Vivian Garcia Cruz: Keeping Your Heart Golden

Jamie WilgerStudent Stories

By Debra Kennard, Board of Directors

When Vivian Garcia Cruz was asked to participate in the Project Know Us digital storytelling project, she relished thinking about how to organize her thoughts and share her stories. Vivian says, “I love storytelling.”

Although the Scholarship Foundation approached her about joining the project in 2018, she had been aware of the Foundation for a long time in her young life. She remembered hearing about their community involvement in grade school from an older friend who Vivian considers one of her earliest mentors. When she watched that friend go to high school and become active in advocacy work, she was intrigued and also was introduced to a Scholarship Foundation Student Advisor just in time to start thinking about college.

“It was a tough time navigating my dreams, but I wasn’t the only one with those challenges.” She had times of feeling alone, feeling confused about how to consider acceptances to five institutions, and feeling conflicted about leaving her family and community. With help and support from the Scholarship Foundation, Vivian found her fit at Fontbonne University, where she felt valued as a student and a human. She was hopeful it would be the right place to pursue a dream career that brings together art and social work.

It’s no surprise the art therapy major made a creative connection between the ideas of writing letters and paintings of a heart for her Project Know Us contribution. There are a lot of symbols in the art that inhabits her video: the land and sky of home, sun and moon for time’s passing, darkness and wounds, cactus and butterfly. One thing she didn’t want to portray as a symbol or simple shape was the heart itself. She wanted to represent the heart as a realistic organ because that makes the point for Vivian of common experience and understanding. “No matter how different or who you are, everyone has one.”

Whether Vivian talks about her past experiences or her plans for the future, community and learning are consistently mentioned. Her Project Know Us video tells a story of growth and the cycles she feels are an essential part of it. Key for Vivian is the “triumph you get out of each cycle,” like subduing inadequacy or fostering hope. She makes connections in the video story to show that her heart has been through a lot on the way to learning the power of her gifts to navigate life’s challenges and to finally feeling free.

Vivian plans to give a lot back to those around her and holds promise for great impact. One of the pieces of art in her video is a group of different and wounded hands supporting a heart that shines golden despite some stain. Her explanation of this painting offers some insight into the wisdom and optimism of Vivian’s plans. She says, “Keeping your heart golden is the power of accepting help from others you value.”

The exhibit Know Us: Stories of St. Louis Students Finding Their Way will be on display at the Missouri History Museum at 5700 Lindell, St. Louis through March 29, 2020. For more information about the project and the exhibit, visit