In a speech that Valedictorian Michael Cruz gave at Goldsboro High School before he graduated, he told fellow foster children they were blessed with a life of greater purpose.
“I have dedicated my life to be a light to those lost in the darkness. I’m asking you guys to join me in redefining what it means to be a foster kid,” Cruz, a former Lutheran Services Carolinas foster care client, told them. “Remember that God puts his strongest soldiers on the frontline because that’s where the toughest battles are. Right now, you have a choice. You can stay a prisoner of your past or the leader of your future.”
Cruz did pull himself out of the darkness, after a childhood that “tough” doesn’t even come close to describing.
On the frontline
Cruz’s foster care journey began when he was 5 years old while he and his mother were living in New York.
“My mother met this guy and he seemed pretty cool at first. He was charismatic and he seemed to be very caring and loving,” Cruz said. “But it all changed in the blink of an eye. He became very malicious and started manipulating us. I was sexually abused, physically abused, and emotionally abused.”
The abuse continued for about 5 years as the family bounced back and forth to different homeless shelters. Cruz said his mom was an alcoholic at the time, and he said she didn’t know the details of the abuse.
When Cruz turned 10, he said the abuse stopped. The family moved to North Carolina and he started dating his first girlfriend, which opened his eyes to the severity of his situation and how what he was experiencing was not normal. He also found out later that his tormentor was sexually abusing his younger siblings.
The family lived together for another 5 years before it all came to a boiling point one day when the man was yelling at Cruz for not agreeing with his political views, which had become more radical over the years.
“He was calling me every name in the book, and I felt like a fire was put in my heart,” Cruz said. “I felt like God gave me the motivation because I never thought about standing up to him before.”
In that moment, Cruz confronted the man about the past sexual abuse. In response, the man began assaulting him. After the man pulled Cruz into the hallway, he managed to get away and run to a neighbor’s house to call the police.
When the police arrived on the scene, Cruz didn’t tell them about the sexual abuse because he was afraid. He was told there wasn’t enough evidence of physical abuse to press charges.
It wasn’t until a week later that Cruz decided to tell his guidance counselor the whole story.
“I felt like we were about to die, like he was going to kill us,” Cruz said. “I walked in the office and I just broke down crying and told them every little detail.”
The man was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Becoming a leader of his future
Since his mom was still going through her recovery process, Cruz and his siblings were put into the foster care system.
He moved around to a few homes, all the while excelling in school.
“School at that time was a way of escaping the problems I was going through,” he said. “I could throw myself into it, and that’s why I flourished academically.”
From December 2020 until he moved into college, Cruz lived with LSC foster parent Debbie Eaddy. She said she was proud to be part of his journey to becoming valedictorian.
“I loved seeing how people admired him at his school for what he’s been through and come through to get to this place,” she said. “He is very persistent. When he sets his mind to do something, he is going to make it happen.”
Cruz is now a freshman at North Carolina State University and says his two passions in life are helping people and studying psychology. He has big dreams to one day establish his own shelter system to support individuals emotionally, financially, and spiritually.
“I’m majoring in psychology. I just love learning about the mind, and then pairing that with my love for helping people,” he said. “I want to be able to understand psychology to the point where I can help other people who are in my situation.”
He says his life right now is in a state of reconstruction. His mom has been sober for two years, and they are working on mending and rekindling their relationship. He is also still very close to Eaddy and often spends the weekends are her home.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Cruz said. “I look at my experience as a blessing rather than a curse because it has shaped who I am today.”