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


 
For Jeronimo Maradiaga ’09J, the walk around the South Bronx one rainy March morning was filled with nostalgia—a tour of the landmarks of his life.

The south entrance to the Bronx Zoo, where Maradiaga worked at a concession in high school to help support his family. The discount store on 179th Street, where he worked a second job, hefting boxes in a dusty stockroom. The apartment house at Addams Place, where he lived as a small child—until thieves tore the front door off the hinges. Another apartment on an unpaved back street, Old Kingsbridge Road, where he and his older brother, Oscar, played baseball before the family was eventually evicted.

“I loved this neighborhood,” Maradiaga said, gazing down the row of tenements and the graffiti-scribed stoops. “We’d be playing out here. We were friends with some of the drug dealers who worked around here. They would come to us and say, ‘You guys should go inside right now.’ And we’d go inside and we’d hear gunshots or whatever.”

He caught himself, aware, as he often is, of how his upbringing can be misunderstood.

“As odd as that might seem,” Maradiaga added, “it was a sense of community.”

He doesn’t tell that story very often, and he almost never did at Colby. Nor did many in the Colby community know that the intense, premed-sworn guy in the Yankees hat was responsible for his single-parent mother, who was seriously ill. That Maradiaga had been technically truant at 6,000-student John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx because he couldn’t work two jobs, do his homework, and go to school every day. That through much of his college career, Colby was Maradiaga’s permanent address because he had no other home.

“In the beginning I felt ashamed, almost like I’d try to hide it,” he said. “Toward the end I felt it was important for people to realize that someone from the South Bronx, someone who is economically impoverished, someone who was homeless most of the time he was at Colby, could be at Colby and be successful there. So when people asked me, ‘What do your parents do?’ I’d still, like, hesitate initially, but I would say, ‘My mom’s ill. I don’t know my dad. My dad’s been out of my life.”

It’s been a long time since Maradiaga has been ashamed. A Posse Scholar at Colby, selected from New York City public schools for his academic and leadership abilities, he capped an academically successful, socially arduous, and sometimes fitful Colby career by winning a prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship. Maradiaga is one of 40 fellows chosen from several hundred candidates nationwide. He received $25,000 to spend the year traveling around the world, asking young people in disadvantaged and marginalized communities to tell him about their lives and their notions of success.

He is looking for young people like himself. He plans to tell them that his own path has been one of both achievement and inner conflict, a collision of cultures. And then he will listen to and document their stories, giving a voice to those too often lost in the din.
 
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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