Click on the college below to learn more about this year’s Valedictorians and Salutatorians.
Ruth Flores—Valedictorian, Daley College
Ruth Flores graduated from Curie Metropolitan High School in June 2019. She started her journey at Daley College in Fall 2019 as a Star Scholar, which allowed her to attend two years of college tuition free.
Ruth is a proud DACA recipient. According to Ruth, earning the Star Scholarship has taken a huge weight off of her parents’ shoulders, as she did not have access to federal financial aid and is one of five children. Though she has experienced challenges due to her status, she is taking advantage of all the opportunities that she has been given and is overcoming any obstacles that come her way.
At Daley, Ruth was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and was also a scholar in the One Million Degrees program. She says that being a part of these two clubs helped her get out of her everyday routine, network, socialize, and build new relationships that will last a lifetime. Ruth made Daley’s Dean’s List and was honored as a presidential scholar three times.
After earning her associate degree from Daley in December 2021, Ruth transferred to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she is currently enrolled in her first semester of classes and is studying psychology. She was awarded the Star Plus Scholarship from City Colleges to help her complete her bachelor’s degree.
Chakyra Space—Salutatorian, Daley College
Chakyra Space was born and raised in Chicago and attended Curie Metropolitan High School. Due to her strong grades, she was able to earn the Star Scholarship, and she enrolled at Daley College in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Growing up, Chakyra discovered her interest in numbers and realized she wanted to work in the business industry. She learned about the accounting field and immediately knew she wanted to pursue a career as an accountant.
During her time at Daley, Chakyra was honored as a presidential scholar for three semesters. After graduation, she will be transferring from Daley College to Chicago State University to obtain a bachelor’s degree in accounting. In the meantime, she will be searching for an internship and hopes to build her experiences.
When Chakyra was three years old, she was discovered to have hearing loss. As a result, she has worn a hearing aid her entire life, but she has not allowed it to get in the way of her success. She was named the salutatorian for her 8th grade class and is excited to receive the recognition again for Daley College.
Michael Nwaigbo—Valedictorian, Kennedy-King College
Michael Nwaigbo decided to attend Kennedy-King College after graduating from Hyde Park Academy and earning the Star Scholarship. Once at Kennedy-King, he placed his focus on obtaining his Associate of Science degree, with the hopes of transferring to a four-year university and majoring in civil engineering.
During his time at Kennedy-King, Michael made the Dean’s List and was honored as a presidential scholar. He became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and participated in the Pritzker Institute of Molecular Engineering internship at the University of Chicago.
Recently, Michael was named one of the semifinalists for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. After graduation, he plans to transfer to the University of Illinois at Chicago to major in civil engineering. His ultimate educational goal is to achieve a doctoral degree in engineering at the age of 24.
Eventually, Michael hopes to establish a construction firm that provides affordable housing to low-income families in the Chicago area.
Jose Cueva—Salutatorian, Kennedy-King College
Jose Cueva was born in Lima, Peru, as the fifth son of six siblings. Jose says his adolescence was educationally torn between the Catholic religion and militarism in schools. He graduated from high school in 1990 and received a scholarship to study art at the School of Fine Arts in Lima. However, the internal war in Peru put his family in an economic crisis. Therefore, at the age of 16, he decided to leave school and joined a German Christian missionary group, where he received culinary and technical education.
After working a variety of different jobs, Jose eventually immigrated to the United States in 1998. He first moved to California before coming to Chicago in 2002. In Chicago, he met his husband and decided to open up about his sexuality.
Jose’s City Colleges journey began in the summer of 2018, when he began taking ESL classes at Daley College. He utilized the Gateway Scholarship to begin college credit courses in 2019 at Kennedy-King College’s Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute, earning two certificates. In 2019 and 2020, he was honored as a presidential scholar two times.
During the summer of 2021, Jose took advantage of a staging program with the Ace Hotel, KimmyKakes bakery, and more through Washburne. He says it was an excellent opportunity to gain more knowledge for his career. He is now completing his Associate of Applied Science degree with high honors and a GPA of 4.0. He plans to transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree in culinary management or business administration with a specialization in hospitality management to become an executive chef.
Jose’s ultimate goal is to create an effective food system for low-income communities.
Malcolm X College
Migdaliz Perez—Valedictorian, Malcolm X College
Migdaliz Perez came back to Malcolm X College after taking a 13-year break from education. She was first informed about the school’s billing and coding program by a close friend and went on to complete both that program and the advanced coding program.
Through those programs, Migdaliz learned the benefits of going even further and decided to complete her Associate of Applied Science degree. She became a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, made the Dean’s List, and received the Presidential Scholar honor. Throughout her journey, she also joined the H.I.T. (Health Information Technology) Squad, became a member of the Events Committee, and became a mentor tutor for H.I.T. students.
With her associate degree, Migdaliz plans to take the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) exam and become a manager or leader in the medical billing and coding department within a hospital. She hopes to one day make a difference for a hospital and its patients by bringing new and fresh ideas that improve patient care and knowledge.
Marie-Christine Des Rosiers—Salutatorian at Malcolm X College
Marie-Christine Des Rosiers was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario—a French-speaking region of Canada. After graduating from an arts high school, where she majored in music and was involved in school and local youth orchestras, Marie-Christine embarked on a long journey of study in music.
She attended the University of Ottawa for six years, during which time she earned her bachelor’s degree in music performance and music theory, and her master’s degree in music theory and analysis. She then moved to Montréal, Québec, where she completed a master’s in double bass performance and a specialized graduate studies degree in orchestral repertoire at the Université de Montréal.
During and after her music studies, Marie-Christine earned a living by teaching piano, double bass, music theory, and solfège to a wide variety of students, from beginners to university undergraduates. She also performed in several symphony orchestras and chamber and jazz ensembles in the Ottawa and Montréal regions. It was during this phase of her musical career that she discovered the field of physical therapy, having benefited from it herself following a repetitive strain injury related to playing the double bass.
Marie-Christine moved to Chicago with her husband, pianist Michael Finlay, and made the decision to change careers to work in the physical therapy field. She enrolled at Malcolm X College in pursuit of an Associate of Applied Science degree. Now that she has earned her degree and passed her NPTE exam, the official licensing exam for the physical therapy field, Marie-Christine is a licensed Physical Therapist Assistant at The Clare in the heart of Chicago.
Kristen Medrano—Valedictorian, Olive-Harvey College
Kristen Medrano came to Olive-Harvey College in August 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic had started. She was a stay-at-home mom with five children at the time and a prior general manager in the restaurant business. Kristen was looking for a career change that was more conducive to juggling her personal life, children, and career, so she decided to pursue her associate degree in Child Development: Pre-School Education.
During her time at Olive-Harvey, Kristen joined the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, immediately becoming the Vice President of Scholarships. During her last semester, she served as the President of PTK.
Outside of school, Kristen is an avid volunteer. She is a parent ambassador for the Illinois Head Start Association; a parent representative for Region 1 on the Family Advisory Committee for Illinois Action for Children and the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development; a parent delegate for Early Head Start at El Valor Parent Committee; Co-President for the El Valor Parent Policy Council; and a parent delegate on the City of Chicago Parent Policy Council. Aside from these responsibilities, she also volunteers for children’s sports organizations within her community, coaching youth basketball and t-ball.
After earning her associate degree from Olive-Harvey College, Kristen transferred to National Louis University to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. She is currently in her second quarter at NLU and plans to pursue her master’s degree upon completion. Ultimately, Kristen’s goal is to become an early childhood educator and a professor at her alma mater, Olive-Harvey College.
Malcolm Ryce—Salutatorian, Olive-Harvey College
Malcolm Ryce came to Olive-Harvey College after spending his freshman year of college at a state university that didn’t quite fit his interests. He then found himself working dead-end jobs until he felt the urge to demand more of himself and decided the first step was to enroll at City Colleges of Chicago.
Initially, Malcolm assumed his interest was strictly in business administration and finance, but, after attending a free cybersecurity conference provided by the school, he learned that his passion was in the tech industry and, more specifically, in engineering software. After switching his intent to computer science, Malcolm says he was “off to the races,” attending as many local events as possible and networking with various entrepreneurs and tech companies. While completing classes at Olive-Harvey, he applied to internships and apprenticeships both near and far.
Malcolm is currently completing an internship with Catalyte, a Chicago-based software company. Shortly after earning his associate degree, he decided to apply to several four-year colleges and is now eagerly awaiting their responses.
Malcolm hopes to use his knowledge and skills to help play a role in the development of AI and cybersecurity defenses to ensure that future generations are better equipped to deal with the challenges posed by bio-tech and info-tech.
Alvaro Mendieta—Valedictorian, Truman College
Alvaro Mendieta and his family moved to the U.S. from a small town in Ecuador called Gualleturo eight years ago. While facing the challenge of adapting to a new life in Chicago, the now 28-year-old was determined to continue his education.
Alvaro knew he had to learn English first, so one of his cousins told him about the free ESL classes offered at Truman College. Not knowing any English at the time, he began in an ESL level 1 class, and after some time, he completed the program. He then utilized the Gateway Scholarship to transition into college credit courses in pursuit of his Associate of Science degree.
Alvaro is graduating from City Colleges this spring alongside one of his brothers, who is also earning his associate degree from Truman. He plans to continue his education at a four-year university.
Gopal Poudel—Salutatorian, Truman College
Gopal Poudel is currently a bachelor’s degree student at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater, where he is majoring in computer science and minoring in statistics. During the Fall 2021 semester, Gopal made the UW Dean’s List and earned a GPA of 3.84. Before transferring to the University, Gopal earned his associate degree in science from Truman College.
While at Truman, Gopal was honored as a presidential scholar during the Spring and Fall 2020 semesters. He is very appreciative of the support he received from his mathematics professor Andrew Kerr, the administration, the Tutoring Center, and his advisors, as well as his parents, coaches, and friends.
Gopal participated in the TRiO program at Truman and achieved the distinction of TRiO scholar by completing 30 graduation hours with a GPA of 3.83. In addition, he was an active member of the Student Government Association and was tasked with ensuring students’ concerns and needs were met. Outside of school, Gopal participated in the America Needs You program in 2020, where he received mentorship that accelerated his career and leadership development.
Since his childhood, Gopal says that he has found numbers fascinating and has had a unique interest in computer science, statistics, and mathematics. Looking into the future, he wants to become a data scientist, which is why he chose to study computer science and statistics at UW-Whitewater.
Harold Washington College
Nathan Vogler—Valedictorian, Harold Washington College
Nathan Vogler returned to school at Harold Washington College after over 10 years since his last formal education experience. Nathan showed his determination through hard work and was the recipient of the Presidential Scholar honor for five consecutive semesters. He also joined the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and was awarded a scholarship through the Wright College Chapter of the Cook County College Teacher’s Union Local 1600.
During his time at Harold Washington, Nathan built his curriculum to ensure he would be able to enter a Chicago nursing program. He has been accepted to Oak Point University in Wicker Park and plans to attend the school beginning in the Fall of 2022. His current plans are to continue his education after acquiring a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in dietetics and nutrition. However, he remains open to possibly altering that path as new experiences show their face.
Nathan believes that his path leads to being of service to the people in his community and advocating for their health. His hope is to make a difference in their abilities to live a healthy and fulfilling life one day at a time.
Kam Tim Kwan—Salutatorian, Harold Washington College
Kam Tim Kwan moved to Chicago from Hong Kong three years ago. His native language is Cantonese, so, in order to improve his English, he attended ESL courses at Harold Washington College for two semesters.
Kam Tim says that his ESL courses gave him the confidence and motivation he needed to continue his education and transfer into college credit courses. He utilized City Colleges’ Gateway Scholarship to pursue a pre-nursing track, with the goal of preparing for a career in nursing. Kam Tim was inspired to get into the healthcare field through his volunteer experiences at a hospital back in Hong Kong.
Kam Tim is grateful for the Advising, Transfer, and Career Centers at Harold Washington, which he says have helped him prepare for his steps. He is planning to transfer to a four-year university to earn his bachelor’s degree in nursing and is hoping to attend UIC.
Andres Gerena—Valedictorian, Wright College
Andres Gerena came to Wright College after graduating from Lane Tech High School and earning the Star Scholarship. He is a part of the college’s guaranteed admissions Engineering Pathways program.
At Wright, Andres was involved with multiple organizations and became President of the National Society of Black Engineers—Wright College Chapter. He was also a member of the American Chemical Society, the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Additionally, he was a tutor for chemistry and math.
After graduation, Andres plans to transfer to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. His goal is to use his chemical engineering background to promote environmental sustainability.
Melissa Glontea—Salutatorian, Wright College
A Polish-Romanian Chicago native, Melissa Glontea has always appreciated the vibrant facets of her city. With its rich offerings of art, music, architecture, culture, cuisine, and scenery, inspiration has been constant. Over the years, Melissa’s experiences as a teacher, caregiver, and musician amplified her desire to return to school to pursue her college degree. She says the City Colleges of Chicago provided the ideal setting to do so.
At Wright College, Melissa discovered an extensive selection of growth and leadership opportunities that aligned with her interests and encouraged new ones as well. She engaged with the campus community via clubs, organizations, and programs such as the Honors Program, Student Government Association, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Great Books Student Society, and Great Books Symposium Journal. One highlight of her time at Wright occurred in Professor Merry Mayer’s Political Science course, Introduction to International Relations Diplomacy Lab. In the class, Melissa was one of seven students who virtually presented a Diplomacy Lab Project designed to further U.S. foreign policy goals titled, “Gender in the Great Power Competition,” to thirty-seven U.S. Department of State personnel.
Currently, Melissa is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. She is proud to be the recipient of a Chicago public higher education and plans to continue to find new ways to merge her diverse interests personally, academically, and professionally.