"I thank that series for who I am today, it gave me all of the tools I needed and gave me my self-respect," Wilson Cruz, who starred as Rickie Vasquez on the 1994 series, tells PEOPLE
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My So-Called Life will soon be welcoming a new generation of fans, and series star Wilson Cruz could not be more thrilled.

PEOPLE can exclusively reveal that the beloved 1994 ABC drama has found its new home at Hulu. It will launch March 11 on the streaming service as part of Hulu's "90's Week" celebration, leading up to the March 12 premiere of documentary kid 90.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Cruz opens up about the show's upcoming launch, what his role as Rickie Vasquez on the series — which ran for just one season despite critical acclaim — meant to him, and what he hopes the new wave of viewers will glean from the show.

"The most important part for me is that there's a whole new generation of young people who will get to meet Rickie Vasquez, who is not just this boy going on this journey of self-acceptance, but he also is the model friend," says Cruz, whose character was a gay 15-year-old boy being raised by an abusive uncle.

His hope is that viewers be inspired by Rickie as a role model and friend.

"I want people to watch this show and see Rickie Vasquez and understand what it means to be a great friend, not only to the people in your life, but to yourself. And I think Rickie is the best example. He does it. He doesn't lie to you. He respects you. He tells you the truth. He sees all things and he calls you out on it," adds Cruz, 47. "And that's what a good friend does, but he also, you know, learns to love himself. And that is the biggest lesson here for anyone watching."

The series made Cruz the first openly gay actor to play an openly gay character in a leading role in an American TV show.

My So-Called Life also starred Claire Danes and Jared Leto and tackled major social issues, including child abuse, homophobia, teenage alcoholism, violence, drug use and homelessness.

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Credit: Mark Seliger/ABC/Getty Images

The actor and LGBTQ activist, who admits that he hasn't watched an episode of the series in about a decade, says he recently broke down after re-watching the show.

"I watched the episode 'Betrayal' and I ended up in a ball of my own tears," he tells PEOPLE. "There's a moment at the end of that episode, where Rickie, after Angela has flirted openly with the boy that he clearly has a crush on, comes to him for advice. And after he gives her the advice, he then chooses to stand up for himself and say to her, 'Hey, that thing that you just did hurt my feelings.'"

Cruz says "the reason why it landed so hard on me is because he was this boy at the beginning of the season who didn't know who he was, didn't even know what to call himself — if he was bisexual or gay or Latino or African-American or mixed or what."

But by "the end of the season, he knows enough about himself and loves himself enough to stand up for himself," he shares.

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Last year, Cruz recalled how his role as Rickie helped him come to terms with his sexuality and how the show as a whole managed to inspire his father to reconcile with him.

"It was through his watching of the series that he was able to understand what my life was really like," Cruz told PEOPLE at the time about his father. "And we were able to have a conversation a year later because of the story that he was able to watch. And so you look at this man who was incredibly conservative. Growing up, I never thought he would ever accept my sexuality, but because of a TV show, he was able to change his mind."

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Making the series, Cruz tells PEOPLE it "allowed my father to be able to watch that show and understand what my youth was and then empathize with me enough to allow us to have a relationship again."

He continues: "I thank that series for who I am today, it gave me all of the tools I needed and gave me my self-respect. It gave me my family and it gave me direction and the confidence to know that I deserved to live up to my potential."