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PEAK Class of 2021 Takes the Next Step

"I have heard from colleagues about how worried they are regarding the senior class around the nation. Questions abound about how much you actually learned this year…’Are they ready for college?’ they say. ‘Are they ready for life?’ But what my colleagues are missing is how resilient you must be. How battle-tested you are after 15 months of dealing with COVID-19. The real question for me is, ‘What can they not do?’”

The sentiment behind these words of Principal Quincy Paden will never be forgotten by the 2021 graduates of Holy Trinity, or those present to celebrate their accomplishment. He summed up the elephant in the room at an occasion that was both hopeful and appropriately reverent. He articulated a fact that is one of the great triumphs of this class -- as they grow to become older adults, community leaders, and parents to children of their own, future generations will grow up feeling safe in a world led by a generation of individuals who showed they can weather any challenges and uncertainties life may bring. They will be a truly great generation.

As one of the first in-person events of the year, the occasion was emotional. Like students across the country, this year’s PEAK graduates worked harder than past classes to make it through the year, without much celebration or the perks of a normal senior year of high school. Taking a picture together after receiving their diplomas, the PEAK scholars were happy to be together but also clearly matured and focused on what lay ahead for them. They faced some remarkable challenges this year. They are grateful that things are becoming brighter again, though they take nothing for granted. Each of our PEAK scholars in the Class of 2021 is on their way to begin a unique journey.

Yareli will be studying education at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with the goal of becoming a teacher. Before this year she never considered going to college outside of Chicago, but the encouragement of her PEAK mentor, Alejandra Rubalcava, gave her the confidence to apply. Yareli is ecstatic about living on campus and being immersed in a new environment.

Jailyn will attend Arizona State University and hopes to become a writer. This is the first time she will be away from her twin sister and immediate family, a huge stepping stone in her journey and an act of courage. She looks forward to connecting with family in Arizona and making a life for herself outside of Illinois.

All the seniors have given great thought to their goals and purpose in attending college. Where once Rafael was consumed by the thought of playing baseball his entire life, he has taken the past year and a half to dive into his other passions of entrepreneurship and investing. He has learned about how to develop and grow a barber business and how to invest in stocks to have a comfortable life for not only himself, but his family - and in fact has started investing already.

Deyonche has made it through a challenging year with her family as they’ve undergone immense loss and grief. While she applied and got accepted into many top universities with scholarships, she made the tough decision to postpone college by a year so she can take this time to heal and learn more about herself.

Alejandra, who was our Coffee with PEAK scholar speaker as well as her class’s speaker at the annual Holy Trinity Robing Ceremony, will be studying political science on a pre-law track at Loyola University. She has developed into a self-assured speaker and writer thanks to the work she put in preparing to share her story at such events, and will begin her studies this fall with a well-deserved confidence in herself. She has become a true representative of her class's can-do attitude.

Anissa faced overwhelming demands on her this year stemming from balancing home life, e-learning, and the pandemic, but sees the light at the end of the tunnel now that she will be attending Wilbur Wright College this fall. At PEAK’s Senior Graduation Celebration, Anissa told us with a huge smile on her face that she could not have done this without the support of her mentor, Janel Palm. Janel held back tears as she proudly watched Anissa confidently tell her story and share her gratitude in front of all her peers.

Last but not least, senior Kailyn (twin of Jailyn), has persevered through incredible challenges this year. She balanced school work with two jobs and became financially independent before turning 18. Finding the balance between supporting herself and school work was not an easy task, but like all of our scholars, Kailyn is grateful to start a new chapter in her life and begin to create a life for herself and achieve her dreams. She plans to begin at community college this fall and transfer to a four-year university when she has clarity on what academic path she wants to pursue -- currently, either law or business fundamentals so she can own her own salon business. Kailyn knows (and we agree) that she has the smarts and social skills to be successful in an entrepreneurial profession.

The PEAK staff and mentors have watched our seniors step up during a time of uncertainty. Still kids themselves, they matured fast and took on a lot of emotional and mental burden during the pandemic -- whether watching younger siblings and supporting their brothers’ and sisters’ remote learning on top of their own, or having to say goodbye to relatives that passed too soon. Though we wish our scholars did not have to experience such a challenging year, we are incredibly awestruck and proud of their strength and perseverance, for remaining positive young people with dreams, goals, and love, amidst such a dark time.

We are grateful for our PEAK mentors, who, during a time of chaos and change in many of their own lives, stayed by their scholars’ sides and supported them along their high school journeys until the very end. Truly, if ever there was a year when mentors made a difference, this senior class’s success speaks to it.

Now that completion of high school during a global pandemic is behind each of our seniors, we are eager to see them progress on their journeys. We are quite certain that they will survive and thrive no matter what life throws at them.


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