For Brian Giovanni Reyes and for Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, this year’s graduation will mark a first. Reyes, the top-ranking student among the 97 graduates in Cristo Rey’s class of 2017, is the first male valedictorian in the school’s 10-year history.  

And Reyes, the son of immigrants from El Salvador, will be the first member of his family to attend college. This fall, he will attend Drexel University in Philadelphia and major in computer science.

“He came in with a determination and a passion to be successful. He’s very driven to excel in everything he does,” said Salesian Father Michael Conway, Cristo Rey’s president.

Larry Savoy, the school’s principal, added, “Brian has from day one been an outstanding student, ahead of the curve,” and said Reyes’s pursuit of academic excellence reflects “why our school exists.”

Cristo Rey – which is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco – has had seven graduating classes since its first commencement in 2011. In addition to its challenging academic program and its strong Catholic identity, Cristo Rey offers an innovative Corporate Work Study Program, in which students gain professional work experience with leading Washington-area institutions and help pay for their education costs.

Reyes, 17, was born in Washington, D.C., and lives with his family in West Hyattsville. He has an older brother and a younger sister.

His becoming valedictorian of his class is a source of pride for his parents – Giovanni Reyes-Pacheco and Blanca Machado – who have always encouraged him to do his best in school, he said.

“It shows when I put effort into something, I can do more than expected,” he said.

The Cristo Rey student praised the hard work and sacrifice of his parents, noting that his father works in construction, and his mother gets up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to go to her job at a bakery in Virginia. “I learned from them, just to keep on pushing,” he said.

Reyes said that Cristo Rey’s teachers encourage students to strive for excellence. “They want to help us in every way. In the end, they explain it’s going to be our effort and our work that pushes us forward,” he said.

The math classes there, including the A.P. calculus course he took this year, have been his favorites, Reyes said, explaining that he likes problem solving. He helped found the school’s Chess Club, and has been Cristo Rey’s chess champion twice.

Reyes hopes that after earning his degree in computer science, he will eventually work on applications for phones or video games. “I like the idea of being able to create new things, and bring new things to the table, in terms of coding and such,” he said.

For the past two years, he has worked at the Rockville law firm of Gleason, Flynn, Emig and Fogleman as part of Cristo Rey’s Corporate Work Study Program. He earlier worked for Clark Construction and at Mary’s Center, a nonprofit program. Those experiences, he said, have taught him important lessons about professionalism and communications skills in the workplace.

Ana Chapa, the executive director of Cristo Rey’s Corporate Work Study Program, said Reyes has been highly regarded for his work at those firms.

“He’s hard working, knows what to do with tasks and gets them done quickly,” she said, adding that he utilizes skills in the workplace that he relies upon as a chess player, seeing the steps he needs to take to accomplish his goals. “He’s very focused. He’s a problem solver.”

As the class valedictorian, Reyes will speak at Cristo Rey’s June 1 commencement, and he said he plans to express gratitude toward his teachers and to his fellow students, many of whom are, like him, honors graduates. “We couldn’t have done it without each other,” he said.