By Emilee Tullar
The saying "nothing is impossible" characterizes Denis Cruz and his philosophy on life. Born in Honduras, Denis spent his childhood in a small village with his mother. The entire village lived in poverty, but Denis's family was among the poorest of the poor. In order to provide for her family, Denis's mother took a job in Spain, leaving him to live with his grandmother.
At age 14, Denis moved into a house with his cousins in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. He dropped out of school so he could work full time welding and painting houses.
“At the time I was using a lot of drugs,” Denis said. “I wanted a change. I felt like giving up. I felt like my life was worthless." But one day, Denis saw a homeless man lying on the side of the road. The man's legs were mangled and were being eaten away by worms. The sight of this man awoke Denis to the reality of his life.
"I thought to myself, if you don't change what you're doing you could be that homeless person."
So when a cousin from Canada offered to take Denis north, he was primed for the opportunity. Life in Canada sounded like the perfect environment to turn his life around.
Little did he expect the trip would take five months and end in Dallas, Texas instead of Canada.
While trying to cross the United States border, Denis and his cousins were stopped by immigration and brought to a holding facility in San Antonio. He spent the night in a freezing cold room. While he was being fingerprinted and processed, Denis mentioned that his father was living in Dallas. Because he was a minor, he was moved to a different facility, where he was treated for lice and waited for a social worker to help him contact his father and file the necessary paperwork.
On August 15, 2014, Denis officially received his green card and was released to live with his father, whom he had never met. He and his father had different expectations about what would happen next. His father wanted him to go to school, but Denis was determined to find a job.
"I'm going to work so I can get to Canada," Denis recalled telling his father.
His father insisted Denis go to school, so he could become a citizen. A week later, Denis enrolled as a high school freshman. He didn’t know English, but he carried a Spanish-to-English dictionary wherever he went. He made it his goal to learn one or two words every day, and he relied on his friends to help him practice.
"I wasn’t afraid to try," Denis explained.
An ESL teacher saw how determined Denis was to learn English and persuaded him to go for a college degree. She explained the earning potential would be greater, and Denis would more likely be able to make a living wage with a degree. Knowing that one day he wanted to provide for his family in Honduras, Denis enrolled in the industrial engineering program at Texas A&M.
He knew he would have to work hard to pay for his schooling. When a former classmate, Umesh Bhandari—a 2017 Scholarship America Dream Award recipient—suggested he apply for the Dream Award, Denis took the opportunity. Months later, while waiting outside his advisor's office, he decided to check his email. A wave of relief fell over him as he found out he was one of the 2018 recipients.
"I wanted to call my family. I didn't want to stay for my meeting," Denis said.
Denis's dream is to be able to someday return to Honduras and earn enough money so his mother won't have to work. He wants to be able to give back to his family and community.
"It’s my home country. My family is still there,” Denis said. “My uncle gave up his education to help the family. And now I want to use my education to help them."
He says the generous support of Dream Award donors has inspired him to want to invest in others when he has graduated and established himself.
"Today it's for me. Tomorrow it's for who knows."