Worcester's North High School is building up a substantial base of student and alumni crusaders, including, left to right, Gordon Burnett' 12, Shakira Suazo Valdes '27, Sofia Torres '27, Krystle O'Clair '13, Yuliana Sanchez Reyes '27, Vanessa Acheampong '12 and Juleein Nicolas '27. (Submitted photo)
College of the Holy Cross Associate Director of Admissions Cortney Lima chats with Shakira Suazo Valdez ’27 in her office on Thursday August 31, 2023 in Worcester, Massachusetts. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Holy Cross)
Holy Cross surrounded Shakira Suazo Valdez. Four of her classmates at North High School in Worcester — including her best friend — received acceptance notifications in March. Three of her teachers proudly wore purple as alumni.
When Suazo Valdez envisioned her next four years, she pictured joining them in Holy Cross sweatshirts and endless treks up and down staircases on The Hill. But unlike her peers at North, she was waitlisted.
“My mom told me, ‘They didn’t deny you. You can still get in,’” Suazo Valdez said. “That kept me going.”
Several times a week, Suazo Valdez emailed Holy Cross admission staff, listening to her mother and her high school English teacher, Vanessa Acheampong ’12. Acheampong and Suazo discussed Holy Cross every Friday, drafting emails en route to Suazo Valdez’s internship at the city’s Quinsigamond Elementary School, located less than a half mile from Mount St. James.
Even the elementary school students understood Suazo Valdez’s passion for Holy Cross:
“They were, like, ‘You’re still writing emails? I would’ve blocked you by now,’’” Acheampong said.
But persistence paid off. During the first week of May, Cortney Lima, Holy Cross associate director of admissions, called Suazo Valdez to let her know she had been accepted.
“I was crying! I was so embarrassed because I was crying,” Suazo Valdez remembered of the moment, one that now spreads an ear-to-ear smile across her face.
“Those are some of the best phone calls to make,” Lima said. “It reminds you why you’re doing the work.”
Suazo Valez wants to be a dermatologist and said Holy Cross’ success with students enrolling in medical schools after graduation contributed to it becoming her top choice. Her best friend, Sophia Torres, also a North High graduate and incoming first-year student, wants to be an orthodontist.
“I’m really proud to say I’m going to one of the top schools in the United States. I’m going to be the first one in my family to finish college,” Suazo Valdez said. “Coming here five years ago, not knowing the language and now being able to go to a top school means a lot, especially still being here with my family.”
Suazo Valdez’s acceptance increased the number of North High students enrolling at Holy Cross in the fall 2023 to five. Becoming members of the College’s class of 2027 was no mean feat, as Holy Cross received a record number of applicants for its 825 spots, yielding a first-year class more diverse, accomplished and dedicated to service than ever before.
“All college acceptances are celebrations, but specifically for us being at Holy Cross and welcoming them into the community is huge,” said Acheampong, a Worcester native who graduated from Burncoat High School. She is a member of what is becoming a Holy Cross hub at North High. In addition to the five students enrolling this fall, two additional faculty members — Gordon Burnett ’12 and Krystle O’Clair ’13 — are Holy Cross alumni.
Home to Holy Cross since its founding 180 years ago, New England’s second-largest city is a key part of the College’s identity. From being an active partner in the city’s success and growth, to faculty, staff and students working with and learning from the community, Worcester is so important to Holy Cross it is one of six pillars in the College’s strategic plan.
“Attracting and enrolling talented students from our backyard is an important factor in Holy Cross’ engagement as an active partner with the city of Worcester,” said Lynn Verrecchia, Holy Cross director of admission. “Every member of our community benefits from the presence of local students, and attending Holy Cross often gives Worcester students the chance to see their hometown through a new lens.”
Suazo Valdez was born in Puerto Rico and moved with her family to Worcester in 2017. When she began searching for colleges, out-of-state institutions initially caught her eye. But after some research, she realized her city offered opportunities that rated among the best in the county.
“Why would I go away from home? I found Holy Cross,” Suazo Valdez said. “It’s one of the top-ranked colleges in the United States. It’s a great opportunity to have such a great education and so close to home.”
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