Running Towards a Dream

January 25, 2024
By Melissa Johns, Executive Director
Jose Cruz, West Valley College Scholarship Recipient

Jose Cruz is a student at San Jose State University, working towards his goal of becoming a PE teacher. At the age of 31, in his final term at West Valley College, Jose applied for the scholarships offered by the West Valley-Mission Foundation.

As part of the application process, he wrote a personal statement to share his story; with his permission, we share excerpts from it below. Jose's story is a reminder that community college is here for everyone, regardless of age or prior educational success. There is no age limit on following one’s dreams.

Scholarships demonstrate our belief in students like Jose, and their ability to reach their goals and fulfill the dreams they hold for those around them. Jose says it best: “When I graduate, I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college. It is my hope that I can inspire both my family and my community to follow their passions and take the road less traveled, no matter how bumpy.”

Excerpts from Jose's Personal Statement

I never thought that at age 31, I would be writing a personal essay for a college scholarship. Since I was a child, I have never seen myself as “smart enough” to go to college. Going to college is simply not something that happens in my family - you graduate from high school (maybe) and get a job. Education is unfortunately not something that is valued in my family, and it's been a bumpy road for me – yet, I am now attending West Valley with honors.

As a child in an immigrant family, life was not easy. My mom worked hard to raise three rambunctious boys. She often rented out our two-bedroom apartment to field workers, leaving my brothers and me to sleep on the living room floor. With many strangers around, our apartment never felt like home, causing me to stay out late. I soon grew into a “travieso” (trouble maker), and with my mom frequently working, consequences were nonexistent. I was soon in danger of failing high school, which motivated me to do just enough to graduate. After my graduation, I half-heartedly took classes at Gavilan College. I spent the majority of my time skipping classes and I decided that school wasn’t for me.

I spent the next few years trying to find a job that I enjoyed. I found The North Face, which was a transformative experience for me. Working in an environment that valued athleticism allowed me to pursue running in a way that I hadn’t ever before, and I eventually began coaching cross country and running competitively. While I had started as a part-time worker, I eventually became the Assistant Store Manager. I began to see myself as someone who was capable of accomplishing things.

Because I grew up with little, I have always valued giving back to my community. In 2019, I took over a charity race. Despite having never worked on a race, I became the race director/president of the Mt Madonna Challenge (nonprofit). I have sold out the race since and have taken it in a new direction. I was working long hours to make the race successful, but I enjoyed every minute, which highlighted something that was missing in my life: a meaningful career.

The birth of my daughter, combined with all of my growth over the last decade, is what triggered my desire to seek out something more. My passion for fitness and encouraging young people in my community to be active was a common thread throughout my experiences, and I decided to follow it. I’m currently a full-time dad and student, and I’m a year away from transferring to SJSU to pursue a Kinesiology degree. My goal is to become a PE teacher. When I graduate, I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college. It is my hope that I can inspire both my family and my community to follow their passions and take the road less traveled, no matter how bumpy.

Jose Cruz is the 2023 recipient of the Betty Jean Dake Stuart Memorial Scholarship which was established in 2022 by Daniel L. Stuart. Upon receipt of this scholarship, Jose said "I am thrilled to have received the Betty Jean Dake Stuart Memorial Scholarship! It's satisfying to know that I didn't win an award but rather earned an award to help propel me forward in my academic journey. This scholarship will help cover my tuition at SJSU. Gracias por su apollo!"

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