Representative Andy Vargas Discusses Civic Education and Legislative Action

“The key to living a fulfilling life is: don’t think about who you want to be. Think about what you want to do,” is the advice Former President Barack Obama gave Andy Vargas (D-Mass.), a state representative for the 3rd Essex District, during his White House internship. 

Vargas encouraged students with the same advice during his talk, which was organized by the Phillips Academy History Association on Saturday, February 6. Having been elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives at 24, Vargas discussed how to fight injustices and reach tangible outcomes at a young age. 

“Not too long ago, I was one of you. I’m only 27 today. And the only reason I’m here today is because I got involved early. And I had a passion for wanting to improve my community. So I know that you all are going to do even greater things. And you all hold the keys to a future that many of us can’t even imagine right now—a future that is much more equitable,” said Vargas.

Vargas is committed to work that recognizes and fosters the potential of all people, regardless of the circumstances that they are born into. This goal was ultimately motivated by the many differences between him and his cousins.

“My cousins were like my brothers growing up, and our lives ended up very different. Even though we lived only blocks away from each other, I ended up going to college and getting involved in great internships and eventually able to run for office. But my cousins have been in and out of the criminal justice system,” said Vargas. 

While Vargas came from a stable home, his cousins faced substance abuse issues with their parents. The challenges his cousins confronted obstructed them from thriving outside of home.

Vargas’s wider Dominican family would often have debates during gatherings, some which led to fierce disagreements. However, underlying these discussions was love and compassion for one another, a quality that Vargas hopes to carry on through his career of public service.

“We would have large family parties and gatherings that would have tons of debates and conversations that would create some arguments, mostly civil, but debates about the economy about us Latin America relations, interventions, gay marriage, religion… But the thing that I loved the most was that at the end of the day, no matter how much my aunts and uncles argued with each other, once one of my aunts came out and said, ‘¡Ya basta! The food is ready, everybody shut up, and everyone had a meal together at the table,’” said Vargas.

Prior to taking office, Vargas led communication and marketing for Entrepreneurship for All, a nonprofit that fosters inclusive entrepreneurship in communities that need it the most. As representative, he has also taken up a variety of issues such as criminal justice, education, and gun violence prevention, working to ensure that the community is able to provide necessary support for everyone.

William Situ ’22, co-president of the Phillips Academy History Association, organized the event with the Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Office to invite Vargas as a guest speaker. He was inspired by Vargas’ visions for fighting for justice, and how he always strives to make the right decision, even if it isn’t easy.  

“It was a bill that would ban religious exemption to vaccinations in Massachusetts, and I thought that was a really courageous move because there’s only five states in the US who have banned religious exemptions, and it’s not something that’s usually done… he talked about how it’s really important to begin from the grassroots level, begin with civic education and how he personally uses his legislative action to push for a more equitable society,” said Situ. 

Inviting guest speakers and establishing connections with historians, politicians, and librarians have been central to the Phillips Academy History Association, as the club’s mission is to guide Andover students to apply the study of humanities to make tangible impacts in the real world. 

Situ said, “[We] as students need to understand how it’s important to not just talk and think about things, but actually getting it into our hands and start doing something about it. And that can take any form… So a key takeaway I would like the audience to have is seeing the importance of actually doing things to fight injustice.”