PILSEN — Opening doors to a bright future for many Pilsen students, Benito Juarez graduates earned $26 million in college scholarships this year, the school announced.
A handful of Benito Juarez Community Academy graduates earned prestigious scholarships that will send the students to college on full rides.
Two students were awarded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation scholarship, which covers tuition for the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees; two students earned the Posse Foundation scholarship, which covers full tuition at the university of their choice; and one student earned the Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois scholarship to fulfill dreams of becoming a teacher.
Jesus Enriquez, one of the Benito Juarez grads who earned the prestigious Gates scholarship, said the full ride will change his life. He's headed to Carthage College, a private liberal arts college in Kenosha, Wis., in the fall.
"It has opened so many doors and opportunities for me," Enriquez said. "When I opened the [scholarship] envelope, it just hit me. It's great knowing that you won something for all of the hard work ... through the years."
Afraid that he would be unable to afford college, Enriquez, a National Honors Society student who played soccer at Juarez, has been working since his sophomore year. Like many families, his parents couldn't afford to help him out with the cost, he said.
"I was scared that I would have to save up money to pay it off," he said. "Now I only have to worry about studying."
The CPS neighborhood high school graduated 364 students this year, the biggest class to date. More than 65 percent of those students (239) received acceptance letters to a four-year college for the fall semester.
The students' accomplishments are even more impressive considering the obstacles they face on a regular basis, Juarez Principal Juan Carlos Ocon announced. At high school, 97 percent of the students are low income and 95 percent are Hispanic, according to CPS data.
"In my role at Benito Juarez, with the support and commitment of our teachers and staff, we all have transformed the school over the last eight years," he said. "The result is that our students are graduating college and are career ready.”
Ocon said the millions in merit-based and service-based scholarships are a direct result of the advocacy, leadership and teaching methods led by Juarez teachers, counselors and staff.
More than 100 students graduated with National Honors Society distinction this year.
Raul Raymundo, CEO of The Resurrection Project and a Juarez alum, said that he was proud of the students' achievements.
"Their accomplishments this year are outstanding and their efforts are celebrated by the entire Pilsen community," Raymundo said.
In 2015, Juarez led neighborhood schools and was ranked 15th in CPS schools in earning the most college scholarships.
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