When she received her acceptance letter from Georgetown University, Alana Hendy said she ran down the street for about three blocks, screaming with joy.
In addition to meeting some neighbors who wondered what was going on, the salutatorian of the class of 2017 at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park got to celebrate having the ability to pursue international studies at a university known for its Walsh School of Foreign Service.
“While I’m at Georgetown, I want to study Arabic. I want to work on educational development in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Hendy, who is 18 and a Bowie resident. “I’ve always been interested in the education of young girls.”
Hendy also likes the fact that her father, Peter Ignatius Aloysius Hendy, is from the South American country of Guyana, from its capital city of Georgetown, and now she will be going to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
“I like to say there’s a play of fate there. God made it so!” she said.
This is a milestone year for Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School, which is marking its 10th anniversary in 2017. The school, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco, offers an innovative Corporate Work Study Program, in which students gain professional work experience at leading institutions in the Washington area, and also help pay for part of their education.
Since the school’s first graduating class in 2011, all of its seniors have been accepted to colleges, and this year for the first time, all 97 members of its senior class have been accepted by four-year colleges or universities.
Hendy will be among five members of Cristo Rey’s class of 2017 going to Georgetown University. She is especially interested in studying international history there.
This past summer, she got to study in Japan through an exchange program. Hendy stayed with a Japanese family and enjoyed learning about their culture and traditions. The family had 8- and 9-year-old daughters.
“I got to be the big sister for once,” said Hendy, who has three older siblings of her own – a sister and two brothers.
Hendy also volunteered with the Youth for Understanding program, where she said her focus was helping to provide that opportunity to study abroad to students from low-income communities.
“Cultural exchange is such a great opportunity to look at the world in a different perspective,” she said.
At Cristo Rey, Hendy has had the experience to learn with students from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Most of the students there are Hispanic or African-American. She participated in the school’s Caribbean American Student Association, which includes students with family roots in Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad, St. Vincent, and her father’s home country, Guyana.
Talking to her classmates from diverse backgrounds broadened her world view, she said, noting that students aren’t afraid to talk with each other about challenging cultural issues. “It’s made me more of a listener than a speaker,” she said.
Hendy said her experiences in the classroom, and through her work study opportunities and in the cultural exchange program have boosted her self confidence, adding that she’s learned, “It’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from it and keep moving forward.”
Cristo Rey, she said, fosters student achievement. “For me, it shows if anyone is willing to work hard, they will get to where they want to be,” she said.
Hendy said her parents also have encouraged her to do her best. Her father works as an accountant and does some consulting. Her mother, Felicia Cotton, is from Oakland, California, and graduated from Howard University and works as a sales associate at SunTrust Bank. “She showed me what an educated black woman could do,” Hendy said.
For Hendy, her corporate work study experiences have included working for the past two years for Iridium Communications in McLean, Virginia, where she has worked in the marketing department, using her artistic skills to help write promotions for its products and make videos. She also worked in the firm’s legal and finance departments.
During her Cristo Rey years, Hendy also got to serve as a library assistant at The Catholic University of America. “It was fun. I got to see what college was like,” she said. And in her freshman year, she worked as a receptionist at the Jones Day law firm in Washington.
Speaking of what she learned from those corporate work study experiences, Hendy said she gained “confidence in the workplace.”
“I used to be so timid,” she said. “I got to be myself. (I gained) confidence in not only how I presented myself, but my work.”
At Cristo Rey, Hendy also volunteered with the school’s Bridge to Success orientation program for incoming students. She helped start an Anime Club there, and joined students in watching episodes of that style of Japanese animation. In Cristo Rey’s Literary Writing Society, Hendy has been writing a trilogy of novel-length historical fiction stories about three generations of a family, spanning from the antebellum South to the Gilded Age to the “Roaring ‘20s.”
The school also helped her find and grow in her faith, said Hendy, who noted that she was agnostic when she first came there and didn’t believe in organized religion. This Easter, she was confirmed in the Catholic faith.
Hendy said a pivotal experience for her came when she was facing a personal difficulty, and she asked Salesian Brother Tom Sweeney, Cristo Rey’s director of mission, how to pray. “He taught me praying is a conversation with God,” she said.
The caring that he showed her is typical of the school’s faculty and staff, she said. “The teachers here, it’s a very large support group. Here the teachers really want to help you. They’re here to listen to your problems. They want you to succeed.”
For her Confirmation name, Hendy chose St. Catherine of Siena as her patron saint, noting how that saint encouraged the pope and political leaders of that time “to make moral decisions… (and) choose the moral high ground.”
Hendy said she hopes her patron saint’s faith and courage will inspire her in her studies and in her career. “Morality and politics don’t have to be separate,” she said.
Ana Chapa, the executive director of Cristo Rey’s Corporate Work Study Program, praised Hendy’s accomplishments and her potential for making a difference in the world.
“Alana is a young lady who doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘impossible,’” Chapa said. “There’s no glass or any other kind of ceiling for her.”
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