Four years after the launch of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School, 60 students and two adults proudly received degrees from the institution that educates economically-disadvantaged young people. Nancy and Rich Kinder, who gifted the school with $1 million in 2009, were the first to receive their degrees — albeit honorary — from school president Father T.J. Martinez.
Saturday's ceremony at Bayou Music Center was remarkable on several fronts, the first of which was that each of the graduates has been accepted into college, ranging from Rice University to Georgetown University to Texas A&M. And despite living at or below the federal poverty line, this senior class has earned a cumulative $2.7 million in college scholarships.
Secondly, Nancy Kinder was the first woman in 166 years to receive an honorary Jesuit high school degree in the Jesuit Southern Province.
The celebrations began early with Armando Palacios hosting the entire senior class to Armandos for a special lunch celebration on Thursday. On Saturday, a pre-graduation reception was held for major donors and founding members on the music center's second-floor lobby overlooking the stage. Cristo Rey board of trustees and commencement speaker, Rich Kinder, donned their robes at the reception as 1,500 family members, corporate work-study sponsors and donors filled the venue.
Among those gathering at the reception were Martinez' father Brownsville mayor Tony Martinez, Raye White, Jacque and Brian Branda, Lisa and Joe Turano, David Harvey, Irene and Lupe Fraga, Trini Mendenhall-Sosa and Frank Sosa, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, Charlene and John O'Shea, Lucia and David Warden and Sofia Adrogué.
Among the valuable and occasionally entertaining offerings in Kinder's commencement speech:
"Father Martinez is Houston's newest source of natural energy, and at Kinder Morgan, we are figuring out the best way to get him through our pipelines!"
"I've made more mistakes in my life by thinking too small than by thinking too big."
The school's unique structure resulted in the students earning more than $1.6 million over the past four years through Cristo Rey's corporate work-study program, monies that help pay for their college prep high school education. The students work for the city's leading businesses at entry level positions thereby gaining valuable work experience in addition to earning tuition dollars.