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Against All Odds: Five Latinas obtain degrees in honor of their father

By Araceli Cardenas

This is an open letter to my father, Lazaro Cardenas.

During graduation, there’s always one story or personal journey that encompasses the effort and sacrifice of what graduating with a degree truly represents. It’s never easy because earning a degree requires discipline, courage, perseverance, hard-work, determination and commitment. In some cases, it takes one special person to go beyond the classroom and inspire you to finish against all odds!

This is the case of my father, whose love and guidance inspired his five daughters to earn a degree. Here’s our story!

My youngest sister Nancy graduated from the University of Texas at Brownsville with a Bachelor’s degree in Human & Health Performance on December 19th, 2009. Her accomplishment fulfils my father’s desire and dream to see her graduate in a small town where greater importance was given to raising a family, service to others and devotion to religion versus the pursuit of personal accomplishment and higher education. All equally important however prioritized differently growing up in a traditional home where Eulalia, my mother’s strong Mexican roots governed how her five daughters would be raised.

What makes Nancy’s accomplishment remarkable is that prior to this day my father had witnessed the beginning of his dream come true when he quietly cheered and encouraged his four other daughters to do the same. He did so, leading by example. My father was able to obtain his own law degree from Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law when Latino students were few and far between. He always felt that his own accomplishment was in large part because of his service in the U.S. Air Force, which in turn had given him the financial assistance to attend; and his own father, who felt that the only way out of seasonal migrant work was a degree. So early on, my father allowed my mother to do her part while he secretly pushed and stressed the importance of higher education by guiding each one of his daughters to attend and cross the finish line with a degree.

My father felt this was the only way to succeed in America! So we did, even though there were times when each one of us wanted to quit; we knew that the idea of “throwing in the towel” would be unacceptable. This included my older sisters who juggled their family and job responsibilities in order to find the time to finish what they had started.

Unfortunately, parents are never awarded for their efforts nor are they recognized at any special ceremony. Instead, they watch from a distance with pride as their son or daughter is rewarded. And, they’re hoping that along the way, they did everything they could to help.

So today, on Nancy’s graduation, I’d like to first congratulate my little sister who has the honor to be the last one to make my father’s dream come true. Congratulations Nancy your hard work truly paid off! We’re extremely proud of you. You went on to finish when most would have abandoned the course due to the many times life threw you off course! Not only did you finish, you finished strong by making the Dean’s List! You can’t imagine how proud we all are!

And secondly, I’d like to applaud my father’s leadership who on graduation day will be watching from up above and will feel that his personal sacrifice to guide his family to victory was well worth it!

Dad, you can finally rest in peace, Nancy has carried your torch to the finish line! She fulfilled your dream to have your five daughters all have a degree! You’re the reason we finished. You’re the person behind the degrees — three Masters and two Bachelors. You’re the one whose love and guidance helped each one of us! So on this day, if we could find a way to thank you for the many nights you kept us company while we studied or the many times you helped us understand what we were studying especially when it came to politics and government, or when you bought us every possible book and study aid to help us pass subjects like biology or math.

On this very special day, we the Cardenas Sisters proudly dedicate our degrees that bear your last name in your loving memory. Words only scratch the surface of how much we love and miss you!

Love, your daughters, Adelaida, Alma, Martha, Araceli and Nancy