Eddy Cruz says with a bit of hyperbole that he had to do his homework twice every night.
The Mott Haven teen said his tears of frustration from dealing with a drug addicted parent at home, would fade the ink on his homework and he would have to re-do it.
As a student who lives below the poverty line, Cruz has had a number of hurdles to overcome, but perhaps all of his hard work is finally paying off.
The Cardinal Hayes High School senior is one this year’s class of eight graduating seniors who have won New York Times College Scholarships.
They will each receive up to $7,500 in aid per year at the college of their choice, a summer internship at The Times and mentoring from Times employees and former scholars.
Since the program’s start in 1999, 235 Times scholars have gone on to college and careers in fields such as medicine, law, finance and teaching.
Each applicant is required to write an essay on an issue that has effected them during their years in high school. Finalists are called back for an interview.
Cruz was hand picked from about 450 applicants. Like the seven other 2013 Times scholars, he is a survivor. Some have lost parents, some were abandoned, while others struggle to help their parents make ends meet.
Cruz has come face to face with the evils of addiction.
“My first essay was about my father’s addiction and how it effected me throughout high school,” Cruz recalled, talking about the essay that advanced him as a semi-finalist in the contest. “Instead of me giving up, it was a motivational factor. I just kept thinking, ‘I don’t want to be like that.’ I kept thinking, ‘I had to do this for my mom, she deserves better.’”
Cruz said when he began the application process, he was not confident he would be considered for advancement.
“I told one of my teachers who was helping me ‘my story isn’t good enough’ and he said ‘what do you mean? It’s your story, it’s what you went through,’” Cruz said.
Winning the scholarship means “everything,”, he said.
“I can’t describe the feeling in one sentence,” he said. “When I told my mom, she started crying, she hugged me and whispered in my ear ‘we finally did it.’ After all we’ve been through over the years, it was something to kind of undo all the bad in the past. It’s incredible.”
Throughout high school, Cruz has had support from the Student Sponsor Partners program, providing students from families living below the poverty line with four years of college prep education.
The program also pairs students with mentors, primarily the financial services industry executives who fund the program.
Cruz’s mentor Kevin Hammond, a managing director at JLL Partners, said he can’t say enough about Cruz.
“He has a lot of integrity, he’s honest, very well spoken and very humble despite his academic performance,” Hammond said. “He’s a pretty unassuming, genuinely nice kid. He’s one of these young men that is universally liked by his classmates.”
As a freshman, Cruz said he started with basic-level courses, but today is enrolled in all advanced placement and honors classes. He has maintained a 95 percent grade point average and has been ranked second in his class since his freshman year.
“My mom is so excited for my next chapter in college, where I plan to study pre-med,” Cruz said. “The support from my family, friends and mentor has been tremendous.”
Kirsten Sanchez can be reach via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 742-3394