The room was electric but tense Friday as the graduating seniors of Cristo Rey Boston High School waited to march into Strand Theatre to receive their diplomas.
While some grew teary-eyed and others beamed, the graduates will have to get used to the pomp and circumstance — they all have a chance at attending more commencement ceremonies in their lives.
Like the two graduating classes before them, all 52 graduates of the small Catholic school in Dorchester have been accepted into a four-year college or university and are planning to pursue a degree in the fall.
The students, all from low-income families, have spent the past four years reading, writing, and studying like most high school students, but they have also worked for — and as part of — their education.
Along with their course load, students at Cristo Rey work five full days a month as part of the school’s corporate work-study program, which helps them pay for their education and gain experience.
The real-life application of classroom lessons and the opportunity to learn communication, time management, and other skills on the job have helped the school ensure that every graduating student over the past three years was accepted into college, school officials say.
“We know for a fact the work-study experience stays with them for the rest of their lives and while in school,” Cristo Rey president Jeffrey Thielman said.
The entry-level jobs at 115 companies in Greater Boston have allowed students to earn $1.9 million in the past school year, covering 60 percent of the school’s operating costs.
The students’ ability to cover the bulk of their tuition through work is important at Cristo Rey, where the average family income is $27,672 and 82 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“The fact they have worked — literally worked — to earn their education has made everything more meaningful,” said the Rev. Jose Medina, the school’s principal.
The school’s support does not stop once a student is accepted into college. A college adviser and other faculty members work with students and their families to determine which schools are the best fit academically and financially.
“We get to know students well. We get to help them. We get to know their families well,” said Thielman, who noted three students have chosen to attend two-year institutions.
The students, too, feel the close-knit community of just over 300 students has been vital to their education.
“They all wanted us to excel. Without them we would have never gotten to this point,” class salutatorian Lisa Edouard said before the ceremony.
During her address, Edouard, who will attend Boston College, recalled private jokes with her class and how much she enjoyed popping into a classroom just to chat with a teacher.
That message was echoed by valedictorian Madeline Sencion, the first Cristo Rey graduate to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“This unity wasn’t created just because of our faculty and staff, it was created by each and every single one of us who had our rough moments and our happy ones as well,” Sencion said.
City Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley, who delivered a graduation address, commended the graduates for their hard work and thanked them for being an inspiration.
“You fought to get to this day. It wasn’t easy,” Pressley said. “Working solidly four years to further yourself and your education has better prepared you to emerge onto the world stage and to take on this big bad world, and that was certainly no easy task.’’