Students Rising AboveBy Michelle Griego

(KPIX 5) — There’s a special kind of trauma children separated from a parent can experience, the effects of which sometimes linger for years. Priscilla Cardenas has experienced both heartache and healing as her dad left – and then came back into her life.

Now the 20-year-old college student is thriving and back in the Bay Area from school because of the pandemic, where she appreciates the solitude of her East Bay apartment, as she juggles on-line studies for six classes at Sacramento State.

“I’ve gotten used to it!” said Cardenas. “I went to school with a great positive attitude.”

But the successful sophomore still feels the pain of her father’s alcohol-related incarcerations, the first when she was in middle school.

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“I was confused because I was, you know, younger. I love my dad. I love him a lot,” recalled Cardenas. “So it did hurt. It hurt a lot, not having him by my side.”

Her father would be incarcerated again as he struggled with sobriety. At the same time Cardenas’ mom struggled financially. The family lost their home and moved in with relatives, but her mom kept them all together.

“My mom is literally a superhero,” said Cardenas. “She did keep our family going.”

During this time, Cardenas, her mom and two younger sisters leaned into their faith for comfort.

“I would pray. I would with my mom go to church when I could, attend bible studies when I could,” said Cardenas. “I would just pray for my dad to change.”

Those prayers were heard. Cardenas’ dad is now in recovery, working at a job he loves and reconnected to his daughter.

“I definitely feel like this whole experience did help him,” said Cardenas “And so that’s what brings the compassion.”

The experience brought both compassion and a passion for helping others. Cardenas is studying criminal justice with plans for law school, and later a career as a defense attorney.

“I would see how my dad’s public defender would help him,” recalled Cardenas. “And I found that great. So I was, like, I want to be like that one day. I want to be able to help others, you know. I want to be there for them.”

And Cardenas wants to be there for her family, too. She’s the first in her family to go to college, the fulfillment of her parents’ dream.

“They came here to this country for the American dream,” declared Cardenas. “To have me go to school, finish college, have a career.”