Educating Ruben

February 23, 2009

Never let it be said that Ruben Rivera takes the easy way out—at least not when it comes to getting an education. 

In his time, Rivera earned an associates degree at BMCC and a Bachelors at Adelphi College, and went on to become a generous donor to the school that gave him his start. But the road he took was neither smooth nor straight.

After dropping out of high school, Rivera enlisted in the Air Force, serving under a commanding officer “who was very big on education and pushed all the men in his unit to get their high school diplomas,” he recalls. “I was so inspired that I took my GED while I was still in the military and decided then and there I’d get a college degree.”

First stop: BMCC
Rivera enrolled in BMCC back in the late 1960s, working during the day and attending classes in business management at night. His classes were in an office building in the west 20s—not an especially glamorous setting, he recalls. “But when I was trying to decide which college to choose, I heard that BMCC offered something other colleges didn’t—mentoring. That was exactly what I needed, and it made all the difference. I’m not sure I would have graduated otherwise.”

Rivera did graduate. “I never thought I would—it took me four years,” he says. Burned out at his job with the Social Security Administration, he spent time traveling throughout the U.S., eventually winding up on the west coast, where he attended San Francisco State for a few years, but never got enough credits under his belt to graduate. “I liked California, but guess I had too much New York in me to stay,” he says. “So I decided to come back east.”

He settled in Brooklyn, bunking with a friend of his sister’s, and commuted to Adelphi College, racking up another 20 credits but somehow missing out on earning his degree. “An advisor said, ‘Just give us another 10 and we’ll graduate you.’” Ultimately Rivera earned his Bachelors’ degree and went to work the U.S. Postal Service in Newark—first as a mail handler hauling 75-pound sacks, and later as a distribution clerk. He has lived in Newark ever since retiring from the Postal Service in 1990.

Sharing his blessings
While Rivera had to supplement his pension for a while by working as an auditor in the state courts, he remains a generous supporter of BMCC, making donations to the school’s scholarship fund on a regular basis. “I’m a big believer in Biblical principles—especially the one that says it is better to give than receive,” he says. “If you have been blessed, as I have, it’s important that you pass your blessings on to others.”

More to the point, he hopes that the economically disadvantaged students who benefit from his generosity “will get an education, succeed in life, and give back as I’ve tried to do.”

share this story »