David Cruz has a straightforward message he delivered Friday to fellow graduates at Marvin Ridge High: Despite hard times in life, appreciate what you have and make the best of every situation.
Cruz, the class president, certainly does.
He has cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that starts in infancy or early childhood and affects body movement and muscle coordination.
It slows his speech and requires him to have a full-time aide during school to help with physical activities, including taking notes. When there’s a test, Cruz has to dictate all the answers for his aide to write down.
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“It was difficult, but I did what I needed to do,” Cruz said. “I gave it my all.”
Cerebral palsy has nothing to do with Cruz’s ability to learn, said his mother, Maribel. Cruz has tackled a demanding course load, including AP classes, in addition to remaining busy with school activities.
Cruz said he wasn’t trying to beef up his college resume. He did it for himself, to participate as best he can.
He has been class president for three years. He takes pictures for the yearbook. And he started a club called “Helping Hands” that encourages special needs students to get involved in a group where they could be the ones giving back to the community. That included volunteering at a fundraiser for Easter Seals United Cerebral Palsy.
Sometimes, Maribel Cruz said, his teachers doubted his abilities. Then they got to know him.
Jonathan Golden, Cruz’s 11th grade AP English language and composition teacher, said Cruz never asked for special treatment, frequently participated in class and did the same work as everyone else.
He described Cruz as gregarious, with a great sense of humor. “You’ll be hard-pressed to find David when he’s not smiling,” Golden said.
He called Cruz the most inspiring student he’s encountered in his two decades of teaching.
Golden especially marveled at Cruz’s concentration in taking the AP English exam, where he was allowed to take twice as long as the exam normally lasts. Cruz spent 61/2 hours over two days communicating every answer to his aide.
Debbie Every, Cruz’s AP English teacher this year, echoed Golden’s assessment.
In an email interview, she called Cruz a class act and someone who has “an incredible amount of patience and kindness” toward people who underestimate him. “David Cruz has a beautiful, mischievous spirit that I hope to keep as a part of my life.”
Cruz will attend UNC Charlotte in the fall and hopes to eventually transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill. He’ll study computer science with a goal of improving how people with disabilities interact with computer equipment.
For fun, Cruz likes to watch TV. Lots of it. “People sometimes call me inspirational, and I kind of laugh at that ... because they don’t see me lying on the couch all day watching ‘Criminal Minds’ or playing soccer on the PlayStation.”
His father, Raúl, said his son seizes every chance to get involved with soccer. At Marvin Ridge, Cruz was the manager for the boys soccer team.
Grateful for support
With graduation looming, the Cruzes spoke of how proud they are of their son. And how grateful they are to all the people who have helped him over the years, including teachers, aides, doctors and speech and occupational therapists. David’s three siblings have been very supportive too.
There’s another message David Cruz wants to share.
People with cerebral palsy do not want to be treated differently than anyone else. Then he flashes one of his frequent smiles and says: “That’s what I like about my best friends. They don’t see me as any different” than them.
One last message.
On his Twitter page, Cruz describes himself this way: “I let my spirit tell my body what I’m going to do because if I let my body tell my spirit, I’m not going to do much.” Above the quote is a picture of him, grinning, his face and T-shirt covered in paint from a paint fight. Just another typical teenager.
About this series
The Observer asked readers and school leaders for suggestions of standout graduates, students who illustrate a range of accomplishments, including some who overcame significant obstacles.