Kevin Guardado was faced with a choice that would change the trajectory of his young life: He could leave behind his native Honduras and the work on the family’s cornfield or uproot to attend high school in the United States.
He chose to move.
He grappled with learning English and adjusting to cultural differences. But four years later, he is graduating at the top of his class at Brighton High School and is just weeks away from attending Wesleyan University on a full scholarship. Guardado and 32 of his valedictorian peers across Boston Public Schools were honored Tuesday at an annual luncheon at Fenway Park.
“We have worked so incredibly hard to get to this point through the pandemic,” said Guardado, who plans to study political science to become an immigration lawyer. “I feel that this is not the end. I feel like this is the beginning for most of us and a bright future is ahead.”
Superintendent Mary Skipper said the students had to overcome the disruption of the pandemic shuttering schools toward the end of their freshmen year.
“The students here today represent courage, hard work, determination, persistence,” Skipper said. “Whether it was being a caretaker in their home, whether it was working full time while they went to high school, whether it was being homeless . . . these 33 valedictorians have shown that they have what it takes in whatever challenge life gives them.”
McKinley Preparatory High School (recently re-named Melvin H. King South End Academy) valedictorian Kevin Works not only wrestled with learning during the pandemic, but also entered foster care when he was 16.
Despite the obstacles, Works remained on the dean’s list all four years. He plans to attend Bunker Hill Community College this fall before he transfers to the University of Massachusetts Boston to study game development and information technology.
He credited being a top student to the motivation he received from his older brother, Michael.
“I feel like without him, I wouldn’t be able to do a lot that I’ve done right now,” Works said. “I grew up in a home with no parents, grew up with my brother. He only raised me.”
The majority of Boston’s valedictorians plan to attend Northeastern University this fall, and 21 have received full scholarships to the college or university of their choice. Some of the other schools students plan to attend include Harvard College, John Hopkins University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Over 30 percent of the valedictorians, like Guardado, moved from other countries, including the Dominican Republic, China, Haiti, Jamaica, and Indonesia.
Family members cheered and cried as their student’s name got called to receive a certificate highlighting their achievements one-by-one during the event. Karen Gales said it was amazing to watch her daughter, Kaelyn McInnis, stay focused and show up to school with a smile on her face every day regardless of what their family was going through personally.
“She made it look really easy . . . I’m really not surprised that she’s valedictorian, and that’s not just a boost because she’s talented,” Gales said. “She’s just an amazing person and she’s just full of life. This is just icing on the cake.”