Photo above: Antonio Cruz’s bedroom walls are covered with family photos, religious and collegiate items as well as stuffed “get well soon” bears. Photo by Bob Sofaly.
By Aileen Goldstein
Antonio Cruz will graduate this May from Beaufort High School.
His grade point average is higher than a 4.0 and he already has his cap and gown.
Like many other graduating seniors, he has plans for the future. He is hoping to attend the Technical College of the Lowcountry and study history.
While all of this sounds normal for a high school senior, what makes Cruz extraordinary is the mere fact that he has accomplished all of this.
Cruz has been wheelchair-bound since elementary school.
At the young age of 5, Cruz was falling more and more. There was something wrong and he was soon diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.
Muscular dystrophy, commonly known as MD, is a group of diseases caused by a genetic disorder that leads to progressive muscle weakness and loss. The disorder tends to affect males more than females and is usually detected in childhood.
There is no cure, and patients use medicine and therapies to slow the progress of the disease and relieve symptoms.
Cruz, however, has never allowed his disease to interfere with his education. In fact, when Cruz’s health declined during his sophomore year, Beaufort High School Principal Corey Murphy remembered vividly the reaction from Cruz. “He never really asked for anything,” Murphy said, “even when his condition progressed and he was not able to do some of the things he did earlier, he was hesitant to ask. Of course we could have changed the standard of what is expected, but he wasn’t having any part of it.”
Due to the increase in illness, the decision was made for Cruz to learn from home as his health was compromised from the germs and threats of the school environment.
Susan Mitchell, an English teacher at Beaufort High School, became his homebound teacher. She goes to his home about three days a week to bring assignments, give tests and collect work to take to school.
She is soft spoken and gentle and over the course of the last three years, the two have created a strong bond.
“It has been so special to me to work one-on-one and see how he has grown intellectually and how he has stayed with education,” she said. “There is such a bond between the two of us. We have really gotten to be good friends. I have learned so much in teaching him.”
Recently, Cruz was celebrated at Beaufort High School as student of the month, an award that recognizes positive character traits within students. During the ceremony, Cruz was also presented with a class ring donated by Herff Jones, the company that sells class rings to schools.
The ring has a stunning green stone representing Cruz’s birth month of August, the Beaufort High School name and a cross, signifying the importance of faith to Cruz.
Cruz wants to be an inspiration and an influence to others. He hopes to guide others, giving people like himself the confidence to be strong and positive.
If the evidence of Cruz’s disease —his bright green electric wheelchair and weak body — was not the first thing one saw when they looked at Cruz, he wishes they could see something else.
Instead, he wishes they could see “a person that is really positive and tries hard at everything he does.”
That is the essence of Antonio Cruz.
Cruz does not know specifically what he wants to do after high school as he has several areas of interest such as becoming a history teacher. He is also very interested in human rights.
As the son of a Mexican immigrant, Cruz hopes to bring awareness to immigration issues.
“They send people back to where they are from, but they come here to have a better life and work,” he said.
Cruz also happens to be a talented artist, drawing things around him that he sees.
“I like to draw and I’m actually pretty good at it,” he said. There is a binder in his room where he keeps the pictures he sketches.
Cruz is excited about graduating. A recent doctor’s visit revealed his health is the best it has been. Cruz has a lot to look forward to and his positive attitude will help him go where he wants to go.
When asked for advice he would give to someone recently diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, Cruz said, “Everything will be OK and to keep trying.”
According to Murphy, Cruz is profile of courage and an inspiration. “Antonio never quits.”