MODESTO -- Getting up at 6 a.m. on Saturday was not an easy task for Vicky González, but her education was more important.
González, 14, a freshman at Stockton's Edison High School, joined 600 other high school and community college students during the 25th annual Hispanic Education Conference held Modesto Junior College.
"I have found this conference very interesting, and getting up early was all worth it," González said.
She was not alone.
Many students participating at the all-day event said they skipped sleeping in because they wanted to see what the conference was all about.
"I think this is really nice," Davis High School sophomore Alex Cervantes said. "They offer a lot of information about what you want to do with your future."
Cervantes, 15, likes cars and would like to find a career that focuses on that area.
Students from high schools as far away as Patterson and Manteca gathered to hear Latino professionals talk about their careers and the many options the students have available to them.
Patterson High School sophomore Marisol Vázquez said the conference was a great source of information.
"I got a lot of information about careers you can go into," she said. "I had a lot of questions and got many answers."
One of two morning keynote speakers was Juan Álvarez, founder of the Hispanic Education Conference, who emphasized leadership.
"You are the Latino role models, and you are the leaders of tomorrow," Álvarez told the crowd. "We want you to be back in six years from now and be the presenters at this conference."
Álvarez pointed out he feels proud that more than 20,000 students have attended the conference since its inception in 1984.
"The idea behind the conference was to encourage students that there is life after high school," he said. "I think we've made a dent in education. We've made a difference."
The other guest speaker, artist David Garibaldi, energized the crowd as he showed his artistic talent onstage. In a matter of minutes and to the beat of music, he created portraits of Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, Cesar Chavez and Albert Einstein to the amazement of everyone.
"I used to do larger and faster paintings than this, but it was graffiti, and it was illegal," he said.
The crowd responded with laughter.
Garibaldi's show, 'Rhythm and Hue,' has taken him all over the world. In the past four years, his work with nonprofit organizations has helped raise $400,000 for their causes. His goal is to raise $1 million by the time he turns 30.
"I use 'Rhythm and Hue' as a platform to inspire lives, and that is the reason I do this," said Garibaldi, 26, who has lived in Sacramento for many years. "Today, I tell you we're always on a journey of self-discovery. I guarantee there is one thing you are passionate about. At this Hispanic Education Conference, you have an opportunity to start this journey, to discover that passion."
Garibaldi's motivational words and artistic talent earned a standing ovation and the admiration of students such as Johansen High School freshman Giovani Capistrano.
"The painter was really good," Capistrano said. "He has a lot of talent."
Capistrano said he found the educational conference useful and that he wants to pursue a career as an immigration lawyer.
"I don't like it when I see children torn apart from their parents because of their immigration status," Capistrano said. "I want to be able to help."
Claudia Ramírez, chairwoman of the Hispanic Education Conference committee, said she was very happy with the outcome of the event.
"It's great to see many community members involved in this conference," she said. "We invite everybody to be a part of this."
California Highway Patrol officers John Martínez and Alberto Reyes led one of the workshops. The CHP has participated in the conference for 15 years, Martínez said.
"I enjoy this because I see students come back two or three years after attending this workshop and are now in law enforcement," said Martínez, whose parents are originally from Guanajuato and Monterrey, Nuevo León, México. "It's satisfying to see students absorb information because they are going to pursue this career."
Officer Martínez's words made a difference for Armando Reyes, a freshman at Riverbank High School.
"My plans were to become a lawyer, but this conference has inspired me to become a California Highway Patrol officer," Reyes said. "I will make it."
For Balvino Irizarry, business owner and president of the Hispanic Leadership Council, being a workshop presenter at the conference was a positive experience.
"We need to mentor, pass the baton and feed the next generation with our knowledge," he said.
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