Gerardo Cruz

Gerardo Cruz sits with his parents Jose and Maria Cruz and 1-year-old Matteo Ramirez Cruz after receiving his associate degree in industrial systems technology from Georgia Northwestern Technical College. / Contributed

“It doesn’t matter if you do something small,” Gerardo Cruz recalls his mother’s words. “It just matters that you do it.”

The 2018 graduate of Georgia Northwestern Technical College, earning his associate degree in industrial systems technology, continues to channel an inner drive for improvement.

“It’s time to keep moving forward,” Cruz said. “It’s important. Our parents worked too hard for us not to do something in return.”

Cruz and his family left Mexico when he was 6 and came to the U.S., landing in Georgia. He lived in Cartersville for several years before moving to Rome, where he went to West End Elementary and came up through the city school system.

After graduating in 2011, Cruz joined the Marine Corps, drawn in by the composure and confidence of recruiters visiting Rome High. He served four years as a field radio operator, while also doing mechanical work on the side on vehicles and equipment, utilizing his lifelong mechanical leaning, which he was recognized for with a service award. For two years he was stationed in Okinawa with the 3rd Marine Logistics Group. He then finished out his service at Camp Pendleton with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines.

“It made me a better person,” Cruz said, adding it taught him how to handle himself and be goal-oriented. “That’s kind of what I wanted.”

Though he was never deployed, he was able to take in the culture and people of Southeast Asia. But of all the places he went abroad, Okinawa was the one to touch him the most. He was struck by its residents and the care and thoughtfulness he was showed, he said.

His time as a Marine paid for his college through the GI Bill when he got out in 2015. Cruz always had college as a goal, seeing it as another opportunity to better himself. It was also a chance to further his mechanical itch, which was fostered by his uncle growing up, he said.

“He always seemed like he was the person to go to… anytime anything needed fixing,” said Cruz, who would follow his uncle around as he worked.

As he started college, Cruz began work as a mechanic at the Lowe’s Distribution Center, working a three-day schedule Friday to Sunday that gave him time during the week for classes. And he has been there ever since, working in his major as he studied.

However, Cruz is setting his sights on getting into more specialized work, specifically electrical. He has a goal to get an electrician license, which requires entering an apprenticeship program and racking up a set amount of hours. He is currently seeking a company or electrician to work under, he said, but his degree counts for a year toward his license.

Cruz is not done with school though, he said, as he plans to take classes in the instrumentation program. In conversations with his siblings and cousins, he encourages the pursuit of a college degree or certificate to give back to their family.

“Just stick with it and see what comes of it,” Cruz said.