Jeronimo Maradiaga at the Posse graduation ceremony prior to commencement. Maradiaga and other Posse Scholars were introduced during the event, which packed Lunder House with family, friends, faculty, and staff.
Aleman flew from Florida to New York in early April. Maradiaga was looking for a stable place for her to live. “We’re essentially homeless again,” he said at the time.
Mother and son stayed with Howard, a middle-school teacher, and Travis in Brooklyn. Maradiaga’s departure—he was planning to travel first to India—was looming, but first he had to take care of his family situation.
A scene fraught with tension and guilt? Not entirely. “The most illuminating thing about having his mother with me is how incredibly happy he is when she’s around,” Howard said. “They have such a strong bond with each other.”
In fact, the drive that has led Maradiaga out of the Bronx—to Colby and China, and now to a year-long mission to mine the dreams of marginalized young people—comes from the one person who, in Maradiaga’s circle of friends and family, may understand his remarkable trajectory the least.
“People get their sources of inspiration,” Oscar Maradiaga said, “and I guess my mom was his.”
It was their mother who “opened the floodgates,” Oscar said, coming to the United States alone. Their mother, who left elementary school to work in the family’s bodega, was determined that her sons would get an education and have a better life. To her, the brothers said, that was a high school diploma, but the emphasis on education was there.
Said Howard, “They always saw her as someone who was working very hard to make their lives better.”
And now Jeronimo Maradiaga is a source of inspiration himself.
After eight years working in a restaurant, Oscar Maradiaga, described by his younger brother as “one of the smartest people I know,” said he has decided to go back to school. He said he’d like to become a teacher, to pass on the gift of education to others. “I’m coming to realize how important it is,” he said, “and Jeronimo knows the importance of it. It opens doors. You’re enlightened by your experiences.”
The next stage of Maradiaga’s journey was to begin this summer (a stipulation of the fellowship is that he leaves before August 1). His mother had moved into an apartment in Queens with Oscar and his wife, Julia. Things were stabilized on the homefront. “A real big part of me feels like, am I being selfish?” he said. “A lot of those same feelings, I’m reliving them now.”
But the plan is unfolding. Maradiaga said he still intends to become a doctor, to work in a New York emergency room. Though his Watson project isn’t related to medicine, it is all about adapting to different cultures and places and listening to people with empathy and respect.
And the project began with this story, Maradiaga’s. He deliberated for days before agreeing to tell it. Ultimately he decided that he couldn’t ask other people to speak of their lives, hardships, and dreams if he wasn’t willing to reveal his own.
“A part of me doesn’t want my business to be out there,” he said. “But another part of me is like, no. I want people to know this. I want people to know that I had all these things against me and I still graduated from college. I want people to realize that you can do that.”
PostscriptLeaving New York City at midnight, Jeronimo Maradiaga’s mother and his brother, Oscar, rode for 11 hours to Waterville to attend commencement, Sunday, May 24. They toured the campus and met many of Jeronimo Maradiaga’s friends, including students, staff, faculty, and administrators. Sitting on a bench outside Lunder House before the Posse graduation ceremony the Saturday before commencement, Rosa Alicia Aleman said everywhere she went on campus, people greeted her and said what a special person her son is.
The issues of the past were just that.
“Muy orgullosa.” [I’m very proud,] she said. “No hay palabras.” [There are no words.]