Today, young women look to almost every sector of our society — art, business, technology, health, education and, yes, even politics — and see a world full of possibilities. They see female doctors, lawyers, members of Congress, CEOs and others who have led the way and set an example for women to succeed. No ceiling is too high for women today.
As an unwitting “first,” I know our job is to secure the path forward for young women. When I was first elected to Congress, I didn’t know that I had become the first Hispanic woman. It wasn’t my goal to be the first because surely, I thought, there must have been more.
As a young refugee from Cuba, I could hardly imagine I’d have the honor of serving our nation. Before my public service, I had the equally great honor of being a Florida certified teacher. My family always valued education, and that passion imbued itself in me.
Education allowed me to learn English, become a teacher and establish a small private school with my parents. Standing at the front of the classroom, I saw so many young women who were captivated by the words in their books and the possibilities those words represented.
In the Florida legislature, I sponsored the bill for the Florida Prepaid College Tuition Program so that families could afford the cost of college over the long term and send their children to a Florida public college or university of their choice. When I ran for Congress, I ran in part for those young girls who were sitting at their desks dreaming of the future. It’s also why I’ve worked so hard to ensure that young women in our country can access the resources they need to succeed.
In Congress, I’ve worked to strengthen early education through the Head Start program and increase the availability of financial aid for those students who need help paying the cost of their education. We are blessed to live in a country where the sky is the limit; however, there are places around the world where young women don’t have access to the same kind of educational opportunities available in the United States. I authored legislation aimed at increasing the amount of merit-based scholarships available for young women in Pakistan. I’m proud to have sponsored this bill, since we must do more to educate young women around the world.
Education has been a continuing passion for me, and in 2004 I earned my doctoral degree from the University of Miami. I hope this serves as an example to women, who can see there is no age limit to achieving your goals.
Throughout the years, so many future leaders have passed through both internship programs in my Miami and Capitol Hill offices, where my staff and I work hard to mentor those who will one day be making decisions in our country. Many of these young women have gone on to become successful professionals in business, politics and the law.
As the first Hispanic woman elected to the Florida House, the Florida Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, I’m so proud that many have followed me in each of these halls of democracy. While I expect that the number of women in government and leading any venture they put their mind to will continue to increase in the coming years, we must be sure to give them the tools they need. No matter your background, it all leads back to education. With enough knowledge, anything is possible.
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