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Virginia student speaks at graduation for 2nd time: 'We persevered. We pushed through.'

Mateo Cabana-Vargas
Posted at 5:45 PM, May 24, 2023

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- All of the 2023 graduates of L.C. Bird High School experienced growth the last couple of years, but Mateo Cabana-Vargas might have the clearest example of it because he has addressed L.C. Bird graduates before.

"I remember I needed a stool to reach the mic, but now I only need to stand on my tippy toes," Cabana-Vargas told the crowd at the Seigel Center Wednesday.

Seven years ago, when he was in the fifth grade at Bellwood Elementary, Cabana-Vargas addressed the 2016 graduates, thanking them for visiting his school.

"You’ve encouraged us to continue to study and make good grades," he said back then. “You’ve helped us practice life skills that we’ll continue to use as we grow up.”

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Wednesday's opening remarks for his own graduation served as a full circle moment, but also one that showed his own growth.

“As a nine-year-old, I remember seeing these graduating seniors as literal giants. People with never-ending wisdom, who had everything figured out and the confidence to conquer the world," he said Wednesday. "Now, as a graduating senior myself, I feel nothing like how imagined those seniors seven years ago. I've learned lessons along the way, but I don't have an endless pool of wisdom. I don't have everything figured out, but I do have the confidence that everything will be OK."

When asked which speech he was more nervous for, Cabana-Vargas said obviously this one.

"Fifth grade, I didn’t know anyone in the crowd. This year, I knew everyone, so I was like if I mess up they’re not going to let it go," he said with a laugh.

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Most of the 2023 grads were freshmen when the pandemic shut down the world and interrupted their academic progression in a major way. Cabana-Vargas said the transitions to and from virtual learning were difficult.

"As a class, we definitely went through a unique experience, but we persevered. We pushed through," he said.

Perseverance — and his source of it — was central to Cabana-Vargas graduation speech. His mother, Pamela, immigrated from Argentina when she was teenager; he was just a baby.

L.C. Bird High School Graduation
L.C. Bird High School Graduation

“My mom felt more lost than I do right now," Cabana-Vargas said during his speech. “It’s difficult to make a plan for yourself in a country where you struggle to communicate with others. But regardless, she needed money to provide for her baby, so she would fold clothes for strangers in a nearby laundromat and ask for a dollar in return.”

“It wasn’t easy for her, so I think I wanted to highlight the fact that she was able to get through that and get to where she’s at now shows that anyone can get through anything that they’re going through," he said after the ceremony.

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Cabana-Vargas made sure all his fellow L.C. Bird graduates entered the world with her example in mind.

"My mom is the reason why I can confidently say that we will all be OK, as long as we keep moving forwards. Congratulations to the class of 2023 and thank you, mom!” he said.

Cabana-Vargas plans to begin working for his mother's construction company now that he has graduated and might pursue a college degree in the future.

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