“The impact you can have in life is self-driven,” says Sabrina Cabezas, ’18, matter-of-factly. It’s a motto not quite unique to her, but a Cabezas family truth.

“We’re all alphas in my family,” she says.

Buried below Cabezas’ casual tone, golden nuggets shine light on the extraordinary nature of her life. From an atypical education to a recent adventure in Swaziland, Africa, Cabezas’ experiences have inspired lofty dreams and a dedication to improving the lives of others.

“I’ve never had an issue rising to the challenge,” she says, a quality evident in Cabezas since childhood and nurtured early on in the Montessori school she attended through eighth grade. “The school emphasized a comprehensive education, and we were entrusted with leadership roles at a very, very young age.”

Montessori schools often combine classes, allowing student-faculty partnerships to blossom over two or three years, and letting students progress at their own pace. “I didn’t have grades until high school,” she says, “so I had no idea how to quantify what I was learning. If I felt good about myself at the end of the day, that was considered a success.”

Cabezas’ confidence and drive was further developed in high school when she entered an international baccalaureate (IB) program in a public high school located in a “low-income, primarily Hispanic neighborhood,” she says, a combination that forged connections between students across socioeconomic strata.

Ultimately, entering the magnet program and the school it was housed in was Cabezas’ choice. “My dad had completed an IB program in Wales, and I felt like he had a really good world view because of it. So I was like, ‘yeah, this seems like something that would be really good for me,’” she says.

Finding Richmond

In her junior year, Cabezas was named by The College Board’s National Hispanic Recognition Program for scoring in the top percentile on her PSAT. That recognition made her a highly desired student by universities across the country.

Following a West Coast tour that included the University of Southern California and Claremont McKenna College, and an East Coast tour including Wellesley College and American University, Cabezas felt disheartened by a lack of, “that movie, picturesque ‘click.’”

“A lot of schools were writing to me,” she says, including Richmond. However, she hadn’t made any formal plans to visit, until a serendipitous government shutdown changed her sightseeing plans.

“We had allotted an extra day in D.C. to see the Smithsonians, but the government was shut down, so we couldn’t see anything.” However, after hearing Virginians rave about UR while touring American University, Cabezas knew just how they’d spend that extra time.

“I found a relatively inexpensive rental car, we hopped on the freeway, got here, and I fell in love with it,” she says. Back home, Cabezas applied early decision and was admitted as a Boatwright Scholar, a University program that recognizes academic and personal achievements with a full tuition scholarship.

A Stepping Stone to the Future

“I dream of a world where little girls will be told that they’re beautiful, and that they have valid dreams, and that they are worth more than just a bride,” she says, passionately.

This dream is one of many for Cabezas, all of which revolve around equal opportunity education. “I think there is a huge injustice in the way education is dispersed internationally,” she says. “There is this inequality that’s inherent to patriarchal societies, and to religious societies that perpetuate patriarchy.”

She witnessed such inequalities while on a family trip to Swaziland, an African country with a polygamist culture and misguided beliefs about HIV/AIDS prevention. After befriending a young girl at a preschool in Swaziland, Cabezas realized the girl “is nothing in their society,” a heart-breaking reality.

“I need to go back to Swaziland at some point in time, just to give back from that experience,” she says, something she hopes to do post-college or post-graduate school.

Cabezas is looking forward to majoring in international studies, volunteering for the Peace Corps, and perhaps studying international law at law school. “As much as I would love to start schools in third world countries, I don’t think girls will get there without legislation,” she says.  “So, I’m very much more interested in the policy side of it.”

“How do we get girls into schools in countries where it isn’t instinctual?” she asks. “How do we make it clear that education has to supersede culture? That it’s a basic human right?”

These are big questions for a young adult at the start of her college career. For now, she knows she’s exactly where she needs to be. “If I could do this all by myself, and didn’t need the connections, I wouldn’t be in college,” Cabezas says. “So, for now, I’m just excited to be here.”