‘A ray of hope’: As neighborhood rebuilds, south Minneapolis high school celebrates its seniors

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School graduation in Minneapolis
Hamartii Hailu is lifted by her father while receiving her diploma during a social distancing drive-up graduation ceremony at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis on Saturday afternoon.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News

As cleanup and rebuilding continued along Lake Street in Minneapolis on Saturday, cheers echoed out from the rooftop of nearby Cristo Rey Jesuit High School.

The school hosted a drive-thru, socially distanced graduation ceremony for its 124 seniors, with faculty and staff saluting their students' accomplishments from a perch atop the building.

It was a welcome afternoon of hope, celebration and looking to the future, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and just days after looting and fires destroyed nearby businesses in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

"We have families that are experiencing a lot right now. I think this graduation is a ray of hope amidst a lot of that," said Raquel Gudiel, the school's director of college counseling. All of Cristo Rey's graduating seniors have been accepted to college since the school’s first graduation in 2011.

Cristo Rey Jesuit High School graduation in Minneapolis
Jaylen Cargill smiles for family members' photos after receiving his diploma during a social distancing drive-up graduation ceremony at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis on Saturday.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News

Cristo Rey officials said many of the seniors who received their diplomas Saturday are the first in their families to graduate high school and be accepted into college.

"The last few days have been really challenging. The last few months have been really challenging," Gudiel said. "I think our students are well-equipped to bring change. They are going to be our future lawyers, future doctors, our future legislators. So this graduation is meaningful for many, many reasons. And it's more so meaningful to be here today in person celebrating our students."

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The school suffered some broken windows in the violence that saw much worse damage elsewhere in the neighborhood. Ahead of Saturday's graduation, school officials said they "stand with all people who decry the killing of George Floyd. We believe that building the future through education will help heal the trauma of racist violence."

The school has established an emergency fund to help students and families affected by the violence.

Graduating senior Baydan Dahir is heading to Northwestern University in the fall. Amid the pandemic, she said, "I think it's very special that we get to at least see our teachers and they get to cheer us on and we get to take pictures with them or our family."

Another senior, Maria Medel, said there was some sadness among the senior class over how the year ended.

"We've gone through a lot, especially the students who have experienced very hard life challenges. I think we're just grateful that we're able to celebrate it," said Medel, who is headed to North Hennepin Community College in the fall to study marketing -- specifically, sports marketing.

"The main goal in the end was to get a diploma, and to go to college. And that's what all of these students are doing."