While other first-years arrived at Colby with their parents in packed SUVs, Maradiaga came to Mayflower Hill with Rice, his mentor. His roommate’s parents hugged their son and said goodbye. “I didn’t really think my experience was that bizarre,” Maradiaga said, over pizza on Arthur Avenue. “I thought everyone was going to show up by themselves.”
Rice, Goring, and another of Maradiaga’s teachers bought him clothes, a television, and a DVD player so he had some of the trappings of a kid going off to college, for which he said he is very grateful.
“It still wasn’t my parents,” Maradiaga said. “I had still left my mom a few weeks before going to Colby, my mom had just left [for Honduras]. My brother was here [in N.Y.], homeless. I was here in this pristine place and in a sense I was a part of that, too, but I wasn’t. And I realized I wasn’t. It was very difficult.”
The waves of alienation came early and often. Like most new first-year students, Maradiaga went on a COOT
(Colby Outdoor Orientation Trip), trading the comfort of a dorm room and the bountiful cafeterias for a tent and sleeping bag and gorp in a bag. “I was like, what the hell is this?” he said. “Why am I pretending to be poor? Sleeping on the ground, on dirt? This is like poverty. This makes no damn sense.”
The college party scene didn’t make sense, either, not to a guy who had spent his whole life threading through a minefield of drugs and alcohol because that was the only way he would succeed. Where he came from, drunks and druggies ended up in dead-end jobs or worse.
“When I got to Colby and I saw people drinking, I was like, ‘What? What is this?’” Maradiaga said. “I was so disappointed. I thought it was going to be this huge intellectual community where people were all about their classes. I don’t know what I was expecting, but certainly not Doghead [an annual marathon St. Patrick’s Day party].”
The relative wealth of the students overwhelmed him, as did their stereotypes about the Bronx. Other students assumed he must have gone to a specialized academic high school. One asked him if he was in a gang. And the backdrop to this feeling that he didn’t belong was “an immense amount of guilt,” about leaving his mother, about the luxury of being a full-time student, Maradiaga said. “My freshman year I didn’t allow myself to party or have fun. I didn’t allow myself to be happy.”
Said Sandra Sohne-Johnston
, now associate director of admissions and financial aid and then Maradiaga’s Colby Posse mentor, “He came to college as an adult, not as an 18-year-old young man.”
But Maradiaga knew how to be a successful student, and he threw himself into his studies with characteristic single-mindedness. Even there, he felt less prepared than students from suburban high schools and elite prep schools. “Just think about it,” he said. “[In high school] I was going to class every other day.”
While some students come to Colby with vague but altruistic plans to help “save the world,” Maradiaga’s goals were narrow and clear: get a Colby degree, go to medical school, become a doctor, and support his family. But family obligations nearly derailed his plans entirely.
The spring of his first year, Maradiaga’s mother, who had moved in with relatives in Honduras, fell more seriously ill and had to find another living situation. Maradiaga felt he had to bring her back to the United States and help support her. He was going to withdraw from Colby. Then help arrived:
Sohne-Johnston gave him some money; a professor bought his mother’s plane ticket; President William D. Adams chipped in. Maradiaga’s mother was moved to Florida, where she stayed with another of her sons, one of Maradiaga’s half brothers. Maradiaga went on to do a Duke premed program that summer, and returned to Colby for his sophomore year.
But trouble struck again that fall. His mother was still ill. The money was gone. She had to leave the apartment where she was staying. Maradiaga decided to withdraw from Colby and go earn money to help her. Administrators and Colby and Posse mentors urged him to stay, but the need to take care of his mother prevailed.