Union City High School student Giselle Li had a really hot topic for her research project in a special program at Rutgers University last year: she did research on chili peppers.
She is one of 730 seniors who were scheduled to graduate from the high school this past Friday night (June 21). Like Li, many of the students had unique achievements during their academic careers, and will go on to higher education.
John Bennetti, principal of Union City High School, said that approximately 75 percent of the students will be going to either two-year or four-year universities. The remaining 25 percent will either go to the military, straight into jobs, or to other educational tracks.
Some of the students have won very competitive scholarships and distinctions.
Two students received scholarships from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which means their tuition is covered at any college they attend, and may also cover some of graduate school.
The scholarship is awarded based on academic merit and high SAT scores. Out of 35,000 student applicants, 1,000 were chosen nationwide. Two were from Union City High School.
“I didn’t really know all the opportunities I could have.” – Giselle Li
“That’s something unique about the school that we’re celebrating right now,” said Bennetti in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The Bill and Melinda Gates is a big one [because] not all high schools get that honor and recognition.”
“[Receiving the scholarship] still hasn’t hit me yet, and I feel blessed,” said Kimberly on Tuesday. “I’ve worked really hard for the past four years, and it’s definitely paying off, no pun intended.”
She said that there is a sense of camaraderie within her class and that it’s not cutthroat or competitive – everyone watches out for each other. She also spoke of the many talents represented in her class, from arts and music to academics and science.
“It’s really refreshing,” she said of all the talent in her class.
The aforementioned Giselle Li was also a high achiever at UCHS. She was class president, a member of the urban culture club, and a member of National, Science, and Spanish Honor Societies. Next year she will attend New Jersey City University and study biology. She said that her teachers and administrators kept her motivated and focused.
“I didn’t really know all the opportunities I could have,” she said. “My mentor from [Union City High School] actually introduced me to scientific research.”
Over a million dollars
The approximate value of scholarship money the senior class received in total was $1.8 million dollars, donated privately, from local vendors, from universities themselves, and based on academics or athletics.
The graduation was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Union City High School on Kennedy Blvd.
The class valedictorian was Kimberly Perez and the salutatorians (runners-up for valedictorian) were Jason Escalante and Karina Guamam.
Bennetti had only glowing praise for the Class of 2013.
“On a personal note, I’m incredibly proud of this particular class and what they’ve achieved academically,” he said, “[and] on a social and maturing level, the students are a great group of kids who are really focused on success in the future. And that’s something that makes them incredibly unique.”