Ulyces Gutierrez, a recent Proviso Math and Science Academy graduate and Melrose Park resident, spent his time in high school waking up at 6 a.m. to head to school early before leaving to go straight to his job at Chipotle, where he would work until around 11 p.m. After, he’d go home, do his homework and go to sleep at around 2 a.m. Then, he’d wake up at 6 a.m to do it all over again.
“It was rinse and repeat,” he said in a recent phone interview. “My mom told me if work was too much I could just quit—it wasn’t like we were short on money. But I didn’t want to quit. I wanted to do something with my time.”
Gutierrez’s efforts have paid off in more ways than one. The 18-year-old is one of six graduates from Proviso Township High School District 209 who will each be presented with a $1,000 check during a 6:30 p.m. ceremony on Aug. 1 at the Howard H. Mohr Community Center in Forest Park. The scholarship is sponsored by the community group 209 Together and the Kiwanis Club Foundation of Forest Park.
“These talented and ambitious students have all been accepted to one or more 2- or 4-year colleges,” according to a statement released on July 20 by the scholarship committee.
The scholarship was established in 2015 as a “way to highlight the perseverance and academic excellence that is possible from graduates of Proviso East, Proviso West, and Proviso Math and Science Academy.”
Each student had to submit an essay along with general academic information in order to qualify for the scholarship. Peg Cecchi, one of the people who reviewed the applications, said she was “struck again and again by the desire and heart that these kids show.”
“They humbled me by sharing a slice of their lives and showing me that they have what it takes to be successful, not in spite of their challenges but because of their challenges, challenges that made them stronger.”
For Gutierrez, there was added incentive in overcoming the long hours and emotional drain of working nearly 40-hour weeks at Chipotle while putting in extra hours at school.
There were times when, he said, he would save up enough money to help his family with mortgage payments. But there is something much more satisfactory, he said. In the fall, when he enrolls as a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Gutierrez will be the first person in his family to attend college.
“Both of my parents emigrated from Mexico,” he said. “My mom dropped out of high school to work on a farm with my grandparents. My dad got his GED, but he never went off to college.”
Gutierrez said he now wants to be a model for his younger brother, a rising sophomore at PMSA.
“Since I’m the first one to go off to college, this is kind of a new thing for all of us,” the older Gutierrez said. “The $1,000 scholarship will be a big help.”
Members of Kiwanis Club and 209 Together praised the scholars for their sacrifices and their outsized roles in their respective communities.
“Kiwanis is proud of our award recipients as they set out to change the world for the better, one child and one community at a time,” said Gerald Lordan, the director of the Kiwanis Club Foundation of Forest Park.
“Our hope is to keep this going and each year add to the impact we have on the lives of kids form our very own communities,” said selection committee co-chair Michelle Woehrle. “We’d love to raise enough [money] to give additional support to past winners who are still in school.”
The scholarship committee started an online fundraiser to raise additional money for past winners. Those interested in giving money can visit: https://fundly.com/209together.