During the May 29 Baccalaureate Mass for the graduating students of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, held in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory encouraged the students to follow their dreams and help build a better world.

Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, Maryland, offers students from low-income families the opportunity to attend a Catholic school with a college preparatory curriculum, while helping to earn their own tuition money through the Corporate Work Study Program. The students come from 30 different countries and 52 zip codes around the Washington region. Many of the students are first generation college students, and since the school’s founding in 2007, each graduating class has had a 100 percent college acceptance rate.

After the students processed into the Crypt Church to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance,” wearing black or gold robes, Saul Viera, a member of the class of 2019, offered opening remarks.

“Four years ago most of us came to Don Bosco Cristo Rey not expecting much from it,” he said.

But after making it through many stressful days and tests, “we have finally made it. We have all come to love Don Bosco Cristo Rey,” he said, noting that the high school offered them many opportunities that other schools wouldn’t have.

Thanking Archbishop Gregory for celebrating the Mass, Viera said he hopes “after meeting the Don Bosco Cristo Rey family tonight, you may continue to support and believe in us for years to come.”

Addressing his fellow classmates, he said, “As we transition to a new chapter in life, there will be obstacles in our way,” but he encouraged them not to let the obstacles stop them, because “with God, anything is possible.”

Cristo Rey students applaud during the May 29 Baccalaureate Mass in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

In his homily, Archbishop Gregory told the students, “The word graduation implies taking a step.”

“My prayer for all of you is that you are taking a step forward – not staying still or taking a step back,” he said.

He told the graduates that they would face challenges as they step into their future, and “many of these challenges are the unfinished work of young people who have come before you.”

“As you leave this Catholic high school, I hope you step into a world where violence will be unmasked as the destructive force against humanity it is and always has been,” he said, noting problems like gun violence and abortion, and saying that he prays the graduates would do something to curb that violence.

“I hope you step into a world where intolerance itself is never tolerated,” he said, pointing out problems like racism and sexism that remain prevalent in society.

“Do not forget that people are still practicing all forms of hatred…because they have not heard or do not understand or believe the wisdom of the scriptures of our Christian tradition,” said Archbishop Gregory, encouraging them to allow the Spirit of God to guide them.

“The Spirit of God will let you step into a world that cannot resist the idealism and dreams you will offer,” he said. “I know you are full of dreams; lofty dreams…that will fashion a better world for all of us.”

Concluding his homily, he said, “May your steps always lead you to God Himself.”

At the end of the Mass, the school continued on a tradition that should help the graduates do exactly that, gifting each of them with his or her own Bible.

“We hope they will use it often to pray and reflect on the word of God, and use it in the future to guide them, especially during those most difficult and challenging times,” said Salesian Father Michael Conway, the president of the school.

Father Michael Conway gives Bibles to each member of Don Bosco Cristo Rey's Class of 2019. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Luis Delgadillo, a member of the class of 2019, expressed gratitude toward the school’s benefactors and corporate sponsors, as well as toward the teachers for the care that they showed to all of the students. He also said everyone there had a “number one supporter,” who was probably a loved one. For him, that person was his mom.

“You have sacrificed a lot for me,” he said. “…I promise I will graduate college and show you everything you have done has been worth it.”

Finally, addressing his fellow classmates, Delgadillo said, “we all have dreams we are chasing, and we will not be told what we can and cannot do.”

“Let’s show the world what we’ve got,” he said.

Jem Sullivan, the secretary for education in the Archdiocese of Washington, presented the Archbishop’s Medal, which is given every year to a graduating senior at Don Bosco Cristo Rey who exemplifies Christian values and a commitment to service, and is a witness to the faith in school, in the workplace, and in the community. The award includes a $1,500 scholarship to go toward higher education.

Archbishop's Medal recipient Moisés Aparicio stands with Jem Sullivan, the Archdiocese of Washington's secretary for education, at his right, and with Father Michael Conway, the president of Don Bosco Cristo Rey, and Archbishop Wilton Gregory at his left. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)

Moisés Aparicio, the recipient of the award, said he had no idea it was going to happen. He moved with his family from El Salvador to the United States when he was 9 years old, and his parents and two brothers were at the Mass to see him receive the award.

“They are very proud,” he said. “My little brother especially was very happy to see me up there.”

While at Don Bosco Cristo Rey, he worked at Georgetown University in the Office of Community Engagement, and then in the Montgomery County State Attorney’s Office in Rockville. He said those experiences prepared him well to enter into the workforce, and gave him “a glimpse of what real life is like.”

Receiving the Archbishop’s Medal, he said, “means that I made it. I was able to achieve something.”

“It reflects my faith and reflects how a great community such as my school and my church has shaped me into a better person,” he said.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory congratulates Moisés Aparicio for receiving the Archbishop's Medal. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj)