NAPLES, Fla. – Edison State College and its Collier Campus will host the 62nd annual Association of Florida Colleges Convention on Oct. 26-28 at the Naples Grande Resort.
The AFC convention brings educators from throughout the state together for a variety of seminars, workshops, exhibits and the annual LeRoy Collins Distinguished Alumni Award Reception. Edison State alumnus Maria Cardenas will be honored during Thursday evening’s ceremony with the Against the Odds award.
Florida colleges can nominate one alumnus for each of the four categories of the prestigious LeRoy Collins Award – Lifetime Achievement, Rising Star, Against the Odds and Hometown Hero.
“Maria embodies the true spirit of education and is a wonderful representative for Edison State College,” said District President Dr. Kenneth Walker. “I think her story from being migrant child worker and high school dropout to college graduate and inspirational educator is simply remarkable. Maria is a shining example of what is possible with hard work and determination. She is certainly deserving of the LeRoy College Distinguished Alumni Award.”
Cardenas, a third-grade teacher at Orange River Elementary, was born the second of eight children in San Luis, Mexico. Then seven, she moved with her family to the United States in hopes of better opportunities. But her migrant parents spoke no English and the family traveled the country in the back of a pickup truck chasing work.
“In a migrant camp, like everywhere, you have an upper class and a lower class. If your father was the crew leader – the boss man – you were the rich kids. You had new clothes sometimes you even got to go to the movies,” Cardenas said. “If your dad was an okay guy who worked hard, you were in the middle class. But if your dad was the camp drunk, you were the bottom of the barrel. That was us: the trash of the trash.”
With few chances to study or seek out opportunities, Cardenas eventually dropped out of school in the tenth grade, was married, moved from Florida to Oklahoma and gave birth to a daughter.
Years of abuse followed before Cardenas fled the marriage and returned to Florida with her daughter. Dreams of becoming a college graduate seemed impossible, even foolish to some. But Cardenas taught herself to read and eventually passed the GED exam and was the recipient of Edison’s HOPE Scholarship program.
Cardenas went on to earn an Associate’s Degree from Edison State in 1999 despite scoring at a 10th-grade level on college placement tests. She transferred to Florida Gulf Coast University to complete her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education.
A role model to others facing tough obstacles, Cardenas’ unbridled confidence and determination empowers her students every day to dream big and not be afraid to take risks. Each year her students visit Edison’s Fort Myers campus and current HOPE scholars often visit her classroom.
“Even if you grew up in poverty, there are still chances to change it through education,” Cardenas said. “If I did it, you can do it.”
For the AFC Convention schedule of events please visit www.myafchome.org.
For more information about Edison State College please visit www.edison.edu or call 800-749-2322.
Celebrating nearly 50 years of excellence, Edison State College is Southwest Florida’s largest, most accessible and most affordable institution of higher education. Proud to be tobacco-free, Edison State serves more than 25,000 students per year in five counties and online. For more information please visit www.edison.edu.
For media inquiries contact Teresa Morgenstern at 239-433-6922 or Teresa.Morgenstern@edison.edu.