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Kind-hearted Grasso Tech graduate to pursue career as veterinarian

Groton — Ella T. Grasso Technical High School graduate Sarah Cruz Velasquez always had an interest in animals.

She grew up surrounded by pets and was fascinated as a child when she read informational books about cats, dogs, reptiles and other animals.

That interest continued to grow over the years, and she plans to pursue a career as a veterinarian and help animals.

“I’ve always had a lot of compassion for them, so I would like to help other people give them the best life that they can give them and look after their health as well,” Cruz Velasquez said.

Her school said the career is a natural fit for her due to her kind and caring personality.

Cruz Velasquez, 18, plans to complete her first two years of studies at Three Rivers Community College and then transfer to the University of Connecticut’s pre-veterinary program to finish her bachelor's degree. She then would likely go to Tufts University to pursue her career in veterinary medicine.

At Grasso Tech, Cruz Velasquez not only built an academic foundation but also learned a skill she will have to fall back on for a job while in college: hairdressing. She was in the hairdressing shop program at the high school to become a licensed hairdresser.

Cruz Velasquez, who grew up learning Spanish and is bilingual, said she developed her strong work ethic from her parents, who immigrated to the United States from Honduras. The family now lives in Montville.

She grew up in an encouraging environment where her mother would always make sure she prioritized her schoolwork. Her father worked hard to maintain the family’s financial stability and selflessly help Cruz Velasquez have the experiences he did not have as a child, she said.

Since elementary school, Cruz Velasquez said she tried to be as involved in school as she could, doing her personal best and talking with teachers about different ways she could improve her work or contribute to the school environment. In middle school, she continued her strong work ethic and did her best to be involved in more clubs.

In high school, she participated in activities from dog-walking and babysitting to performing in chorus concerts and displaying her art in shows. In her hairdressing shop, she cut people's hair and helped visitors from the senior center by pampering them and styling their hair in whatever fashion they preferred.

She won the Excellence In Cosmetology award during her freshman year and has excelled academically at Grasso Tech. She was among the top students in her senior class.

Damaris Llontop, who taught Cruz Velasquez in honors English II and honors contemporary literature, said she is a well-rounded individual and a role model for others.

"Sarah has a strong work ethic and takes pride in everything she does," Llontop said. "With her determination, positive character, and skills, I am confident Sarah will do well in her future endeavors."

Susan Manning, her junior honors U.S. history and senior honors contemporary issues teacher, said Cruz Velasquez "is bright and thoughtful and can be counted on to approach any task with determination and a positive attitude."

Cruz Velasquez said that while she has learned so much academically and through her trade at Grasso, the relationships she's forged at the school have had the greatest impact on her. She said she tries to be involved with her classmates and help them as much as she can.

She said her oldest sister, Alex Cruz Velasquez, 27, helped her develop the emotional understanding she has of herself and others and helped her become a kind and understanding person. She said both of her sisters are role models, and her 21-year-old sister, who is in the military, is so strong and positive.

Vicki Smallwood, the department head of hairdressing and cosmetology, recalled how Cruz Velasquez's eyes would light up when she'd get calls during the day from her sister.

"She is a kind-hearted soul who cares deeply about those she is close to," Smallwood said. She added that she is compassionate, a hard worker and dependable, and has a pleasant and agreeable personality and a passion for all that she does.

Her family is important to her, and Cruz Velasquez said she loves being able to explore Hispanic culture, going to fun gatherings and enjoying a sense of community.

"I really enjoy it, and I'm really proud that I come from a hardworking family that immigrated here and has been able to pass on that culture to me and hopefully if I ever choose to have kids, I would be able to pass that on to them, teach them and help them learn about very important aspects of being a Latino or Latina," she said.

Her family is also proud of her: “She is incredibly resilient and determined,” said her oldest sister, Alex Cruz Velasquez. “Also, she’s so kind-hearted and like a light.”

Alex Cruz Velasquez said it has been great to see her sister grow up into the person she is today — one who will make a difference in the world by how caring she is and how she does her best to help others. “I just feel like she’s just so good, and the world needs more of that.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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