20 years ago, the tradition of Senior Signing Day (SSD) began, and since then this special day has been used to gather the entire YES Prep community to celebrate our seniors. Last year, due to the pandemic, SSD took place virtually. This year, we celebrated SSD on Sunday, May 23, at Rice Stadium. While thrilled that we were able to physically gather this year, we all recognize that these are not ordinary times.
As YES Prep CEO Mark DiBella remarked at the opening of this year’s event, ordinarily, every YES Prep student and staff member would be at the event. Ordinarily there would be many more family members in the crowd. Ordinarily the event wouldn’t be outside, wearing masks and trying to keep socially distanced from each other. Ordinarily the extreme joy at the event would not be tempered with the extreme loss of this year, and sadly we know that many of our YES Prep family have lost much.
But there is nothing ordinary about the seniors we celebrated at this year’s event. Who they are, who they have become and what they have accomplished in the midst of a global pandemic, quite possibly the single most challenging year for students in over a century, are all extraordinary.
The Extraordinary Class of 2021
At SSD, we celebrated 1,456 seniors in the Class of 2021, of whom over 90% are first generation college-bound. The Class of 2021 submitted 13,171 applications and earned 6,794 acceptances! They earned millions and millions of dollars in scholarships, and 15 received the prestigious DREAM U.S. Scholarship. Some of the seniors have chosen to serve our country in the armed forces, and we’re deeply grateful for the path of service they have chosen. While others have chosen to pursue a course other than college. Regardless of their path, they will always be part of the YES Prep family, and we’ll always be proud of them. When the Class of 2021 goes to college this fall, there will be close to 9,000 YES Prep alumni who have earned or are actively pursuing their college degrees.
Senior recognitions at SSD
YES Prep Brays Oaks Secondary
Da'Myra Washington has consistently maintained her position in the top 20% of her class, taking rigorous courses each year, and being actively involved in campus activities all while being a mother to a beautiful baby girl for the past three years. Da’Myra is also a proud, dedicated member of the Brays Oaks DIAMONDZ dance team.
University of Houston – Main Campus, get ready for Da’Myra!
YES Prep East End Secondary
Jefferson Rocha’s presence is permeating. From collaboration with his peers on campus, to being the epitome of a scholar athlete, Jefferson has faced all of life's challenges with a resilient smile that brings light to the entire East End community. Jefferson is a stellar athlete who participated in track, volleyball, and soccer. He earned MVP for track and volleyball while maintaining a competitive GPA. We know Jefferson’s mother would be proud of him and the contributions he has made to the Explorer community.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi, get ready for Jefferson to take The Islanders by storm!
YES Prep Eisenhower High
Emma Velasquez leaves behind a legacy at Eisenhower and in the broader Texas theater community. She has been active in the Eisenhower Theatre Company throughout her entire high school career. Emma also received excellent and superior ratings for the past 3 years at the Texas Thespian Festival. Emma is also a bright scholar who has received the Dean's Scholarship, The Loyola Grant, and The Crescent City Scholarship.
Loyola University, get ready for Emma to take the stage!
YES Prep Fifth Ward Secondary
Rivaldo Mendez exemplifies ambition. Beyond being an exemplary student, he is in a three-way tie for the highest number of AP classes taken within the Class of 2021. He’s engaged in the Fifth Ward community as the National Honor Society president, he’s also a youth leader in his church, and Rivaldo is politically active on a local and national level. In addition to these commitments, Rivaldo still found the time to apply Early Decision to George Washington University.
George Washington University, get ready for Rivaldo!
YES Prep Gulfton Secondary
Mariel Almanzan has been a force to reckon with! It's not surprising that Gulfton's first Gates Scholar also has a teacher fan club. Mariel’s fearless advocacy for social justice belies the heart of a scientist who wants to "slice up brains like ham" to unlock the mysteries of the mind. Mariel is also the Gulfton Valedictorian for the Class of 2021.
Rice University, get ready for see Mariel soar with the owls!
YES Prep North Central Secondary
Angelina Suarez is an intelligent, hard-working boss whose drive and creativity play a role in her nuanced understanding of complex topics. Her giant heart is a critical factor in her servant leadership and dedication to help others inside and outside of the North Central Community. Angelina has been an integral part of the student leadership fabric of North Central. She served on the Honor Council, the Student Council, The Booster Club, The Class Council, and more.
Amherst College, get ready to see Mammoth achievements from Angelina!
YES Prep North Forest Secondary
Douglas Johnson is a dedicated risk-taker who is full of excitement when it comes to his future. Not only does he want to attend college to start a new chapter, but to also open doors for younger students that come from similar backgrounds. He is an inspiration to all with his dedication to maintain his standing near the top of his class, as a varsity athlete, and as a member of Black Student Union.
Prairie View A&M University, get ready to welcome Douglas into the Panther family!
YES Prep Northbrook High
David Padilla is a first-generation student who, when faced with obstacles and adversity, relentlessly perseveres to lead by example for his family and fellow classmates. David thrives on the opportunity to be a light for his younger siblings to dream big and resist self-doubt, while balancing the responsibility set forth by his parents to work hard, and David strives to return the love they've always given him.
Sam Houston State University, get ready to welcome your newest bearkat, David!
YES Prep Northside Secondary
Fatima Gonzalez is a first-generation student that manages to run her own business while remaining at the top of her class. She has been the face of Northside as a student ambassador, and Fatima always speaks up to ask questions and contribute in classes and group settings. Fatima was also awarded the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Area Scholarship.
University of Texas at San Antonio, get ready for Fatima!
YES Prep Southeast Secondary
Martha Flores is naturally gifted and has a servant-heart that allows her to lead in a way that well surpasses her age. She has a passion for numbers and people, so her plans to major in Civil Engineering come as no surprise to those who know her. Martha is unfailingly kind, and Southeast will truly miss her magic.
Texas A&M University - College Station, get ready for Martha!
YES Prep Southwest Secondary
Tania Cabrera has been an involved Maverick throughout high school. Participating in National Honor Society and National Art Honor Society, Tania has most recently been a valuable member of the Ambassador Team. Graduating Summa Cum Laude, Tania was chosen as an IMPACT Scholar by many colleges, including Macalester, Lycoming, and Trinity. She has an interest in immigration law and next year will start that journey at George Washington University.
George Washington University, get ready for Tania!
YES Prep West Secondary
Jose Angel Machin Kairuz has been a leader on campus since middle school. He stands out as one of the most unique and hardworking students West has ever seen. He has a true passion for learning and growing, as well as a fervent willingness to help & lead others. Jose Angel is the Class of 2021 Marvel Valedictorian and has taken 15 Advanced Placement courses, many of them as independent study on his own time.
Stanford University, get ready for Jose Angel to plant new roots this fall!
YES Prep White Oak Secondary
Bryan Mauricio is an incredibly resilient and ambitious student. He shoots for the moon in everything he does and has a smile on his face the entire time. He has a passion for the career he wants to pursue and will stop at nothing until he achieves it. Bryan is a charismatic student, but also will stop what he is doing to help students, teachers, and administrators. He will be a huge asset to Texas A&M University and will continue to make YES Prep White Oak proud!
Texas A&M University - College Station, get ready for Bryan!
Extraordinary student groups
Additionally, awesome senior groups were recognized at SSD for the awesome work and accomplishments.
The Brays Oaks Black Student Leaders, Donye Mims, Gabriel Moore, Sebastian Ambush, Destiny McCardle, Oghenefejiro Emakpose, led the charge for the current Brays Oaks student body when it came to holding the campus accountable for ensuring that all Black staff and students feel safe, celebrated and supported.
The East End Class of 2021 Academic Athletes ALL earned 3.75 in Quarters 2 and 3 while participating in athletics. These seniors include Gabriela Flores, Emily Ceja, Christian Rocha, Mia Dominguez,Qari Silva, Thania Muniz, Diana De Leon, Michael Hernandez.
The Eisenhower Superlatives, a new tradition the school established to recognize seniors, for the Class of 2021 include Jennifer Oliva (Best All Around); Diego Aguilar (Most School Spirit); Kameren Gatson (Most Athletic); Akilah Smith (Most Unique); Lizbeth Robles (Regal Eagle of the Year).
Northbrook High School’s Restorative Justice Leadership spreads the ethos and practice of restorative justice on campus. This group includes seniors Noemi Ibarra, Mirna Benavente, Beatriz Macareno Rodriguez, Austin Lopez, and Lesly Padilla.
The West High School Leadership Council was founded by the Class of 2021 to enhance student achievement and school spirit. This group raised $40,000 last school year! This group includes seniors Jose Angel Machin Kairuz, Grissell Barajas, Milo McNeel, Samantha Vasquez, Cecilia Pacheco, Monserrat Espinoza, Marger Badillo, Angel Bernal, Alexa Fernandez, and Lizbeth Cornejo.
The White Oak boys soccer team won the District Championship, ending their season for the first time ever 6-1. Seniors Diego Amezcua and Jaime Salazar helped lead the team to victory after victory.
YES Prep seniors, Class of 2021, we were proud to celebrate your plans for after you graduate from YES Prep. Not only are you about two weeks away from graduating, but you will do so during an incredibly challenging year. We know that some of you have been looking forward to your senior year for as long as you can remember. Your families, friends and teachers have been rooting for you along the way, and this year especially we have never believed in you more and are endlessly impressed by the accomplishments of the Class of 2021 amidst the pandemic.