When senior Diego Diaz waited at the Embarcadero crosswalk, he would often spot a familiar figure –– campus supervisor Ernesto Cruz.
As they shared some chocolate from Trader Joe’s, they discussed just about everything from Cruz’s new car to Diaz’s school workload, exchanging jokes and stories.
“(Cruz) was just the sunshine in everyone’s mornings and everyone’s day,” Diaz said. “He would always say hello, ask me about my day. I’d ask him about his. And it’s just those little interactions — him wishing me a good day, me wishing him a great day — that would be really special. It’s one of those simple things that you’re going to remember from high school.”
Cruz died on March 19 from a heart attack, a death that shocked those who knew him in his roles as a campus supervisor, a soccer coach, a friendly figure and a person who brightened up everyone’s day.
Although senior Olivia Milne has had many soccer coaches, she said Cruz stood out as someone who was kind, supportive and positive in a way that always made her feel comfortable as a freshman on the varsity girls soccer team.
“As an introductory person to the Paly soccer community, there couldn’t have been a better person for me to start with looking up to,” Milne said. “I’m so lucky to have had him as my first coach. And since then, my coaches have been great, but I think that he really just leaves a happy, positive imprint on every situation that he comes into.”
She said even though Cruz stopped coaching Paly girls soccer after her freshman year, he stayed in touch with her. Milne said Cruz always showed up to the varsity girls soccer morning practices this year to cheer on the team before he went to conduct the morning drop-off line. Milne said she also remembers talking to Cruz two weeks ago, when she was driving to school, and he commented on the unique stickers on her car.
“The fact that he would stop and have a conversation with me about something he saw on my car just captures the presence that he held at Paly,” Milne said. “(He) just made the whole school a more welcoming and happy place.”
Diaz said while Cruz was known around campus for his warm personality, jokes, golf cart and soccer, he also made a big difference to the Paly Hispanic community.
“Especially at Paly, there’s not a lot of representation toward the Hispanic community and he was one of the biggest,” Diaz said. “I think that almost every Hispanic person knew Ernesto and they all loved him. He made everyone feel extremely included and extremely welcomed, and was someone that was really genuine in everything he said. He was probably one of the nicest people you could ever talk to on campus.”
Senior Kat Thomsen, who was also on the varsity soccer team as a freshman, said Cruz always took the time to check in whenever he saw her around school.
“I always saw him at school when I was stressed about classes or grades, and he would always stop and talk with me,” Thomsen said. “He reminded me about what was important — the relationships we have with other people and the connections we make.”
Diaz said he admired how Cruz not only worked hard to improve the school, but also the lives of young people in his home country of El Salvador, to whom he donated soccer equipment, clothes and balls. Diaz said he thinks Cruz — who came to the United States at age 19, took multiple English language classes and dealt with his own challenges of fitting into the Paly community — always took it upon himself to make all students feel welcome.
“He made everyone feel like family,” Diaz said. “And I think that that’s something that really did stick around, especially with the LatinX community. It was just that everyone thought of him as … this big father figure at Paly … He was someone that smiled so genuinely that it really did make you feel warm and happy inside, and that’s something that’s really going to be missed at Paly. I think that Paly’s not going to be the same without him riding around on his bike or his golf cart anymore.”
Donate to the GoFundMe
To help Cruz’s family cover funeral expenses, his mother’s care and daughter’s college tuition, you can donate to https://gofund.me/b49ed702
News of a death can impact everyone differently. If you need to talk to someone immediately, call 911 and request a Crisis Intervention Team trained officer to assist you. You can also text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the Bill Wilson Youth Hotline (a 24-hour crisis line) at 408-850-6125. The Paly Wellness Center on campus is also open Monday – Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 4:15 p.m.