Ros-Lehtinen broke barriers in Florida politics, fought to improve education for millions

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was born on July 15, 1952 in Havana, Cuba, where she was raised until the age of 8. She and her family escaped Cuba, which at the time was under the control of dictator Fidel Castro. From there, they settled down in Miami, Fla, and Lehtinen spent the rest of her childhood years there. She received her Associate of Arts Degree at Miami-Dade Community College in 1972, and from there went on to Florida International University. There, she received both her bachelor’s degree and her master’s degree, and then ultimately completed her schooling with a PhD in Education from the University of Miami in 2004. 

She went on to become a teacher and eventually the principal of Eastern Academy in Hialeah, Fla. She was always very passionate about reforming the education system, and the parents of her students encouraged her to seek public office. She was elected as member of the Florida House of Representatives in 1982, and eventually for senate in 1986. She is the first Hispanic woman to serve in either body. During her time in these positions, she introduced the Florida Prepaid College program, which helped students cover their tuition for schooling. This program helped send over 1 million children to college. 

In 1989, Lehtinen made history once again by being the first ever Hispanic woman to be elected to Congress. Breaking one barrier after the next, Lehtinen could not be stopped. While today she is no longer a member of Congress, she still continues to fight for what she believes in. Not only does she still do everything in her power to improve the quality of education for children all over the world, but she has also been a huge advocate for helping women who are victims of domestic abuse. She was a lead supporter of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides resources to prosecute those who have committed acts of violence toward women.

What Lehtinen has done takes a lot of courage and determination to do, and despite the adversities she faced along the way she overcame them and continued to move forward. Her efforts have greatly shaped the United States into what it is today, and only the future will tell what other great things she will go on to accomplish.

— Curtis Lindgren, Photo Director & Staff Writer