Santiago receives Fulbright Award to Spain

Randy Santiago ’18 still can’t believe he has received a Fulbright Award to Madrid, Spain.

“I didn’t expect to win the award, let alone believe that I deserved to, so to read the word ‘Congratulations’ atop my email was to confront a paradox–it was and is the truth but continues to feel like a lie,” Santiago said. “I continue to reread the email several times a day, in order to remind myself that it happened.”

For nine months the English and Creative Writing major will teach English to students in urban settings and facilitate an English language book club for the community.

The Fulbright scholar, whose hometown is Chicago, filled the pages of his application essay with the story of his childhood friend “Leo,” who was killed by gun violence.

He would like this Fulbright opportunity to open people’s eyes. 

Randy Santiago
Randy Santiago ’18

“I hope my story will serve as an example of what a kid from the hood can accomplish when he’s allowed to succeed, what someone like Leo could have achieved had his life not been shortened by gun violence,” he said.

With this award, this Fulbright scholar has been thinking a lot about his past and, now, his future.

“Come May, I’ll be the first in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree,” Santiago said. “I’m the only person in my immediate family to have traveled abroad for any purpose. As a child in Chicago, I spent many days and nights without sufficient amounts of food, electricity, and sometimes gas during the winter. I never imagined making it out of my neighborhood, let alone onto a college campus. It took becoming homeless two weeks after my senior graduation to convince me that college was my best future option. I’m still homeless and still poor, but three days ago I became a Fulbright, and one month from now, I’ll become the first college graduate in my family. I think I’ve made decent strides.”

The senior says he’s looking forward to speaking more Spanish. While he’s Puerto Rican by descent, he didn’t grow up speaking the language. This past year, Santiago studied basic Spanish in a single semester, including study abroad opportunities, and says he was able to learn more in a single year than he could at any other institution because of the block plan.

“Through Spain, I believe that I can further my Spanish education, learn about my Spanish lineages and what it means to possess them, and still fulfill my goal of connecting myself with another culture through my native tongue,” he said.

With Santiago’s award, a total of 17 Fulbrights have been awarded to Cornell graduates in the past 13 years. In addition, two Cornell faculty received Fulbright Awards in 2016.