YES Prep Public Schools
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The 2020-2021 school year was one for the books. Not only did our seniors overcome another year of the pandemic, our valedictorians and salutatorians found ways to still achieve jaw-dropping accomplishments. Our Vals+Sals have applied to and were admitted to a variety of colleges across the country; some chose to attend 10 of the top 20 national universities and national liberal arts colleges in the country. 

Celebrating our Vals+Sals with a twist

Northbrook High School Valedictorian (Mirna Benavente) & Salutatorian (Victor Trejo Gonzalez)

For the second straight year, we did not have a Vals+Sals Banquet because of COVID-19 concerns. So instead, each campus personally presented the Valedictorians and Salutatorians their awards along with special gifts from the campus. Most Vals and Sals were presented with their award at an end-of-year event on campus with their family present.

For the full list of this year's Valedictorians and Salutatorians, and where they are going to college, click here

Valedictorian spotlight: Faith Peña, North Forest Secondary

North Forest Principal, Mr. Moore (left) with Faith Peña (right)

Faith Peña is not only YES Prep North Forest’s Class of 2021 Valedictorian, but also a record-breaker. Peña will be attending the Directed Studies Program at Yale University—becoming the first Ivy League school acceptance in YES Prep North Forest history!  

Peña has a true learning spirit, which has made a lasting impression on countless YES Prep staff and students, including Anne Pugh, Director of College Counseling at YES Prep North Forest.  

“Faith is an exceptional student, diligent, involved and kind. But beyond that, she has a wide array of interests that she is not afraid to explore. When something piques her interest, she will go at it full throttle. She has shown this by teaching herself ukulele, by learning Mandarin through the NSLI-Y Summer Program, and by her involvement in just about every activity under the sun—including cheerleading, Saturday tutoring, and our LatinX club on campus.”  

*NSLI-Y is the National Security Language Initiative for Youth sponsored by the US State Department.*

Peña aspires to become an MD-PhD, but it doesn’t stop there. She plans to also study political science, rhetoric, biology and sociology, to serve as an example that you should always aim high and never put a limit to anything that sparks your interest.   

“I love this about Faith, her desire to seek out new things, to learn and try to accomplish something within them. No matter what, I can count on Faith to try and not let any amount of failure hold her back.”  

Navigating a new world

Despite being a part of North Forest’s largest graduating class [with the most college acceptances], Peña and her classmates had a high school experience that is nothing short of extraordinary. Dating back to Class of 2021’s freshman year, they have had to adapt through Hurricane Harvey, the Texas Big Freeze, and a global pandemic.  

Battling adversity is nothing new to Peña, as this year came with many joys and challenges, such as applying to colleges and facing rejections from universities she saw as dream schools.  

In her Valedictorian speech, Peña expressed that the transition into this new world will continue to have its woes. However, it has presented unique opportunities for growth. Even as she embarks on her college journey out of state.  

“Believing that there will be times where I feel like I don’t belong at Yale is just something I’ll have to accept. But it’s not something I have to let consume me. When I allow myself to know that I may be wrong, even about the way I see myself, I allow growth to occur. That is when I can see that perhaps I do belong here. That is when I can learn from my mistakes in order to be right next time.”  

Peña closed by sending waves of encouragement to her Class of 2021 peers who prepare to enter college, the military, or the workforce. “I hope all of you are extremely proud of yourselves for reaching this point. I hope all of you take risks in order to make growth because one day, without realizing it, we will become the wise, older fish.” 

Congratulations to you Faith and we wish you the best. Yale here we come!

Click below to watch Faith Pena's Valedictorian speech.

Class of 2021 Vals + Sals

Brays Oaks 

Valedictorian: Zoe Chavez – Rice University 

Salutatorian: Paola Diaz – St. Olaf College 

East End 

Valedictorian: Joseph Garcia – Stanford University 

Salutatorian: Alessandra Cerda – University of St. Thomas 


Valedictorian: Lizbeth Robles – Lone Star College 

Salutatorian: Erika Escobedo - The University of Texas at Austin 

Fifth Ward 

Valedictorian: Ruben Rangel – Trinity University 

Salutatorian: Daniel Delgado Ortiz – Texas A&M University 


Valedictorian: Mariel Almazan – Rice University 

Salutatorian: Carlos Hernandez – Claremont McKenna College 

North Central 

Valedictorian: Rafael Chavez - Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

Salutatorian: Angelina Suarez - Amherst College 

North Forest 

Valedictorian: Faith Peña – Yale University 

Salutatorian: Gerardo Perez – Northwestern University 

Northbrook High School

Valedictorian: Mirna Janet Benavente – Boston University 

Salutatorian: Victor Manuel Trejo Gonzalez – University of Notre Dame 


Valedictorian: Nelly Zapata – Rice University 

Salutatorian: Edgar Arias – The University of Texas at Austin 


Valedictorian: John Venegas Juarez – Princeton University 

Salutatorian: Martha Flores – Texas A&M University 


Valedictorian: Josselin Tecum Menjivar – University of Houston 

Salutatorian: Keyla Ramirez – Haverford College 


Valedictorian: Jose Angel Machin Kairuz – Stanford University 

Salutatorian: Tristan McNeel – Maine College of Art 

White Oak 

Valedictorian: Mia Cano – Trinity University 

Salutatorian: Martha Silva – University of Houston 

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