As 60 students marched down the aisle to receive their high school diplomas, Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep in Waukegan celebrated several "firsts."
It was the largest class to graduate in the school's 10-year history, 83 percent of the students who started as freshmen graduated, and, for almost all of the students, they are the first members of their family to receive a secondary education.
"Today is testament to the remarkable feat our seniors have achieved during their journey over the course of the last four years," Principal Michael Odiotti told the crowd packing the pews for a Baccalaureate Mass and Commencement Ceremony held June 7 at Most Blessed Trinity Catholic Church in Waukegan.
"There is no doubt in our minds that these students are going to go out and make a mark in the world."
He emphasized the importance of the freshman-to-graduation retention achievement. Seven years ago, only 38 percent of the incoming freshmen graduated and, in the larger Cristo Rey network, only 55 percent of students go from start to finish.
The high school offers an affordable, college prep, faith-based education to young men and women with limited economic means.
Almost 100 percent of the seniors are headed off to colleges ranging from Carthage and Marquette to Holy Cross with $5.4 million in academic scholarships.
This graduation underscores the fact "the most important part of learning is the relationship between teachers and students," President Preston Kendall said.
"When students are held accountable and given care, support and respect, there is no limit to what they can achieve regardless of their families' finances. Family income is still the most accurate indicator of the quality of education a student receives.
"At CRSM, we are counteracting that correlation. Our students are talented with huge potential. They simply need the same opportunities and they will make the most of them."