Community High School District 94

326 Joliet Street, West Chicago IL 60185

Contact:  Gail Eckl Daniels,   Maura Bridges, LCPC
Counselor/Department Chairperson
Phone 630/876-6556   (630)876-6307
fax 630/876-6242   (630)876-6587


Apr 16, 2007
For Immediate Release

Written by Charley Henderson & Janelle Stefancic


John Simon, Chancellor of the Lincoln Academy of IL
Claudia Cortes, Student Laureate
Anne M. Burke, IL Supreme Court Justice

2003 Community High School Graduate, and Elmhurst College student, Claudia Cortes of West Chicago, Illinois, has been selected as a 2006 Laureate to the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. Ms. Cortes will share her inspirational experiences with the 2007 graduating seniors at ESL/Bilingual Honors night, May 23rd, 2007 at 7:00 p.m. in Weyrauch Auditorium at Community High School in West Chicago.

The Lincoln Laureate is a high honor, awarded to senior students at each of the four-year, degree-granting institutions in Illinois for overall excellence in both curricular and extra-curricular programs. At Elmhurst College, preference is given to those students who, like Abraham Lincoln himself, have overcome significant obstacles on their journeys to success. Among only 53 college honorees in the State of Illinois, Ms. Cortes is a worthy recipient of Elmhurst College's Lincoln Laureate honors. Her proud family looked on as she received this special award. After continuing her graduate studies in Public Service at DePaul University, she hopes to work in the government sector and eventually attend law school. "I would like to join all educators at Community High School in congratulating Claudia on her meritorious achievement," states John Highland, CHS Principal. "She is to be commended for her persistence, commitment and hard work."

Although Ms. Cortes was born in California, she lived her early years in Aguascalientes, Mexico. When she was 15 years old, she returned to the United States to stay with relatives. She was virtually alone, spoke little or no English, and her desire to complete an education in the United States was met with cultural obstacles and initially skeptical teachers. Ms. Cortes quickly won over her ESL teachers. She had obtained her parents’ permission to come to the U.S. under the condition that she would only stay for a year. She told them that she wanted to continue her education. “I thought of myself as a woman with a lot of potential,” she said. “I always dreamed of being professional and successful.”

While at Community High School in West Chicago, Ms. Cortes acquired English proficiency quickly, arriving academically prepared in her first language for the rigors of the intense American curriculum. She moved into mainstream English classes in 11 months, achieving a 3.96 grade point average throughout high school. Lamentably, her high school career was interrupted by a family emergency and she returned to Mexico for over 8 months her junior year. Determined not to get behind in her American studies, she returned able to make up the lost credits quickly and graduate in 2003.

Ms. Cortes chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree at Elmhurst College. While there, Claudia encountered serious financial hurdles. To realize her goals, she has worked several jobs on campus, as well as commuted to jobs in West Chicago on weekends. Ms. Cortes went before college leaders and tenaciously, passionately plead her case for greater student aid, and she won.

By her own frank admission, Ms. Cortes has grown tremendously while at Elmhurst College, and she appreciates the experiences and knowledge she has gained. “I have changed a lot and see the world differently,” she said. “I see my future full of a world of opportunity. My outlook is that obstacles are not barriers, but challenges I will overcome.” Her hard work and optimism have proved inspirational. Ms. Cortes’ younger sister, Norma Sanchez, a 2005 Community High School graduate, has followed in her footsteps, and is a sophomore at Elmhurst College. Her cousin, Mayra Macias, currently a senior at Community High School, will also attend Elmhurst College this fall.

Claudia Cortes will graduate in early May 2007 with a degree in Political Science. She has a double minor in Sociology and Spanish. Claudia was able to spend a semester in Germany. Upon her return she was named the founding president of the Study Abroad Honor Society, Phi Beta Delta. Last fall she was also tapped to the exclusive Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) Leadership Honor Society and was invited to join Phi Kappa Phi another prestigious all-discipline academic excellence (leadership) honor society. Ms. Cortes is active in various campus organizations which have helped her grow and see differing cultural and academic perspectives. Ms. Cortes attended the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in New York 2005 as a school representative. She is currently a multiculturalism agent on campus. She represents the IES (Institute for the International Education of Students) as an ambassador assisting prospective students planning to study abroad. She is the secretary of International Club, the PR person for Alpha Mu Gamma (Foreign Language Honor Society) and a member of the Pi Gamma Mu (Political Science Honor Society). In order to help restore neighborhoods in New Orleans, Claudia and her sister Norma, have spent three months helping plan and fundraise for Habitat for Humanity.

Janelle Stefancic, Bilingual teacher at CHS, states "Claudia was a pleasure to have in my Spanish Native Speakers classes. Claudia's accelerated English acquisition was in large part to her innate drive and thirst for knowledge, but in particular her Spanish language and literacy skills. The CHS English as a Second Language program responded to her ability by challenging her every step of the way. Within a year Claudia had a plan to succeed and knew who to talk to make it a reality. We are all very proud of her success and determination to achieve her goals. She has been a role model for several other students whom are currently studying at College of DuPage, Aurora University, Loyola University and the Universal Technical Institute."

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