High schools in which most of the students are from disadvantaged homes, with many still learning English, are not supposed to produce Ivy Leaguers every year. By that measure, Hialeah Senior High has been defying expectations for a long time.
Evidence for that proposition was on the stage in the school’s auditorium Wednesday morning. About 30 alumni, including current college students and recent college graduates, came back to give back to their school. They were part of the annual College Forum. The alumni represented some of the nation’s finest universities, including Harvard, Brown, Duke, Northwestern, UCLA, USC, and UF and FSU. There was also an alumnus who took a different course, through aviation college, and now flies B-52 bombers in the Air Force.
The Forum is all about giving advice, a chance for the high school kids to hear what college is really like from students who they can trust.
“Because we want to make sure that once they get there, they stay there, that they’re successful, they’re graduating from college,” said principal Heriberto Sanchez, explaining the reason for College Forum.
Everyone on the stage had roots in common, but they also have one other shared commonality, and that’s a sense of gratitude for Hialeah High’s college advisor, who was at the school for 16 years. Alina Grandal retired this year, and was greeted with a standing ovation when she addressed the students participating in the Forum.
“I am so happy and so proud of each of you and the fact that you came back time after time to give back to your school,” Grandal said, fighting back tears.
Grandal has been instrumental in shepherding students to the next level of education, whether it’s Miami-Dade College or Stanford, MIT, Columbia, and Penn. There are Hialeah High Thoroughbreds at all of those institutions.
“Ms. Grandal has helped all of us immensely with the college application process, without her, truly, we would be super clueless,” said Jessie Rodriguez, who is a sophomore at Harvard.
“It gives me a feeling of satisfaction,” Grandal said, explaining what it’s like to see the returning alumni every year. “I know they didn’t go there because of me, sometimes they tell me I did it because of you, and I tell them no, I was just support.”
Now Grandal is passing the baton to her daughter, who is moving from math teacher to college advisor, pledging to bring the same passion and dedication to the job that her mother brought to work every day.
“I definitely want to make sure that all these kids get into the best schools that they can and continue her legacy,” said Christina Grandal Orfely.
She’s got huge shoes to fill, but the example has been set. Now students know that no matter how much poverty they face at home, if they work hard enough, they can follow the path blazed by the kids who came before them.
“We must have done something right,” Grandal said.