From the South Bronx To the Gates of Harvard

REY RAMOS Bronx, NY History and Science Pforzheimer House

He remembers the tears vividly.

Filled with sadness and tinged with pain, they came streaming down his mother's cheeks one day eight years ago as she talked once again to an overworked junior high school principal about her son's disciplinary problems.

And who could blame Carmen Ramos for this outpouring?

Living in the South Bronx is not easy for Hispanic immigrants. Nor is it easy trying to raise four children in a neighborhood where drug dealers operated within steps of your front door. Nor is it easy trying to make a living with only a limited education and without a firm command of the English language. Nor is it easy supporting your family after being forced to give up your job in a garment factory because of severe chronic asthma.

And now she was called to her son's school yet again for another disciplinary problem.

And now the principal of Junior High School 123 was telling Carmen Ramos that after years of disciplinary problems, he had seen enough--he wanted to place her son into special education classes, where problem students are thrown in with students with learning disabilities.

And now she realized that special education classes meant her son would in all likelihood end up another statistic in a neighborhood full of statistics.

In a life wrecked by one too many cruel blows, this one, which her son's principal was getting ready to deliver, was probably the most cruel.

And so she cried in the hope that...

But at this time, on this day, in this place, after all she had been through, maybe she did not believe in hope at all.

Maybe she just cried.

*****

One cannot help but notice the smile that slowly creased the lips of Rey F. Ramos '97 as he recounted this story last month.

Ramos can smile because he knows how far he has come since that day when his future seemingly rested in the hands of a principal. Smile because he knows his mother's tears changed his life. Smile because he knows any listener must be thinking he is telling a tale about someone else--a neighbor, a friend, a sibling.

Smile because it is hard for him to fathom now the thought of having once carried a weapon--a switchblade--to school. Smile because today he will graduate from Harvard. Smile because he will marry his high school sweetheart, Maiysha Lennon, this summer. Smile because in September he will enter the Harvard Medical School Class of 2001.