Cardenas, son of an immigrant farm worker, said the lesson his father taught him that day when he was 6 has carried him to election victories in the San Fernando Valley and his position as budget chairman.
He said he tried to impart the lesson to Calexico's youth so they could take advantage of any opportunity presented through working hard at their goals until they are accomplished.
One of the obstacles Cardenas said he faces in coming months is putting together the 2002 California budget.
"I have to manage a budget of more than $100 billion. I have to figure out how to fund education. I have to figure out how to fund important social programs," Cardenas said.
He echoed his father's words.
"The work is not done!"
The audience of youths, Calexico civic leaders and Imperial County representatives listened to the assemblyman as he continued.
"I may be one of the most powerful men in the state, but I am no more important than any of you. The lesson my father taught me is the lesson I want to pass on.
"Do not let anything stop you from getting an education. Never stop working at it," he said. "Give yourself an education. The only person that keeps you from getting it is you. The only person that allows you to get it is you."
Cardenas said his father and mother only had first and second grade educations, respectively, but they passed on life lessons to 11 children that never could have learned such lessons from textbooks.
"Their children went on to become engineers, teachers and congressmen," he said.
Marisol Amador, 24, of Mexicali said she was impressed by the assemblyman's speech.
"He made me believe that there is opportunity. I thought it was very important," she said.
Amador attended the conference as a representative of Centros de Integracion Juvenil of Mexicali.
After the speech she passed out information about drug awareness and ways to avoid becoming addicted to "any substance."
Other groups that took part in the conference were the California Department of Corrections, the Calexico Housing Authority and Radio Bilingue.
As Cardenas walked by each booth shaking hands and posing for pictures, he stopped at the Radio Bilingue booth.
In a live broadcast, he was asked why he was at the conference.
"I came here today because I want to let the youth know the universities belong to them," Cardenas said.
This was a theme he reiterated throughout the day and has been one of his priorities as assemblyman for the 39th District in the San Fernando Valley.
He said he is co-sponsor of a bill that would require the enrollment at state schools to more evenly represent the racial makeup of the state.
After his radio interview, Cardenas joined Calexico Police Chief Tommy Tunson's leadership skills lecture.
Tunson told his audience of 40 young people that leadership means succeeding without making excuses.
He used the examples of the lives of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who later became president, to buttress his argument.
Cardenas spoke to Tunson's class and said the chief was teaching one of the most important lessons they could ever hear.
He said the trait of a true leader is one who quietly goes about his business leading by example.
Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.