Jeronimo Maradiaga\'s Journey

Jeronimo Maradiaga's Journey

There were competing notions of success in Jeronimo Maradiaga's life: a high school diploma, a job, and a paycheck to help support his family versus years of college and professional school to achieve personal and intellectual goals

By Gerry Boyle '78 | Photos by Nick Cardillicchio


 
Ever since the boys were very young, their mother had confided in them, talking about money and about the bills that just kept on coming. “All her stress became our stress,” Maradiaga said.

And then the burden shifted.

His brother had graduated from high school and was working full time in a restaurant; Maradiaga was juggling his two jobs and his studies. His senior year he and his brother took over the family’s finances completely, with Jeronimo wresting control from their increasingly debilitated mother. “That was one of the hardest things,” Maradiaga said, walking past a dark brick factory where his mother had once sewed clothing to support her sons.

While other college-bound students were earning spending money, the two brothers were keeping the household afloat. They pooled their earnings and paid the rent. “Whatever was left over, we’d manage to pay the electricity. Whatever was left after that was for food,” Maradiaga said.

The phone bill?

He laughed. “A luxury,” he said. “We rarely had a land line.”

But as he helped shoulder the family’s financial burden, as the lights were cut off and there were frequent arguments about money, Maradiaga was looking for a way out. “I was very unhappy,” he said. “I needed a break.”

While part of him concentrated on the sphere of his life in the Bronx, another part of Maradiaga had bigger plans, and his academic ability was making them happen. He won a scholarship to take a trip to Australia the summer before his senior year. And he was selected for a mentoring program called Minds Matter, for “troubled youth.” (“I love that description,” Maradiaga said, grinning and shaking his head.)

His mentor was Ian Rice, a 1999 Harvard graduate and vice president at J.P. Morgan, the investment bank. Rice met Maradiaga his junior year and was immediately struck by his positive attitude, despite his burdens. “He really wanted to be there,” Rice said. “He wanted to learn, to expand his horizons. … He’s a kid with extraordinary strength of character and strength of will.”

With Rice at the bank and Goring at JFK High encouraging him, Maradiaga spent three Saturdays a month at Minds Matter, taking SAT prep courses, doing group work on subjects like conflict resolution. Senior year it was Tuesday-afternoon training at the Posse offices on Wall Street, at the far end of Manhattan from the Bronx. Some students saw this as a break from their routine. “I hated it,” Maradiaga said. “It just meant that day I had to work later.”

But it paid off.

Maradiaga emerged from the rounds of intensive interviews and evaluations as a Posse Scholar, giving him a full college scholarship. Oscar Maradiaga, out of school and working in a barbecue restaurant, gave him his blessing, said he would take care of the home front. But only when the selection process was over did Maradiaga tell his mother, who valued a high school degree as a prerequisite to a full-time job. Maradiaga spoke to her, as always, in Spanish. “I was already accepted into Colby when I told her,” he remembered. “I said, ‘Mom, I’m going away. To college.’ She was like, ‘What? Why?’”
 
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Comments

  • On July 13, 2009, Maggie Goodes wrote:
    I have had the pleasure of meeting Jeronimo, through Chris and Rebecca, but never knew his story. He is an inspiration to us all. And the people around him, who supported him when things were tough, also inspire me. I wish Jeronimo all the best in his quest to collect the stories of others and look forward to reading them. I also wish him the best in his future studies. What an amazing doctor he will be.


  • On July 14, 2009, Cleveland Johnson, Director, TJW Fellowship wrote:
    We at the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship are proud to number Jeronimo among our 209/10 fellowship class. As this article expresses with such excellent nuance, the Watson Fellowship invests in people, not projects. We also funded this year a student whose difficult childhood forced her to scavenge for recyclables after school to help her family make ends meet. The focus of her year is "The Faces Behind Informal Waste Management" in Egypt, Australia, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Brazil. Our other 38 fellows of this year can be read about at: http://watsonfellowship.org As with all our Fellows, we firmly believe that Jeronimo's year, rather than being a detour from his life goals, will be broadening and transformative. Just imagine the global perspective, empathy, and understanding he will be able to bring into his future medical career (or into any other career or advocacy work he chooses to pursue)! Already now, after his first weeks of Watson-funded independence in Mumbai, India, Jeronimo is beginning to answer the questions he brought along from his own personal experiences, while learning to ask a completely new set of questions he may never previously have thought to ask. Thank you for telling Jeronimo's "story." If nothing else, it gives powerful testimony why working for socio-economic diversity in the student bodies of small colleges is so important! For all of your alumni and readers, I do hope you will follow up with him after his return.


  • On July 15, 2009, Lady Bug wrote:
    Jeronimo, you continue to inspire us in so many ways. You made my Colby experience something worthwhile and memorable. I will always remember our Biology study sessions- good times. I have no doubt that you will continue to live your life to the fullest. Te queremos muchacho!


  • On July 15, 2009, R. Wilson wrote:
    J is a good friend and clearly one of the coolest people around...Good luck in Mumbai bro!


  • On July 16, 2009, Kate Williams wrote:
    I knew you could do it Jeronimo. My family had the wonderful experience of hosting Jeronimo in 2002 on his trip to Australia. We knew he was special and he has gone on to prove it. Our love and sincerest congratulations are with you now and always. Best of luck and happy times. What a wonderful family you have-worth everything you have worked for. Love, your Aussie family.


  • On July 16, 2009, Kathy Quimby Johnson (Colby '79) wrote:
    Jeronimo, what you have accomplished and what you are doing with your Watson Fellowship is so very important, because socio-economic class continues to divide the world and young people with backgrounds similar to yours need to know that it is possible for them to achieve their dreams. They also need to know that there is pain involved in learning to navigate a different culture. Thank you for sharing your story! I look forward to reading the stories you find on your travels. Thanks to Colby magazine for sharing this story--it's one of the best I've ever read in the thirty years since I graduated.


  • On July 22, 2009, Chidozie Alozie wrote:
    Jeronimo was one of the students who convinced me that I should become a teacher. We traveled to Australia together, and shared a host family. He is remembered fondly in his host community, and by his former group leader. Jeronimo, do you remember what Russel told us at Jumbum? Everyone has their own personal Uluru against which we struggle. Know that you have made the right decisions ... although I don't need to tell you that. I was with Kate in Carrieton this past weekend, and she showed me this article ... we'd all love to claim some of your success, but not for credit for helping you along the way, not that. We would love to have the strength, the conviction to deal with our own personal Uluru's, as you have. I was once the teacher ... but now I'm gonna watch, and learn.


  • On August 4, 2009, Allison Straw wrote:
    Thanks for sharing. Sharing about your life takes guts- especially when you know that not everyone will be able to relate or understand.


  • On August 27, 2009, S.K.B. wrote:
    Jeronimo your story is an insipiration. I am also a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School and I still live in the Bronx. I am trying to accomplish my dreams as well, I can relate to you in so many ways. The Bronx is pretty much the same way you left it, the only time you see changes being made is when elections are here, thats when every politician wants to make a difference. Someday though, I will accomplish my goals and change the Bronx for the better. Someday.


  • On September 24, 2009, Mike Wolk wrote:
    I read this article by accident after filling out a survey. It is the best article I've ever read in this magazine since my graduation in 1975 and was moved beyond belief. I'm forwarding it to my daughter and her husband at Penn State as inspiration while they struggle through their own academic and life difficulties.


  • On September 24, 2009, Georgia Fisher Kearney (Colby '52) wrote:
    Jeronimo what an inspiring story. I wish you the best and give your mother kudos for inspiring her sons. My husbalnd was raised in a tenement in Scotland and his mother inspired her three children to get an education and succeed in life


  • On September 26, 2009, Andrew O-S wrote:
    Jeronimo, the wealth of strength, will, power, high-standards and imagination you have found in yourself are owned, sadly, by very few. It is privilege to know you. You inspire me to have the strength to reach my full potential. Thank you. Just a reminder though, be a little slower on those turns in the kayak.


  • On November 19, 2009, Lee Anna Stirling wrote:
    Jeronimo's presence gives tremendously to the Colby community or any community. Buena suerte, Jeronimo! I look forward to reading your blog with people's varied views of success.


  • On December 3, 2009, Thando wrote:
    to people like me who still have the dream of learning in life to become a lawyer this article is like a sharp carve i learn a lot to it now i know the time for me to let up in life is when my soul depart in may flesh and realize that "we as woman we are like tea bags we see our strength when we are in hot water" i will always think of you man when i face challenges in my path