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


 
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.
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.”

Postscript

Leaving 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.]

 
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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