Getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday was not easy 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 at the 25th Annual Hispanic Education Conference at Modesto Junior College.
"I have found this conference very interesting, and getting up early was all worth it," Vicky said.
She was not alone.
Many of the students at the all-day event said they skipped sleeping-in because they wanted to see what the conference was about.
"I think this is really nice. They offer a lot of information about what you want to do with your future," said Davis High School sophomore Alex Cervantes.
Alex, 15, likes cars and would like to find a career that focuses on them.
Students from high schools as far away as Patterson and Manteca came to hear Latino professionals talk about their careers and the many options available to them.
One of two morning keynote speakers was Juan Álvarez, founder of the education conference, who emphasized leadership.
"You are the Latino role models," Álvarez told the crowd, "and you are the leaders of tomorrow. We want you to be back in six years from now and be the presenters at this conference."
Álvarez said 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. I think we've made a dent in education; we've made a difference," he said.
The other guest speaker, artist David Garibaldi, energized the crowd with artistry. In a matter of minutes and to the beat of music, he created portraits of Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, César Chávez 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.
His show, "Rhythm and Hue," has taken him all over the world. Over four years, his work with nonprofit organizations has helped raise $400,000 for their causes. The 26-year-old's 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," Garibaldi said.
"Today, I tell you we're always on a journey of self-discovery. I guarantee there is one thing you are passionate about," he said. "At this Hispanic Education Conference you have an opportunity to start this journey, to discover that passion."
His words and his works were received with a standing ovation.
"The painter was really good. He has a lot of talent," Johansen High School freshman Giovani Capistrano said.
Giovani said he wants 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," Giovani said. "I want to be able to help."
Claudia Ramírez, chairman of the Hispanic Education Conference committee, said she was very happy with the event.
"It's great to see many community members involved in this conference. We invite everybody to be a part of this," she said.
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 from Guanajuato and Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico.
"It's satisfying to see students absorb information because they are going to pursue this career," he said.
For Balvino Irizarry, business owner and president of the Hispanic Leadership Council, being a workshop presenter has been a positive experience.
"We need to mentor, pass the baton and feed the next generation with our knowledge," he said.
Olivia Ruiz, managing editor of Vida en el Valle, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.