From dream to career: Arcadia’s Manny Cruz to be first-generation graduate from WTC

Cruz dedicated himself to hard work long before his college career, and he did it for his family

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Roughly 1,100 students at Western Technical College in La Crosse will cross the graduation stage this weekend.

Receiving a diploma is a huge milestone in itself, but even more so for first-generation college students. It takes several parts to build something useful. Arcadia’s Manny Cruz and his colleagues are learning how to become part of a growing industry.

“This is a very, very strong field that you want to be a part of right now,” said Jon Mason, a welding instructor at Western.

Cruz got his hands dirty in the workforce long before his college career.

“Growing up, I didn’t have much,” Cruz said.

As a teenager, he worked at an apple orchard to provide his family with extra money.

“It’s better to give than to get, I think,” Cruz said.

Cruz sends money to his aunts and cousins 2,000 miles away.

“Yeah, I send money to Honduras, too,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s presence can be heard throughout the welding space at Western.

“All the time,” Mason said. “Every day.”

Cruz sings songs that remind him of his late grandfather.

“My grandpa — he liked that music too,” Cruz said.

Someone he helped care for as a child whom he aspires to be like as an adult.

“The better the mood you are, the better the welds are gonna be,” Cruz said.

This weekend, Cruz will graduate from Western’s welding program. A surreal moment for a historic reason.

“Yeah. Most definitely,” he said. “First in my family, yeah. So, it’s really cool.”

Cruz feels like the junction between two generations coming together to form a brighter future.

“Have the ability to be something we want to be; actually, have a dream,” Cruz said. “My dream was to become a welder.”

A dream transformed into a useful career made up of many people who helped him along the way.

“Many, is the type of student that makes … this the best job that I can ever imagine,” Mason said.

For Cruz, life is not about what you take away.

“Good things come to people who wait,” Cruz said.

It’s about what you leave behind.

“He brings a cheerfulness that lifts others up,” Mason said.

Cruz’s family will attend his graduation this weekend. He plans to work for an employer in a local community.

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