‘Orange is the New Black’ star inspires students

Alex Nemec

Jackie Cruz, star of the hit Netflix Original Series ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ spoke about pushing through adversity and inspiration in Reeve Memorial Union on April 13. Nicole Bellcorelli, head of the speaker series, said the series was impressed by the energy in Cruz’s speech. “She was talking about overcoming serious challenges in her life, but doing so in a humorous and engaging way,” Bellcorelli said. “Ms. Cruz brings an inspirational story as well as being young and recognizable to students.” Cruz said she was living in the Dominican Republic when a simple trip to the movies made her realize her passion. “We saw ‘The Bodyguard’,” Cruz said. “I’m in love with Whitney Houston by the way. On the walk home I told my mom, ‘Mommy that’s what I want to do. I want to sing, I want to act, I want to be like that woman.” UWO student Tessa Otto said she was looking forward to hearing Cruz’s standpoint on feminism and breaking the mold. “I know it’s social justice week.… [it’s] about trying to change the world,” Otto said. “It’s going to be a different character from her ‘Orange Is the New Black’ role. I think it’s going to be a cool change.” After enrolling in a school in the Dominican Republic that taught singing and acting, Cruz said her mother decided to take a risk on her. “My mom said, ‘Where can I take you to be what you want to be, to make your dreams come true,’” Cruz said. “‘Let’s go to Hollywood.’” Cruz said she took night classes and went to summer school because she really wanted to make it in Hollywood. “I finished all my academics when I was 16,” Cruz said. “All I did my senior year was performing arts. Jazz band, chamber singers, marching band, dance team….I was a busy, busy girl, like I really wanted this.” Cruz said she made a friend at the underage club who was in Hollywood to film for child acting roles, whose name was “Becky.” Becky’s name is being changed to protect her identity. “She had everything I wanted,” Cruz said. “I lived with my mom in a studio apartment with my blow up bed. I wanted her life. Cruz said after her mom told her that her boyfriend was moving in with them she went to Becky to complain, which is when Becky suggested she move in with her. “I [wanted] to move out cause I [didn’t] like her rules, and she is super strict,” Cruz said. “My mom said, ‘You want to be an adult? All right Jackie, go ahead and be an adult, but guess what, don’t come back.’” Cruz said she went on a car ride with Becky one morning when Becky decided to street race her friend, but Jackie forgot to wear her seatbelt. “We’re going super fast, it’s going 80 miles an hour,” Cruz said. “She starts to slow down cause she is losing control of the wheel and the car hits the curb and it flips three, four, five, six times.” Cruz said the crash left her with a blood clot in her brain, a collapsed lung, a kidney contusion and two broken vertebrae. “I woke up two weeks later, when I found out I was in a coma for 72 hours,” Cruz said. “My whole life changed at 17.” Cruz said after she recovered from her accident, she moved to Miami with a guy to pursue her singing career with the $10,000 loan her mother took out for her. “The guy, so I work with him and he is like ‘I’m going to need the second half of the money,’” Cruz said. “So I gave him the second half of the money and he ran off with it.” Cruz said she met a guy while working the club who admired her singing talent and asked her to move to New York to pursue her career. While she was working in a different club in New York, when she met one of her best friends Karina. “She was hilarious and I said, ‘I’m going to play you in a TV show one day,’” Cruz said. Cruz said she missed acting while in New York and always had a voice in her head telling her New York was different and start trying out again. “I still wanted to audition, so I went for it, and it was for a show called “Orange Is the New Black,” Cruz said. “So in my head I’m like, ‘I’m going to imitate Karina.’” Cruz said the executive producer Jenji Kohan really liked her audition and that she left in a great mood. “I called my brother and I was so into it, I almost got hit by a cab,” Cruz said. Cruz said after going through everything she has, she believes there are no mistakes in life. “Everything happens for a reason, even if you don’t know it at the time,” Cruz said. “If you leave with anything [from this event] leave with this…. If you have this desire to be whatever you want in your heart and soul, that’s exactly what you’re meant to do.”