2008 Maricruz Monreal

Maricruz Monreal, a senior at Johnson High School, has always faced difficult odds. At a very young age, she and her close-knit family emigrated from Mexico to California. They had to overcome language and cultural barriers, and had few resources. Constant money worries always put new clothes, school supplies, even school lunches out of reach, and made birthdays and holidays difficult.

But the most difficult challenge for her was dealing with her epilepsy and the frightening and embarrassing seizures that often struck without notice.

Her disease made it hard to keep friends because many of them were uncomfortable with her seizures. Maricruz's anxieties were exacerbated by worries that her family would have to struggle financially to provide the care she needed. Due to their unfamiliarity with the California medical system, they took Maricruz to Mexico, where she received treatment. She and her family are grateful that she responded well and today, seems to have outgrown her seizures altogether.

When Maricruz was a young child, she tried to help out at home. But when her parents and older siblings returned from the fields after grueling 12-hour workdays, they were often too tired to pay much attention to her. While Maricruz has mastered English, her hard-working parents still struggle to speak it. The situation has hampered their ability to land better-paying jobs.

There's nothing wrong with manual labor, she says. But I want something more in my life. Maricruz, who wants to become the first in her family to attend college, has not let her disease or money worries define her. She says, I've been fortunate enough to have beaten the odds my whole life and get past any roadblock in front of me by being motivated and working hard.

Today Maricruz maintains a 3.2 GPA, works part-time to help her family, volunteers at both church and school, and last year she organized a school blood drive.

Because of her personal experience with epilepsy, she says she wants a career in health to help others who can't afford medical coverage or get the care they need. She plans to study Nursing or Nutrition in college.