Aaron Vanya was named Class of 2015’s valedictorian. Here are his remarks from CRJ’s commencement at Baltimore’s Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on June 13.
Valedictorian … that’s pretty cool.
I want to thank the school for awarding me this title. It can be hard to see the rewards of your work sometimes, and I appreciate the recognition.
So, the last four years have been … long. The Class of 2015 knows that there are a few irritating things I could name about Cristo Rey, because I have. But right now, before I leave you, and we leave each other, I want to share the things that I admire most about our school, our class, and our community.
Cristo Rey is hard. We knew that coming in. We asked for it. It’s intimidating to see half of your starting class vanish by the next year, but we kept going. I want my class to know, my entire class, every last one of you, that you all are strong. We made it here, and not all of us did. So I don’t want anyone else to say “I can’t do it” or “This is too much.” Because you’ve done it before, and you can do it again.
“I want my class to know, my entire class, every last one of you, that you all are strong.”
What I love – and I don’t use that word often – but what I love about our class is that we stick together. Not one of us has made it here without help from someone. We accept the struggle, and we make it because we go through it together. When we see that one of us is going through something or falling behind, we do what we can to bring them back up. We are comfortable enough to ask each other for help, and that’s rare. I remember when Shequille talked to me for the first time. He asked me to look over a paper for English. I had never talked to him before, but he was open and dedicated enough to ask anyway. I remember when we all saw Greg again after his mother passed away. We came to him and supported him. To see everyone flock together to help one person, it showed me how loving and devoted we are to one another. It made me proud.
At Cristo Rey we don’t just want to succeed for ourselves, we want to see everyone make it. When college ties are passed out, I think we applaud the loudest. When the step team makes our school proud, we give that love and appreciation back to them. We enjoy when our classmates succeed, and that makes me proud.
And of course, no one takes more joy in our success than our teachers. We forget it in the moment, but it cannot be mistaken: These teachers care. They work hard for us, and they want us to be the best we can be. You can tell just from how they put up with our attitude this year. Senioritis is very real, but they pulled us through. We are lucky enough to have teachers that want us to learn and grow, and be good people. If you didn’t understand in class, I know Mr. Smith, Ms. Gallagher, Ms. Lindgren, or someone took the time to help. That is a luxury, because I know they have lives they would love to get back to. And beyond that, some of these teachers even take us into their lives. That doesn’t happen often in high school, where a Mr. Bailey, Mr. Shapiro, Ms. Hryzak, or Ms. Green will just have a casual conversation with you. It makes our classrooms a community. And for that, I’m proud of my school.
“Keep working hard, because it really does pay off. We’re average kids from Baltimore. But we’re going to college, and it’s up to us to decide where we’re gonna go from there.”
So, now that we have to leave it behind, I want to give my class some final thoughts.
Keep working hard, because it really does pay off. We’re average kids from Baltimore. But we’re going to college, and it’s up to us to decide where we’re gonna go from there.
Also, never forget your value. Each and every one of us is capable of great things. I don’t like waiting through the boring stuff to get there. But we all need to be patient, and not lose sight of our purpose and ambition while we go through classes and work to get to that better place.
Lastly, bear in mind that love finds its way back to you. When we move on and meet new people, care at every opportunity — even with small things, like asking how someone’s doing, holding the door open, or answering a random question; those things add up, and make a difference in your community, as well as bring more love back to you when you may need it.
And speaking of love – that word I don’t use very often – please stay in touch. To my class, I love you all. I hope Corey doesn’t mind me using his words, but they resonated with me: Please don’t let the next time we see each other be at one of our funerals years from now. We have grown too much together to let it fall away. I feel that as a class, we are so close; and if we helped each other get through Cristo Rey, then you know we can help each other reach the sky if we keep striving.