Ryan Olson, who’s on track to graduate from Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep next year, admits that attending the Catholic high school was somewhat jarring at first. Cristo Rey not only has a rigorous curriculum, but the learning is integrated with a unique, hands-on professional work experience. “It was definitely a culture shock,” Ryan recalled about his freshman year. But Cristo Rey is “blazing a whole new path,” he added. “The focus here is to develop the whole person.”
Ryan, 17, was one of nearly 485 students who turned out on Thursday, August 2, for the fourth annual Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep Draft Day. The NFL-style Draft Day at Gilley’s Dallas, presented by Matthews Southwest, was a big, raucous celebration for Cristo Rey’s 134 incoming freshmen and sophomores who were learning for the first time—that’s where the “Draft” part comes in—what their work assignments would be for the 2018-2019 school year.
Students at Cristo Rey Dallas, one of 35 Catholic prep schools in Cristo Rey’s nationwide not-for-profit network, earn nearly two-thirds of their tuition by working in clerical or administrative roles one day a week at the area’s top companies and organizations. As a result, the Gilley’s-event crowd of 1,000-plus included more than 140 Dallas CEOs and senior leaders from such “Corporate Work Study Program Partners” as AT&T, Children’s Health, Deloitte, EY, Haynes and Boone, Hunt Oil, Mary Kay, Oncor, Southwest Airlines, UT Southwestern and Veritex Bank.
One of the corporate partners was commercial real estate firm CBRE, which was represented by Jack Fraker and Michelle Miller. Jack and Michelle said CBRE has participated in the program every year since it started, with the Cristo Rey students helping out Michelle’s real-estate research team.
During a reception prior to the event’s formal program, Cristo Rey President Kelby Woodard excitedly compared this year’s Draft Day with last year’s event, which was held on the school’s campus in Pleasant Grove. Thanks to the generosity of Jack Matthews‘ Matthews Southwest real-estate development firm, which developed Gilley’s, the fourth annual event could boast valet parking and a venue with plenty of air-conditioned space, Woodard said. The 2017 affair, by contrast, featured parking for just 150 cars and 1,000 people jammed into the school’s gym, where a “1980s air-conditioning system” strained to fend off the summer heat. This year’s Draft Day also sported 42 new job partners, Woodard added, for a total of 135.
“Our [Cristo Rey] job teams are now working in Downtown, Uptown, Richardson, North Dallas, the Medical District and beyond,” the school president had proclaimed earlier in a news release. “In addition to contributing more than $4 million toward the cost of tuition, the Corporate Work Study Program provides students with hands-on work experience in a real-world setting and a chance to develop leadership skills that will last a lifetime.”
With that, it was time for the Draft Day celebration to begin. As upbeat music blasted through Gilley’s main showroom and the school’s cheerleaders and the Mavs ManiAACs dancers pumped up the cheering crowd, it took a long while for the Cristo Rey draftees to file into the seating area. Up on stage, meantime, WFAA-TV senior reporter Rebecca Lopez , the Draft Day emcee, was waiting to welcome the students as, one by one, they would take the spotlight and, for the first time, meet the professionals representing their 2018-2019 firms. The “first-round picks” onstage wouldn’t receive just handshakes or high-fives, but also official company swag like ball caps and logo T-shirts. Meantime, snappy “color commentary” about each of the draftees was provided by Fox Sports Southwest host Erin Hartigan, Dallas Mavericks play-by-play announcer Mark Followill, and Gunnar Rawlings, former executive director of the Cristo Rey Corporate Work Study Program.
And, what about Ryan Olson, the 17-year-old student who’d adjusted to Cristo Rey after the culture shock wore off? He’d worked during his sophomore and junior years for Perkins + Will Dallas, an architecture and design firm. But this year, Ryan said, he was hoping to hook up with a company in the finance industry—which only made sense. His “dream” college is Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he’s aiming to study finance, investments, and banking.
* Photo credit: Tamytha Cameron