A Watson on the Margins


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

Maradiaga, a 2009 Thomas J. Watson Fellow, chose the latter, and the decision still leaves him with conflicting feelings of guilt and accomplishment. For Maradiaga, who aspires to be an emergency-room doctor, "the road to success was confused." He knows there are others like him around the country and the world, young people with "marginalized backgrounds," shaped partly by family and tradition and partly by schools, television, the Internet. Do they attempt, Maradiaga asks, to follow the model pushed by the groups in power (education, material wealth, social status)?

"For a portion of America, and the majority of the world for that matter, this narrowly constructed definition of success involving a college education and monetary wealth is utterly unattainable, and in many cases not even desired," he wrote in his Watson proposal. "Where are these stories?"

For the next year, Maradiaga will travel the world (India, Jordan, South Africa, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic) in search of such stories. The plan is to go to each place and determine what the society defines as success. Then he will talk to high school students marginalized because of their race, religion, and/or socioeconomic class. He will also interview school administrators and parents. "In form, these success narratives will resemble my Watson fellowship personal statement. In content, I can only imagine how they will differ," Maradiaga wrote.

He plans to take photos, videotape interviews, and post them on a blog. "This, in a small but significant way, will be done in order to provide a diverse, more inclusive definition of success," he wrote.

As he has explained countless times since receiving the fellowship, he will not be writing a paper. "The Watson is about the process," Maradiaga said. "It's about you changing."

For more on Jeronimo's journey, read the featured article in this issue of Colby.

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