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Editor’s Note: Missioner Maeve Gallagher describes what it was like to see the first graduating class at Valley of the Angels school in Guatemala. 

My high school graduation was fairly unremarkable.  I walked across the stage alongside 500 other students feeling relief that I soon would be leaving the Midwest.  For me, graduating high school was a necessary stepping-stone to get a part of my life I was looking forward to: college.

Obviously, for much of the world, graduating high school isn’t a given, and going on to higher education is even less of a possibility. As a high school senior, I theoretically knew that there were places where children couldn’t continue their education, but I was far removed from that reality.  I didn’t consider myself extraordinarily blessed or lucky to move on to college.  It wasn’t until I actually started attending college classes that I realized what a rare opportunity higher education is for many young people, especially girls.

In early October, eleven young women graduated from Colegio de los Angeles in Guatemala. Some of them lived at Valley for their entire lives, others for just a few years, but each of them cherished their education here. This is the first year that Valley has had a graduating class and the weeks leading up to graduation day were filled with excitement and apprehension.

The graduating class

The graduating class

Guatemala’s literacy rate is low, about 25%, and the overall educational quality here is poor. Public schools have bad reputations so most parents strive to send their children to private schools.  As is the same in most developing countries, girls are at a particular risk to never complete their schooling in order to care for their families. Girls from rural areas with high indigenous populations are at an especially high risk.

For the students at Valley, graduating high school is a big deal.  Yes, it’s proof of their hard work academically, but it also means that they are one step closer to breaking the cycle of second-rate Guatemalan education.  Regardless of whether they continue on to higher education, the eleven graduates have accomplished something special.



One of the graduates, Gaby, was asked to write a speech to say during the ceremony.  She talked about how in a very short time the girls at Valley became her sisters, and how everyone who works and volunteers there became her family.  It sounds cliché, but when you live, eat, pray, and learn with the same people every day it becomes true.  I’m proud to call the graduates my sisters and I know that each of them is on their way to living fulfilling and fruitful lives.

Maeve Gilheney-Gallagher is a returned lay missioner with Franciscan Mission Service who served for two years at Valley of the Angels orphanage in Guatemala City, Guatemala. She currently serves on the FMS Board and works as the Global Solidarity Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Mission. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, Dan, and three-legged dog, Lola.