With passion for writing and immigrant rights, Marine Science Magnet senior off to Williams College

Marine Science Magnet High School senior Kenia Cruz poses for a photo in the school's commons Friday, June 1, 2018. Cruz will attend Williams College in the fall.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Marine Science Magnet High School senior Kenia Cruz poses for a photo in the school's commons Friday, June 1, 2018. Cruz will attend Williams College in the fall. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Groton — Williams College has an acceptance rate of 15 percent, according to The College Board, but Kenia Cruz didn't initially understand the significance of her acceptance.

She said Principal Nicholas Spera essentially asked her, "This is a big deal; why are you not jumping up and down?"

Nobody in her family knew what a good college was, and Cruz hadn't visited Williams before applying. She applied there on a whim because it's the alma mater of Amanda Mann, her English teacher who has been one of her favorites at Marine Science Magnet High School.

"I like that I figure things out on my own," she said.

As a soon-to-be first-generation college student from a low-income household — Cruz lives with eight family members in a three-bedroom house, one she wouldn't let others in for a long time — she has faced her share of hurdles.

But between her personal drive and the natural fit she found at Marine Science Magnet, she hasn't let those hurdles slow her down.

Jonny Cruz, 15, said his sister has taught him, "It doesn't really matter where you come from, that not having enough money isn't an issue, because she can still excel in school."

Personal experiences breed passion for immigration issues

Kenia Cruz grew up in Groton but that wasn't the case for her mother, who immigrated to the United States from El Salvador with her sisters in 1997. She said that after the civil war and a devastating earthquake, the country just wasn't stable.

Cruz helped her aunt get her GED, and she likes providing her services for translation — especially considering how nervous many are to ask.

"I'll take on the stress if it means helping somebody else out," she said.

Also adding to her stress is her mother's immigration status. As a national of El Salvador, Maria Guardado has Temporary Protected Status, a designation "due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country's nationals from returning safely," according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

But in January, the Trump administration announced that TPS will end for immigrants from El Salvador, effective September 2019. A U.S. citizen over age 21 can petition for a parent, but Cruz' oldest sibling is only 19.

"We don't know what we're going to do in a year and a half," Cruz said. She added, "It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one experiencing this, and don't take things for granted. Go out and live the American dream."

All of this has made Cruz passionate about immigration rights. She wants to volunteer at the immigrant center at Williams, where she intends to study political science and American studies.

"I love speaking about humanities and having those deep discussions, and doing something about it," she said.

Cruz's lifelong interest in writing, and her love of analyzing topics at hand, have made her want to become a newspaper reporter. She is interested in focusing on immigration, policy or culture.

Leading a busy life at Marine Science Magnet and beyond

In high school, Cruz was a coxswain, a steersman, for the crew team — "I had a really loud voice," she commented — and is on the fencing team.

"When I first saw it, you don't know what's going on because it goes so fast," she said of fencing, adding, "It's a lot of strategizing in the moment and being spontaneous."

Cruz also has been involved with the National Honor Society, photography club, debate team and yearbook. Debate taught her that arguing doesn't have to be heated, and it taught her about choosing her words wisely.

Cruz has taken Advanced Placement courses in English language and composition, English literature and composition, U.S. history, psychology, human geography, chemistry and statistics, along with Early College Experience classes through the University of Connecticut in horticulture, world maritime history and American studies.

"She is a true intellectual, so she is genuinely interested in ideas, and is genuinely always looking for ways to make connections between different ideas and across disciplines," said Mann, who taught Cruz for both AP English classes. "She's a thinker and she's a person who cares deeply about the world."

Mann said some of Cruz's best writings have been essays, and that she's written powerfully about identity, duality and immigration.

Outside of school, Cruz works an average of about 10 hours a week between her two Crystal Mall jobs at American Eagle and Payless.

e.moser@theday.com

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