The Class of 2022 gathered at the Cabrillo High School campus football field under windy conditions where hundreds of families, friends and school officials turned out to celebrate the accomplishments of 265 graduates.
“No matter how far away we end up from Cabrillo High, the memories we have of it will always live on in our hearts,” Holden Harper told fellow graduates at the school’s 56th commencement ceremony held Thursday afternoon.
Harper, who had been selected to deliver the school’s annual scholar address, encouraged fellow grads to appreciate the continuum of past, present and future as a symbol of what’s possible. He urged seniors to remember struggles overcome, take in the moment with “a mental picture” and look forward to what lies ahead.
“Fellow Conqs, go forth and prosper,” Harper said. “Try new things; learn from your mistakes — it’s OK to stumble along the way as long as you get back up again. And, remember, we are Conquistadores and our spirit conquers all.”
Associated Student Body President Eric Aguilar kicked off the ceremony where Senior Class President Leslie Ramirez and Hunter Bonner both addressed their class, with the latter delivering the “CONQuer” address that spoke to the school’s alma mater: striving to win, holding goals and standards high and a belief that the Conquistador spirit conquers all.
Ahead of Thursday’s commencement, Aguilar, 18, was honored for his Conquistador spirit by the school’s counseling department under the direction of lead counselor Brianne Jory, who called Aguilar a “quiet soldier.”
Considered a standout student, Aguilar will head to Colombia University to study sociology in the fall on a full-ride scholarship. Afterward, he plans to attend law school, hopefully somewhere in California, according to Aguilar.
“Not many know we have a student from little Lompoc going to an Ivy League school in New York City, representing us,” Jory said.
To Aguilar, however, he believes with hard work anyone can do it.
“I know that for someone like me — my parents were immigrants, I was considered low-income basically my entire life, and dual language — it’s not really expected for people like me to be in the kind of position that I’m in; to be able to go to an Ivy League school on a full ride and not worry about anything, or succeed academically,” he explained. He also noted that his story is no different than those of other kids in Lompoc who share his background.
“I really hope that in my example, that I can inspire younger people who are just like me when I was younger, to keep pushing, to keep trying regardless of what the world wants to say about us or what the people around us want to think,” he said. “Anyone can do it. It’s not a race thing, it’s not a background thing, it’s not a class thing. Anyone can make it.”
The straight-A student and football player, who often could be seen representing the Associated Student Body at monthly school board meetings during the 2021-22 academic year, explained that he was fortunate enough to find his “spark” during an unlikely time.
“I was definitely more of a jack-of-all-trades, and once the initial COVID shutdown hit back in March 2020, that’s when I started to develop my spark in reading, writing, rhetoric,” Aguilar recalled. “That was probably the biggest contributor in how I chose my major and my life path.”
While the pandemic redirected his focus, he mostly credits his ASB family, football coaches and his family, particularly his mother, for helping him to succeed.
“My mom was the main person that pushed me academically to keep going so I wouldn’t get complacent,” Aguilar said. “Even though that didn’t always feel great, my mom is probably my greatest coach, and it’s what I needed.”
Aguilar’s parents in the ’90s emigrated from Mexico to Lompoc where he was born and raised.
“Growing up in that kind of household, there was a lot of emphasis on the value of hard work and not taking anything for granted,” he said. “I’m the youngest one in my family — my sister graduated in 2015 and brother graduated in 2020 — so this is the final chapter between my family and Cabrillo High School. It’s definitely a bittersweet moment.”
Lisa André covers lifestyle and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record, editions of the Santa Maria Times.