"I am graduating with my associate's before I even get my high school diploma, and being able to say that is very amazing."
MENDOTA, Calif. -- Getting through high school is a challenge on its own - but imagine adding college courses, a global pandemic, and a full-time job. That's exactly what Antonio Cruz did.
Last week, Cruz graduated from West Hills College with an associate's degree in agriculture science, and on Thursday night he graduated from Mendota High School in Fresno County.
"I am graduating with my associate's before I even get my high school diploma and being able to say that is very amazing," he said.
As a freshman, he enrolled in Wonderful Education's Agriculture Career Prep program, allowing him to complete both in four years.
It wasn't easy, but Cruz says he always knew prioritizing his education would unlock opportunities.
"A lot of work out here is fieldwork and I didn't want that for myself. That is why I wanted to stick to my education and when the time is right, have a good job," he said.
His mother couldn't be prouder and says on top of college courses and dealing with the pandemic, her son stepped up when their family needed it most.
His parents got divorced about a year ago, so Cruz added a full-time job at a packing house to his plate - all to make ends meet.
"I didn't want to see her struggle, so I knew I had to grow up faster and be the father figure for my brother and sister," he says.
"Very few students can say we worked, we helped our mother or father and I did high school, I did college," says mom Monica Gutierrez.
Cruz admits there were days when just getting out of bed was a struggle, but he persevered.
"I would say he is a great example of the type of student who can get this done and he was successful and we are all very proud of him," says Mendota High School principal Travis Kirby.
Cruz says he's thankful for all the support he's had along the way.
"With family, friends I was able to do it and without them, I don't think I would have," he says.
Cruz's next step is to be a computer engineering major at Fresno State.