Emotional Platt graduation ceremony lifts spirits

Updated: Between the moving songs, the farewells, and a keynote speech by a student who suffered a traumatic brain injury and fought his way back to good health to graduate, Platt Technical High School's graduation ceremony Thursday night brought tears to more than a few eyes.

Platt Principal Sheila Williams said school staff, teachers and administrators are amazed at the miracle they saw in the recovery of Mateo Vanegas, who was keynote speaker for the Class of 2014 graduation ceremony.

Mateo said he almost died last Sept. 4 when the scooter he was driving was hit by a vehicle on Wayne Street in Bridgeport. Mateo was in critical condition: He was in a coma for seven days, and he had suffered a traumatic brain injury.

“Things weren't looking good,” Mateo said during Thursday night's graduation ceremony. “My head was badly damaged, but here I am.”

Mateo, a manufacturing student, said that after some recovery and medical rehabilitation, he returned to school with the intention of graduating with his class.

After accomplishing so much, including wearing the cap and gown with his classmates and graduating on time with them, Mateo said he doesn't listen anymore when people say, “Mateo, you cannot do that.”

“There’s nothing you can’t do with a little hard work and help from family,” he said.

Mateo, who lives in Bridgeport, is the son of Luz Mariano Carmona and Jaime Vanegas. He plans to continue an apprenticeship in tool and die making at Bridgeport Fittings in Stratford, and he said he wants to attend Housatonic Community College’s transitional program and then enter the school’s manufacturing program.

Mateo followed several speakers at the ceremony, including Class Salutatorian Edwin (J.R.) Santiago and Valedictorian Shawn McAuley.

Edwin got the ceremony underway with an entertaining speech, in which he defined the term “salutatorian.”

He said that when he was told he would give the salutatorian speech, he looked up the word at urbandictionary.com and learned that it meant “the person who just missed being valedictorian by a few GPA points.”

“But I don't feel like a loser,” he joked.

Edwin encouraged his fellow classmates to go after their goals and never to forget where they came from.

“I would never have wanted to go through this journey with any other class,” he concluded.

Edwin lives in Hamden and is the son of Marian Zayes and Edwin Santiago. He plans to study electrical engineering at the University of Connecticut.

Shawn, giving the valedictorian speech, quoted legendary minds, including Thomas Edison, Confucius and Charles Darwin.

But he also offered some of his own advice: “Try to learn from your mistakes and try hard not to repeat them,” he said.

Shawn also told his classmates, “You can do anything as long as you have motivation.”

Shawn plans to enter the University of Connecticut’s business school in the fall and study finance. He lives in Trumbull, and is the son of Patricia and Timothy McAuley, and he has a twin sister.

Platt’s 2014 graduating class consisted of 206 students, in programs including architectural technologies, automotive, carpentry, collision repair, computer aided drafting, culinary arts, electrical, electro-mechanical technology, electronics, hairdressing, heating ventilation and air conditioning, information systems technology, manufacturing technology, and plumbing and heating.

Several graduating seniors performed musical numbers during Thursday’s ceremony. The trio of Raul Robles, Carlos Urena and Sheila Ubiera performed the song “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” and Ciera Muniz sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and the song, “I’ll Always Remember You.”