When Myrelis and Jose Hernandez came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico a little over two decades ago, they did so for a very specific and aspirational reason.
“They wanted the traditional American dream, opportunity for their kids,” their son Brandom explained.
Brandom Ruiz was only 5 months old when his parents made the trek from the Caribbean to Reading and has no memory of it. But thoughts of the sacrifices they made to bring him to Berks County are always on his mind.
They’ve motivated him. They’ve inspired him. They kept him working toward lofty goals even when they may have seemed out of reach.
And it has all paid off.
Hernandez graduated from Albright College last weekend and will soon be off to Spain to teach English on a Fulbright scholarship. After that, the 22-year-old will attend law school.
It’s exactly the kind of success story Hernandez’s parents imagined.
“I’m glad I’m in a position to make them proud,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez grew up on North Fifth Street. He attended Riverside Elementary School, Northwest Middle School, Reading Intermediate School and Reading High School.
He was a Reading kid, and he knew exactly what that meant. Or rather, he knew what people outside of the city thought it meant.
“We’d go to the diner and when we talked about being Reading students we’d get questions about our education level,” Hernandez said. “They’d ask us if we can do basic math.”
Sometimes, the reaction was even worse.
“Or they’d just say, ‘Oh, you’re still alive?’” he said. “There was a lot of negative perception that you deal with when you’re in Reading.”
Hernandez decided early on that he wouldn’t let those perceptions define him. He had his own plans, his own goals.
“My main goal was doing well enough in school to get into college,” he said. “With the sacrifices my parents made, I knew I wanted to make their investment worth it.”
He did just that.
Hernandez excelled in high school, studying hard to put him in a position to continue his education in college. And when it came time to pick a school, he ended up looking in his own backyard.
While many of his friends decided to head to Philadelphia for college, Hernandez opted for Albright College.
“Albright gave me the most financial aid,” he said of his decision. “I got a full ride.”
While at first he was unsure about remaining so close to home for college, the school turned out to be a perfect fit.
“I ended up just falling in love with Albright,” he said. “It ended up becoming a blessing in disguise.”
Attending school in Reading allowed Hernandez to get involved in his community. In particular, he became active with the Reading Youth Commission, an advisory board to the mayor and City Council.
Along with that work, Hernandez delved deeply into his studies. And there was a lot to dig into.
A full plate
Hernandez co-majored in political science and international relations while minoring in legal studies and Spanish.
He said the political science aspect of his studies was spurred by the world around him.
“By the end of high school, things had become so polarized, so political,” he said. “It was something I couldn’t escape.”
As for international relations, that was simply a topic that interested him.
“I just love different cultures,” he said.
That love was developed during a visit to Germany in high school, as well as a trip to Ecuador the summer before he started college. It continued when he studied abroad in the Czech Republic and during a spring break service trip to Costa Rica.
And after having graduated from Albright, his next step will take him to experience another culture. He has earned a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Spain, leaving in September and staying for nine months.
“I thought it would be really culturally enlightening for me,” he said.
Once his time in Spain is over, Hernandez will begin the next step of his journey. He plans to attend law school, saying he hasn’t yet picked a school but is hoping for one in the Ivy League.
His interest in law is something he’s had since he was a child. Growing up in Reading, he had friends who were undocumented and others who faced struggles with the legal system.
“I like the idea of being an advocate for people who don’t have one,” he said, explaining he initially planned to study immigration law but is now undecided. “And I just like how law school teaches you to think.
“At this point, I plan on just exposing myself to things and seeing what resonates. I want to see how I can best help people.”
Source: Berkshire mont