Just 22 years old, Bianca Maderal has battled brain cancer the last four years.
When she was 18, she was diagnosed with one of the rarest and most aggressive forms of brain cancer, typically found in 30-to-50-year-olds. Doctors found eight tumors in her brain. Determined not to be afraid of cancer, she completed high school and graduated from Miami Dade College. She accomplished all of this while undergoing cancer treatment and along the way created Fight Like a Kid, a nonprofit through which Maderal sends care packages to hospitals with pediatric cancer units, while organizing fundraisers for research and clinical trials. She also hosts local parties for patients in the hospital and organizes toy drives.
Today, seven of Maderal’s eight tumors are gone. On Sunday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m., Maderal will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, with a 3.9 GPA, and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and other honor societies. She hopes to one day be a pediatric oncologist to help children with cancer.
“I was assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved,” Maderal said. “In my eyes, it’s cancer’s turn to be afraid.”
Maderal is one of 5,728 FIU students who are graduating this fall, making this the largest graduation in FIU history. FIU will hold 10 commencement ceremoniesto celebrate their accomplishments, from Dec. 14 - 17 at FIU’s Ocean Bank Convocation Center, 11200 SW 8th St. in West Miami-Dade.
“Students like Bianca inspire us,” said FIU President Mark B. Rosenberg. “This class is full of visionaries and hard workers who take advantage of opportunities to improve their lives and leave the world a better place than they found it.”
Maderal is among 30 Worlds Ahead Graduates who will be recognized for excelling academically, making a difference and overcoming obstacles. Among the standout World Ahead Graduates this fall:
- Jessica Mobassaleh’s older brother died suddenly at the age of 23 from heart disease that doctors had insisted was benign. Mobassaleh and her family then partnered with the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital Foundation to offer free pediatric electrocardiogram testing to prevent this from happening to others. The foundation also created a medical symposium to educate professionals and raise funds and was selected to be a part of the World Congress of Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery in Washington, D.C. in 2021. With the help of the foundation, Mobassaleh has also reached out to local schools to educate staff and ensure there are plans in place for students and athletes in case of an emergency. She graduates on Monday, Dec. 16 at 10 a.m.with an MBA from FIU Business.
- Cristina Moguel was working as a bartender to help pay for her undergraduate studies as her family’s bakery – El Brazo Fuerte – struggled. That’s when she realized she should pursue a master’s degree in hospitality. During her studies, she gave birth to her eldest son, who was diagnosed with autism, and she juggled providing special care for her son, school and other commitments. She used what she learned to help turn her family’s bakery around and plans to shift its business model from a commissary bakery to a chain of storefront bakeries throughout South Florida. She will graduate from the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management on Monday, Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
- Linda Armstrong grew up in a single parent household with nine siblings, some of them foster siblings. Her father only completed the second grade, but he instilled in her the importance of education. He died when Armstrong was 16, sending her on a downward spiral, including an attempted suicide. She later turned her life around and decided to study social work. An unemployed single mother of an autistic son, Armstrong completed her degree with the help of several grants such as the Braman Family Completion Scholarship. She graduates on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 10 a.m.with a bachelor’s degree in social work from the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work and will soon pursue a master’s in social work at FIU.
The graduation ceremonies will also feature the following commencement speakers:
- Amy Alexy, vice president of global talent at Royal Caribbean Cruises, on Saturday,Dec. 14 at 3 p.m.
- Darlene Jordan, member of the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida, on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m.
The following individuals will be honored during commencement:
- Charles “Chipper” Wichman, president of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, who will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 10 a.m.
- Yesim Darici, director of the FIU Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, physics professor and assistant provost of STEM, will be awarded an FIU Medallion for University Service on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m.