As a freshman and sophomore at John F. Kennedy High School, Michelle Gutierrez says she struggled academically.
But she was never one to let herself fall behind.
She made a comeback her junior year by taking classes from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and joining principal Lisa Luft’s leadership class, in which she took the lead in planning the school’s last homecoming and helped organize spirit week and a breast cancer walk.
Now Ms. Gutierrez, 18, is the first student in JFK’s last senior class to graduate, having completed the last of her credits in December.
It was a bittersweet graduation for Ms. Gutierrez, who described JFK as her second home. After the DOE made the decision to close JFK four years ago, the school stopped admitting new students. This year, Ms. Gutierrez’s senior class is the only class at the school, which occupies the Kennedy Campus along with seven other schools. After its June graduation, the school will close permanently.
“It’s kind of sad since we’ve been together since our freshman year, but there’s more technology now so we always stay in touch,” said Ms. Gutierrez.
With a full-time job at the Fordham Plaza Subway this semester, she plans to save enough money to pay her way through LaGuardia College’s physical therapy program when she begins in the fall.
“I have a long way ahead of me in college, so I might as well start sooner than my actual time,” Ms. Gutierrez said as she reflected on her decision to graduate early. “It’s going to be fun since I’m not going to be stressed out. I’m going to be here for the fun parts.”
Hailing from Soundview in the south Bronx, Ms. Gutierrez is the middle child in a family of five children. Her 7-year-old cousin, who has muscular dystrophy, inspired her to look into physical therapy as a career path.
“I was not a big fan of science, but the human body always interested me,” said Ms. Gutierrez. “I saw for my own eyes that certain therapists just do it for the money, so I said there has to be one person that’s willing to change the routine, and I want to be that one person.”
At the Subway restaurant at Fordham Plaza, Ms. Gutierrez enjoys the friendly atmosphere and getting to know her co-workers.