Students excel despite hardships

Some find hard road to successes

More than 120 Marist High School students were honored at the school’s 21st Annual Academic Awards Banquet on May 1, but probably no student was more pleased than junior Matthew Cabrera.

Cabrera was there to collect his honors for being the number-one ranked student in his class, and for the Principal’s List Award, President’s Education Award, Book Award, and Model United Nations Award.

Cabrera is a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed at two years old with a rare childhood cancer in 1999. The fact that he made it to this banquet does not even begin to tell the story of his successes and triumphs.

His cancer left him permanently hearing disabled in both ears, with high frequency loss.

“I’ve been wearing hearing aids all my life,” Cabrera said. “My parents always encouraged me. They said I can be whatever I want despite my disability.”

Instead of thinking his situation would hold him back, he took the exact opposite tack, using his disadvantage to drive him to succeed.

“It didn’t make it harder, but it instead made me want to work harder to prove that a disability is not a hindrance,” he said. “That it could be a source of strength, because it makes you want to improve.”

Admitting there have been minor difficulties, like not being able to hear teachers as easily as others, Cabrera said that “overall, it’s not been a hardship.”

The event’s guest speaker, Madeleine Ramos of the 2010 graduating class, told of her winding path back to her alma mater.

Life was good early on for Ramos, knowing at age 16 that she wanted to work at the United Nations, and in the healthcare field. But she hit roadblocks along the way, reaching the lowest point of her life when she failed a course.

“I felt I couldn’t move forward,” Ramos said. “There I was, the person with the smiles and positive attitude.”

She had an epiphany following trips to Brazil and a United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. The assembly brought to the surface the potential she always knew she had.

“In a heartbeat, my 16-year-old dreamer side was revived,” Ramos said. “I strove to not let anything get in the way. I’ve been unstoppable since then.”  

Telling the students that the occasion was just the beginning for all of them, she urged them to find out what inspires them and use that knowledge to motivate them.

Ryan Williams, 18, and Rose Delbert, 15, know what motivates them.

Williams was ranked number two in his senior class, and Delbert, number two in her freshman class.

“It’s great, because in all four years, I got the Top Ten award.” said Williams.

Delbert was equally jubilant because she had not counted on being so successful right away.

“It’s an honor I never expected,” she said. “To be at so high a rank—it’s a very important level—was a surprise to me.”

Joseph Passantino may be reached at:

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