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Student reshapes his life

Samuel Cruz knows what it’s like to grow up without money for food, without encouragement from adults, without a plan for the future. That’s why he’s so passionate about helping troubled teenagers.

These days, Cruz, 32, is a Binghamton University student looking forward to receiving two bachelor’s degrees: one in psychology this spring and another in nursing in 2007. His wife gave birth to their first child in June. But his family, academic and professional expectations were once radically different.

Cruz spent part of his childhood with his drug-addicted parents in Brooklyn, then moved in with his grandparents on Long Island. “Your head gets filled with anger quickly because all you see is violence,” he said. “I didn’t concentrate on textbooks. I didn’t do any reading or homework.”

After high school, Cruz worked as a driver. Seeing his brother-in-law graduate from college inspired Cruz to return to school. He left a $70,000-a-year position with United Parcel Service when he started taking classes at Suffolk County Community College in 2001. “I didn’t want a job,” Cruz said. “I wanted a career.”

Cruz transferred to Binghamton in fall 2004 and has been working with the Johnson City Mentor Program ever since. He said he tries to encourage young people in the middle school to dream bigger dreams and take good care of themselves and each other.

“To me it’s like saving myself,” he said. “I’m the person I wish I had had.” His involvement with those children and with the Educational Opportunity Program has given extra meaning to his time in Bing-hamton, said Cruz, who is Puerto Rican.

Tanya Robinson, internship director for Off Campus College, said she often talks about Cruz as a role model for young men of color. Not only is he in his third semester as a mentor in Johnson City, she said, he has chosen to work with two students rather than one this semester.

“He is so extraordinarily devoted to his daughter — it’s wonderful,” Robinson said. “On top of that he’s a great student. For him to reshape his life the way he did, it’s incredible.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08