By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Living in an abusive home, Heather Cardenas was often told she’d never do anything with her life. “And for a long time I believed it,” she said.
She dropped out of school as a teenager, ran away from her troubled home life and ended up married with “beautiful children.” But with the support of her family and friends, Cardenas later wanted to “get healthier, get educated” and do more.
So when she received a flyer from the Excel Center, she went to check the charter school out and decided to give it a chance after Director Joe White asked for just 30 days to show her that the center could help her make a positive change in her life.
Thursday evening, Cardenas shared her story as the Anderson Excel Center’s Class of 2013’s valedictorian during the school’s second graduation ceremony, at City Hall Auditorium.
“I showed all the people who told me I couldn’t do it that I could,” Cardenas said.
Sometimes she wasn’t sure she’d make it, but she added that the school staff supported her through the tough times. Now, she hopes her journey has been an inspiration to her children. “It’s not the end; it’s the beginning” of her next chapter in life, she said.
Attorney and Anderson Community Schools board member Irma Hampton-Stewart was the keynote speaker and told the graduates she was impressed with their “will and strength” to earn diplomas as they’re now “heading in a new, bright direction.”
She shared her own personal story of being divorced by the age of 22 and ending up in the “ghetto” of Muncie as a working single mother. She went on to finish her bachelor’s degree, remarry and, even with a second young child, worked to get her law degree.
“The choices we make write the chapters of our lives,” she told the graduates. “Today you are a hero.”
She asked whether graduates are “ready to write more chapters” and encouraged them to keep progressing.
“What I see out of this group is the next generation of Anderson leaders,” Excel director Joe White said.
Graduate Dylan Snell said he was glad to have developed “amazing relationships.”
“We all come from different stories, different situations and different points in our lives,” he said. And now, there’s no limit to what they can do, he added.
The Excel Center, a tuition-free charter school, offers adults an opportunity to receive their high school diplomas. On Thursday, 36 graduates did so.
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