Paulina Cortes (center) with her parents and five siblings stand in the lobby of her alma mater, Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka. All six Cortes children are recipients of CEF scholarships.
At eighteen years old, Paulina Cortes has developed quite a resume. From award-winning artist, to Excel expert, to pro-life activist and budding restaurateur, the 2020 graduate of Hayden Catholic High School in Topeka has her hands, and future, full. Paulina is the first Hayden Catholic High School graduate to attend every year of her Catholic schooling on a Catholic Education Foundation scholarship.
As the oldest of six children, Paulina says she has witnessed her parents work hard to provide for their family. The family owns a small business – a local food truck called Poblanos Grill serving up authentic Mexican food six days a week. But amidst the early mornings and busy weekends, her parents, explains Paulina, have always made sure to put faith first. When they learned from their parish priest that CEF had scholarships available that might make it possible for their children to attend Catholic schools, the Corteses jumped at the opportunity.
“My parents were determined to take us to a Catholic school,” says Paulina. At the time, she was finishing 7th grade at the local middle school. The family’s scholarship applications were accepted, and Paulina started at Holy Family the following year. The family has benefited from CEF scholarships ever since, with all six children attending Hayden Catholic High School or Holy Family Catholic Elementary School.
“Transitioning from a public school was a challenge,” explains Paulina. “I wasn’t used to having homework every day and three tests in a week. But I took school more seriously."
"The teachers paid more attention to you, and they encouraged you to be better, to get organized, and to be more responsible.”
The following year, Paulina started high school at Hayden Catholic, and quickly took advantage of the programs the school had to offer. She pursued advanced art, extracurricular faith opportunities, and business classes through Hayden’s partnership with a local university.
Paulina’s is one of more than 1,500 scholarships, valued over $2.5 million, that CEF provided this school year alone. Currently, CEF has a 99% graduation rate among its scholarship recipients.
As Paulina looks ahead to life after graduation, her sights are set on bringing the gifts she has been given back to her family, friends, and community. Her recent school trip to the March for Life in DC was, she says, the “best experience she’s ever had.”
“My Catholic faith has motivated me to encourage other women to practice chastity, and to go out and fight for life,” says Paulina. She plans to work to bring the Chastity Project to young women like herself in the local community. Paulina also has big goals to support those who have supported her the most.
“I want to go into business administration so I can help my family's business grow,” says Paulina. “I have seen my parents tired and still working, they have encouraged me to fight for my dreams. My mom wants to open a restaurant. That’s her dream, and I want to help her achieve that.”
When asked how she thinks her scholarship has impacted her life, and the life of her family, Paulina laughs.
“I can’t imagine my life without this scholarship,” says Paulina. “I have had great teachers and great support. My Catholic education has helped my family grow closer together in faith."
"To the donors, I want to say thank you very much, and God bless you. This scholarship has done a lot of great things for me, and my faith motivates me to find what I can give back to others.”
Find out more about how Catholic education has impacted Paulina's story on the video below!