Young debate, music virtuoso aiming for law school

Catalina Cabello-Corona, 13, a Vela Middle School eighth grader, hopes to be a human rights lawyer someday, even while playing jazz piano on the side. (Courtesy photo)

HARLINGEN — Everyone has the right to be human, and Catalina Cabello-Corona wants to fight for those rights — for everyone.

That’s why the Vela Middle School eighth grader hopes to be a human rights lawyer someday, even while playing jazz piano on the side.

“A human rights lawyer, you take cases to help people with their human rights,” said Catalina, 13, who also studies at Palm Valley Gymnastics and Dance.

“It’s rights in general,” she said. “I’ve always been very vocal about standing up for what’s right even if you’re standing alone, and I want to help people. That’s a big thing of mine. I care a lot about social justice, so I really want to help people.”

So powerful is her conviction and purpose that she helped put her school on the map at the 2022 National Speech and Debate Tournament in early June. Her passionate representation of a mother with a mentally ill teenage boy was so convincing she was named national champion for Dramatic Interpretation — and this was a first for HCISD.

When we take a closer look at the subject matter, we see why Catalina had such an ardent dedication to the character: the mother was concerned her boy might hurt someone in the school. And that in turn became even more intense after the insanity at Robb Elementary in Uvalde in May.

Such insanities can quickly turn horror into conviction, and she poured all of that intensity into her performance at the tournament, thus landing her in the number one spot in the nation. She plans to carry that sculpted talent with her through more speech and debate activities and on to law school.

Universities these days look for more than grades. They look for diversity of talent and activity, for advanced skill in other venues, and they’ll find it easily in Catalina.

The young lady who has studied voice since she was five years old sings and plays guitar in the Vela Middle School Mariachi Panteras de Oro. She plays trombone in the Vela Middle School Honors Band which received a Sweepstakes Award (all first divisions at UIL Concert and Sight-Reading Evaluation). She plays trombone with the award-winning Vela Jazz 1.

Yes, she’ll have much to offer when she begins applying to university.

“We’ve done a lot of stuff, it’s very good,” she said with a refreshing mix of boldness and modesty.

“I could not do anything that I’ve done, anything that I’ve accomplished without Ms. Bender,” she said, referring to Julia Bender, theatre director for Vela Middle School.

“She’s an amazing coach,” Catalina said. “I could not have done anything that I have done without her and my parents. They’ve been very supportive.”

Late last month she was building her foundational experiences at a leadership conference in Washington, D.C., before traveling with her family to New York City.