rey is the school for them. There will be long nights and hard work needed to be put into practice, but it is possible. If the founding class did it, anyone can.”

The family atmosphere was a bonus to attending Cristo Rey, said valedictorian Giselle Vera.

“It has been a true honor. I am so grateful for choosing Cristo Rey four years ago. I know that they played a huge role in my success because they provided me the resources, opportunities and support that I wouldn’t have gotten in any other high school,” she said.

Vera was accepted to 10 different colleges and offered full-ride scholarships to several. She decided to continue her education at Marquette. The school selected her as a four-year, full-tuition Burke Scholar for demonstrating a commitment to social justice. It also named her a Les Aspin Scholar, with a semester-long internship in Washington, DC, in her junior year. She plans to study business, law and international studies, and one day attend law school.

“Cristo Rey is a school like no other. You will find more than academic preparation and endless resources. You will also find a home and a family,” she said. “We look out for each other and we succeed together. The Jesuit values that are instilled in us leave a print in us that can’t be erased.”