Like many of her peers at the December Commencement ceremony at South Florida State College, Edith Andrade will be proud when she crosses the stage later this month and receives her Associate in Arts degree.

Edith Andrade at her DeSoto County High School graduation.

Edith Andrade at her DeSoto County High School graduation.

“I know I’ll feel great on that day,” Andrade said. “But I know my Mom will be super proud and happy too, and that makes me feel even better.”

Unlike many of her peers, she can relish the moment, knowing she takes the walk after surmounting hurdles that were stumbling blocks to many others like Andrade.

For Andrade, the rhythm of her life departed from the norm most teenagers come to know.

During summers, when other high schoolers were at play, away at camp, or preparing for college, Andrade traveled with her mother and siblings to Michigan, New Jersey, and North Carolina to pick blueberries, apples, and other fruits for tables across America.

“By the time we finished the season up north, we wouldn’t get home until October,” Andrade recalled. “By then, classes were underway, and we were just getting back to school at home.”

Andrade calls DeSoto County home. She was born in Arcadia, the county seat, to a family of migrant farmworkers. They work in the agriculture industry, the main driver of the rural county’s economy, but make the trek north each June to earn money when work dries up in the summer.

“Yes, getting back to our home school in Arcadia late in the year was a difficult adjustment,” Andrade said when asked to recall her high school years. She only briefly mentioned the summers picking fruit and never the absence of the usual leisure enjoyed by others.

“My mother, who never finished school, knew one thing was essential,” Andrade said. “Earning a high school diploma was required, so she went north and left me with relatives during my senior year so that I could start classes with everyone else and have an uninterrupted schoolyear.”

Andrade finished high school—the first in her family to earn a diploma.

“At the beginning of my senior year at DeSoto County High School, I had no plans to start college right after graduation,” Andrade said. “But I got involved with a group called Links 2 Success, and they encouraged me to apply to SFSC and think hard about my options for continuing my education without interruption.”

Now, just days away from getting a two-year degree, Andrade said she’s glad she made the decision to enroll in SFSC directly from high school. “I don’t have a car and couldn’t afford to go away to a university, so having an SFSC campus in Arcadia is what made my degree possible,” Andrade said.

When Andrade entered SFSC, a counselor was available to offer guidance and support tailored to her needs. SFSC is one of dozens of colleges across the county that participate in the Farmworker Career Development Program (FCDP). The federally funded initiative aims to assist U.S. citizens and other legal residents complete their education and find success in the workforce.

“When she came to us, I remember Edith as a shy and reserved young women,” said Minerva Ortiz, a counselor with the FCDP at SFSC’s DeSoto Campus. “She has blossomed and is now putting herself out there in the high schools helping others to think hard about starting college as soon as they graduate.”

“I remembered the guidance I received from the folks from Links 2 Success and decided to volunteer my time with them,” Andrade said. “Now I serve as one of their college coaches in the DeSoto County High School, helping students to complete their college applications and guiding them toward sources of financial aid.”

This fall, Andrade will enroll in SFSC’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management program.

“Education is the one great hope for the young people in our farmworker program,” said Tara Jefferies, the coordinator of the FCDP, who oversees the program at SFSC’s DeSoto, Hardee, and Highlands campuses. “They come in determined to complete college or an occupational certificate program because they’ve experienced life as a farmworker and they want better for their kids.”

“What’s striking is Edith’s genuine sense of humility,” Jefferies observed. “She doesn’t dwell on the past but just keeps focused on the future.”

Andrade speaks little of herself. In conversation about her time at SFSC, she mentions those who have prodded her along and made her feel welcome on campus.

“The staff at DeSoto Campus were great,” she said. “From the ladies in the front office, my counselor, and the instructors, they made being on campus a pleasure.”

Andrade said her mother, younger sister and two brothers, will take their seats in the Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on SFSC’s Highlands Campus to watch her cross the stage on Wednesday, Dec. 15, at 6:45 p.m.

She said she wants her siblings to cherish the moment as much as she will. Asked what she wants others to know about her journey to the stage that night, Andrade paused and seemed puzzled.

“I guess I’m just like everyone else,” Andrade said. “I’m just furthering my education for a better future.”