DORCHESTER -- "Resilient" is a word that can be used to describe 21-year-old Lisa Edouard. Growing up in Boston, the youngest child of two Haitian-born parents -- her half siblings are much older and never lived with her -- Edouard has seen her share of suffering.
As a young child, she often lived with relatives because her mother battled schizophrenia and epilepsy and was unable to properly care for her.
"I moved around quite a bit," she recalled.
Beginning in the seventh grade, she moved back into her home and began attending Catholic schools, first St. Angela Elementary School, and then Cristo Rey Boston High School. It was at Cristo Rey that her life was forever changed. Today, she is a senior at Boston College studying Applied Psychology and Human Development. And she credits her academic success to Cristo Rey.
"Cristo Rey is such an incredible school," Edouard said. "There are so many people who are constantly pushing you to reach your maximum potential."
"It has the support system that allowed me to be successful there and to continue on at Boston College because it gave me that work ethic," she said.
She also credits the school for giving her the confidence to "approach professors and ask for help because I was so comfortable approaching teachers after school."
However, Edouard is quick to point out that Cristo Rey did much more than improve her academics. She explained that the school's model is to have four days of academics, and one of full-day employment each week. During her freshman year, Edouard worked at the New England Aquarium. The following two years she worked for an insurance company; and her final year she worked for Greater Media Boston.
"By the time I graduated, I had this portfolio that not many 18-year-olds can possibly have," she said. She also had "very real experiences -- like how to interview, and how to effectively communicate with others," she added.
Perhaps most special to Edouard is the Cristo Rey community itself.
"Everyone is coming from the same place," she said, referring to the fact that the school population is all low-income, inner city Bostonians. "We all knew how the inner city worked. We all have a common bond that we started out with. And then, through many community-building activities, we became who we are today."
Edouard credits the teachers for motivating her to always push herself.
"I learned that if you don't have someone who sets the bar high, you can easily get lost in the crowd," she said, adding that teachers such as Christina Searby always kept her striving until she graduated as the salutatorian of the class of 2012.
"The teachers gave me this work ethic that I still have today, and this spirit to always look at things in a positive way. To not be brought down by adversity, but to look and see how to make things better," she said.
It was this spirit that led her back to Cristo Rey as an intern in the counseling department for her practicum requirement at Boston College.
"I had such a great experience I wanted to make sure others do, too," she said, adding that returning to "give back to the Cristo Rey community" is very common among alumni of the school.
"We who have thrived at Cristo Rey want to give back our very selves to the next generation," she said.
"In the face of the adversity that each of them -- that each of us -- has faced, we have this incredible hope for the future. Not just to change our lives, but to change the world," said Edouard.