ORLANDO, Fla. -- It’s a pretty normal morning in the Cruz’s house when the alarm goes off at 5 in the morning. Ivette Cruz wakes up to make breakfast for her niece, Victoria Hernandez Cruz, while she gets ready to go to school.
But on Thursday morning, there was something a little different -- Victoria was not getting ready to go to school, rather she was getting ready for her high school graduation at Amway Center.
- Victoria Hernandez, Hurricane Maria evacuee, graduates high school
- Hernandez's mom sent her to Orlando to finish school
- Hernadez doesn't look back, appreciates support of those around her
In the small bathroom in Cruz’s apartment, Victoria’s friend from Puerto Rico is helping her with her makeup. The two are giggling over mascara while Cruz makes “harina de maiz,” a traditional Puerto Rican breakfast.
"It's an exciting moment, you know,” Victoria said with a smile.
Both exciting and emotional, as Victoria was supposed to graduate with her friends back on the island.
On Thursday, she's graduated from Colonial High School instead.
"When I was getting used to the change, it wasn't easy you know, getting used to a new environment, new people,” Hernandez said.
After Hurricane Maria, Hernadez's mom sent her to Orlando to live with her Aunt Ivette and finish school in mainland U.S.
“This was such a hard decision for me because she’s my youngest, and I had to stay behind,” explained Hernandez’s mother. “But it was the right thing to do for her future, and I know she would be OK."
It took a bit for Victoria to get used to her new life in a new school.
"I used to call them every day. When I started Colonial I texted them every day all day long, about how was my day in school, cause you know the change was big for me,” Hernandez said.
After a few months, things have gotten easier and Victoria says it’s thanks to the people around her.
"I met new (people), new friends. The teachers were awesome, the staff was awesome,” said Victoria about her experience at Colonial High School.
Around 12,000 seniors in Orange County are expected to graduate this week. Many from different parts of the world.
Victoria said that was the best part of moving -- she found support in her friends from South America who were in the USA due to struggles in their own countries.
"It's like a mix of countries, and it's awesome … I love it,” Victoria said.
She’s planning to attend Valencia College in the fall and pursue a career in the medical field.
There’s no going back to Puerto Rico for now, unless it’s to visit family. Central Florida is now Victoria’s home.