Against all odds, Vanessa Morales walked on stage at Florida International University Monday to grab her diploma. During her collegiate career, she experienced hardships after some life-altering changes at home.
Morales says her sophomore year at FIU, her parents got divorced. Her mother moved to Fort Myers with medical issues, so Morales did not want to be a burden and she began struggling to make ends meet.
"I would bounce from friend’s house to friend’s house and then finally I was found one night sleeping in my car," Morales recalled.
A police officer found her sleeping in the car outside the recreation center on campus and connected her with Fostering Panther Pride, which is a program for former foster children and homeless students.
"It was something that I was really embarrassed of and I didn't want to consider myself homeless," Morales said.
Through the program, Morales moved into student housing and finished her degree in Elementary Education.
“I want students to know that no matter what their home life is or no matter what they go through, that they too can reach their goals and dreams," Morales said.
She currently has not one, but three job offers.
“She kept a lot of things private, but then we found out and she actually made us even more proud,” said Morales’ mother Lorene Donato.
The recent grad said she hopes to get a Master’s Degree and to one day open a learning center for at-risk youth.