MERIDEN — As our community’s resilient high school seniors wrap up the school year and look toward the future, many are at a loss for words as they reflect on the past. This year was one full of challenges, creative thinking, and adaptability. Seniors have had to be extremely flexible as they learned skills no one would’ve imagined when they entered high school four years ago.
As they close one chapter of their lives and begin an exciting new one, some members of the local Latinx community offered advice to the young scholars.
Dr. Miguel Cardona
The U.S. education secretary is a native of Meriden. He began his career as a fourth-grade teacher at Israel Putnam Elementary School and became the “youngest principal in the state” at age 27. He has been described by those close to him as a kind-hearted leader who treats everyone with respect.
His advice to graduating seniors is as follows: “Enjoy every moment, nothing is ever promised, and believe in yourself and your potential.”
Hector Luis Cardona Jr.
The eighth grade U.S. history teacher at Washington Middle School is the son of Puerto Rican parents who migrated to the mainland for a better life. He served in the Navy before entering teaching two decades ago.
“Every year around this time I am filled with pride at hearing about the milestone in the life of my former students as they graduate from high school,” he wrote. “To them, I give the same advice my parents gave me — Whatever path you choose for yourself after high school, make sure it is one which will make you happy in the long run. Think about what fulfillment and success means to you, and then be resilient as you work for what's yours.”
Alberto is one of the smiling faces you see behind the counter of Frida Restaurant and Grocery on Lewis Avenue. She and husband Jorge Rendon have made many sacrifices throughout the years to make their dream of owning a business a reality.
“Follow your dreams and put in the effort because there are many obstacles in life,” Alberto advised graduating seniors. “Don't give up. If you work hard through school and college you will have a brilliant future.”
Marissa Perez Cardona
Perez Cardona is a family-school liaison team member with Meriden Public Schools, a community organizer at Children First Initiative, a skilled singer and a former Miss Connecticut. Perez Cardona, wife of the U.S. education secretary, has always devoted time to community efforts. In her current jobs, she strives to make families aware of the importance of having well-rounded children who are heavily involved in their schools.
“Be proud of who you are, and don’t ever lose your culture,” she advises graduates. “... always be a kid at heart. If you work hard, if you're involved, and you have strong work ethic you can have even more fun as an adult. ”
He is known to many as “Master Valentin” and runs his martial arts training studios, Valentin Karate. Valentin is also known for his community involvment. He truly believes in the importance of family, and the value in remembering your roots.
To graduating seniors, he emphasized the value in branching out of your hometown, but also always keeping in mind those who helped you get started.
“‘Remember who you are...It’s always great to come back and serve that community and make a difference in the community where you grew up,” he said.
The Wallingford native strives to uplift her community at work and in her everyday life. As program coordinator at the Spanish Community of Wallingford, she organizes vaccine clinics, outreach programs and informational pop-ups.The programs strive to enrich the Latinx Community by focusing on assimilation into American culture while also honoring the diverse cultural identities that come with being Latinx.
As a child of Mexican-American immigrants herself, she feels a special connection with other “children of immigrants.”
To the graduates, López said, “Never stop— Keep going! No matter what is presented in front of you, keep going. Try to find any person who will listen and help you because there are so many people out there who want to see you succeed.”
Francesca Fontánez is a Meriden-based journalist, educator, and creative. A graduate of both the University of New Haven and the University of Bridgeport, she is happy to be back in Meriden writing about the city she loves. When she's not helping out in the English department at Maloney High School, she's either exploring the Eastern seaboard for her lifestyle blog (@ eastsidevibes on Instagram) or working on music for her band, Cessa and The Zach. Email Francesca at eastsidevib email@example.com with tips on what you want to read about next, or just to say hi!