By Cynthia-Marie Marmo O’Brien
December 1, 2017 — Two longtime friends, Charline Castillo and Terelle George, were certain that they would not go to the same college — until both attended a summer program at Georgetown University after their junior year of Cristo Rey New York High School (CRNYHS).
Both describe falling in love with Georgetown, the campus, the friendly students they met, the classes they took, and the atmosphere that made them feel at home.
Friends since first meeting as fifth graders at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, their educational journeys took them both to Cristo Rey, and this fall they began at Georgetown, taking another step together in their Jesuit education. “We’re like sisters,” says Terelle. “If I had to pick anyone to go there with me, it’d be her.”
“I loved the campus and the atmosphere, and I felt I belonged there,” says Charline, Cristo Rey’s 2017 valedictorian. “I fell in love with the atmosphere,” says Terelle, also one of Cristo Rey’s top students. Terelle speaks about the many panels she attended where current students spoke. “Most were minority students,” she says, “whom I can relate to.” Yet Terelle, who immigrated to the United States from Trinidad at the age of five, anticipates that Georgetown will also allow her to step out of her element, as a very different academic setting than her high school and middle school experiences.
Terelle George and Charline Castillo first met at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep.
Georgetown’s Summer College Immersion Program was created by Daniel Porterfield, former senior vice president for strategic development, as an effort to increase diversity at the school. The program is 100% funded and brings 44 students to Georgetown for three weeks of classes and activities each summer; more than 200 students have participated and 100% have gone on to college. At Cristo Rey and KIPP charter schools across the nation, the principal and college counseling offices nominate students to apply for the program based on their GPA and interests. “In the case of Terelle and Charline, both were strong students and heavily involved in activities,” said Brigid Quinn, CRNYHS development director.
During her time at Cristo Rey, Charline also attended summer programs at the University of Michigan and on Block Island, Rhode Island. But Georgetown was different. “When I got there they gave us a tour. I thought, ‘This is where I have to be, I have to come here.’ I already felt like I was a student there and that I would love to live there.”
Charline added, “People have to experience Jesuit education at least once. It was life-changing for me. Without my experiences, I wouldn’t be going to a Jesuit school like Georgetown.”
Charline relied not only on the college counseling program at Cristo Rey, but also on the graduate support program at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, which helped her apply to high schools and continued to offer support throughout high school and the college application process. “Cristo Rey’s academic program is very hard and it’s a lot of work and a lot of homework … It doesn’t stop just because you’re tired. It just keeps going, but it made me develop persistence,” says Charline. “It gets harder as you get older,” says Terelle. “It taught me time management.”
The two young women have always supported each other throughout their schooling. Charline explains, “We’ve always had the same goals. Our values are similar. We want to succeed in life. We’re able to confide in each other when we are struggling and comfort each other when we are at low points. We push each other academically. It makes it easier because we have each other and we’ve known each other for so long.”
Regarding their paths continuing to overlap in going to Georgetown, she says, “We weren’t really surprised. We made an agreement that we weren’t going to tell each other our college process, but then we both fell in love with Georgetown, so it seems we were meant to be together in the same college. Once we went to the summer program, I could already tell we were going to be in school together.”
"We’re like sisters ... If I had to pick anyone to go there with me, it’d be her,” says Terelle George.
This past spring, Terelle and Charline graduated from Cristo Rey with a strong work ethic that will carry them forward. Endorsed by the Jesuits, along with two other religious orders — the Christian Brothers and the Society of the Holy Child — Cristo Rey is a unique school that follows a model in which students attend classes four days per week and work one day per week in professional roles at more than 140 companies in New York City. All CRNYHS students are from low-income families and pay part of their tuition through jobs at corporations that partner with the school. Every Cristo Rey school throughout the country follows this model, including the first, which was founded by the Jesuits in Chicago.
During her junior and senior years, Terelle worked in the records department of Proskauer Rose, a large law firm, while Charline spent all four years at Capital Group Companies, an investment bank in Rockefeller Center. Prior to this experience, she had never held a job, but she grew to love the work. “My co-workers had high expectations of me, but they made me feel very comfortable. It made my experience more enjoyable.”
Both young women look forward to challenges and changes; both also specifically appreciated the world religions course they took at Cristo Rey. For Terelle, the course helped her understand how her Christian faith relates to other faiths; she and her family were Nazarene for many years and now attend a non-denominational church. For Charline, who grew up Catholic, the course allowed her to deepen her Christian faith and to understand her morals and values through applying the curriculum. Charline anticipates that her own spirituality will be challenged a lot in college, where she will encounter others from diverse backgrounds.
Charline Castillo was the commencement speaker at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony.
Each of the young women credits her mother with making sacrifices to make their education possible at both Brooklyn Jesuit Prep and Cristo Rey possible. “She wanted me to continue to pursue the Jesuit education in high school given that I had such a good experience. We both agreed how valuable it was,” says Charline.
Both also have tremendous praise for their teachers. “The teachers that I worked with were not only really smart but really helpful when you didn’t understand something,” Charline says. “I don’t know where I’d be without their support,” says Terelle.
One teacher, Ryan Scheb, commented, “Despite a grueling senior year schedule, Terelle maintained her impressive grade point average thanks to her unceasing work ethic. She is very confident and well-spoken but also extremely empathetic. She frequently sits in the teachers’ faculty room just chatting with teachers about class, life and the world. Because of Terelle’s eloquence and intellect, it’s hard to distinguish her words from those of a seasoned teacher.” Of Charline, he says, “Charline Castillo might be the most impressive student I have ever taught. She works as hard as anyone, asks excellent questions, speaks eloquently, writes analytically and listens carefully. It’s not surprising that she was the class valedictorian. To me, though, what makes Charline such a superstar is that she is so well-rounded.”
Two years into her studies at Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, Terelle George’s friendship with Charline Castillo was already blossoming.
Inspired by the service work she began at Cristo Rey, Charline looks forward to volunteering while at Georgetown. “I know that Jesuit schools have a set of core values that they try to keep prominent — a commitment to justice, religion, loving and intellectual curiosity — and I hope I get to nurture that side of me.”
Charline, whose family is from the Dominican Republic, has shared many school activities with Terelle, including choir and dance team. After an emotional junior year project on sexual assault on college campuses sparked her concern, Terelle said she plans to take women and gender studies courses and see where they take her, and to do the same with science classes.
As for what has helped her most at Cristo Rey, Charline said she “wouldn’t trade the college counseling program for the world,” but while the school’s support played a large role in their success, it’s their strong friendship that Terelle George and Charline Castillo will be taking with them as they begin their careers as Hoyas.
Cynthia-Marie Marmo O’Brien is a writer and editor based in New York City. She is also a parishioner at New York’s St. Ignatius Loyola Parish.Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.jesuitvocations.org for more information.