Ishmael Cruz, of Pleasantville, lost his mother to cancer when he was just 7 years old. But his grandmother, Agnes Padilla, raised him and gave him an extended family at the Champion Baptist Academy in Galloway Township, where he was the single high school graduate this year.

At the graduation ceremony Wednesday, "Izzy" thanked his grandmother for taking such good care of him and his brother, Tariq.

"She truly loves God and has tried her best in setting a good example and just showing love for Tariq and me, whether it was getting up early in the morning of a school day to make us breakfast or just giving us a hug and saying she loves us," he said in his speech.

Cruz said he won't miss the long bus rides to school, or physics class, but he will miss his friends, teachers and the lessons he learned that helped him find his path in life. He will attend Pensacola Christian College to study criminal justice and history education.

"That way, I can come back and help people like me and see lives changed through my field," he said.

The founder of Champion Baptist Academy, Pastor Dean Bult and his wife, Patty, were given a signed print of "Washington's Prayer at Valley Forge" as a gift from the students and faculty for 31 years of faithful and steadfast service.

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241