Michael and Cristian Rivera are twins who do a lot together, including taking college classes.
"We always got each other’s back. If we need help and most of the time we take the classes together so it’s two heads,” said Cristian.
They graduated from the Borough of Manhattan Community College together with associates degrees. Michael just earned his bachelor's degree, and Cristian will follow in his footsteps next year, both studying graphic design.
They've also beaten people's expectations together.
Both were homeless.
"We still battle these stereotypes that the homeless are lazy, that they don’t want to work, that they’re drug addicts that they’re you know hopeless. Well Michael and Cristian are anything but that,” said Christine Quinn, former City Council Speaker and CEO of Win.
Christine Quinn, the former City Council speaker, leads Win, the shelter network that placed the twins and their family in a supportive housing apartment in 2003, where they've lived ever since.
"We had an abusive father that was constantly hitting my mom, pushing her, putting her under pressure, so it was a good situation that we got out of that situation. But we needed to stay in the shelter for a while, but then Win found that and we took advantage of that to try to improve our life,” said Michael.
The apartment's rent is based on their mother's income. That allowed the twins to concentrate on their studies.
"What our mom said was just focus on your education, just focus on your education, don’t worry about me,” said Cristian.
Like all students in the city, they were also hit hard by the pandemic, especially when their mom, a phlebotomist at a Bronx hospital, got sick with the coronavirus.
"She was sick for like almost a week. I was worried for her and that like kept me distracted from college,” said Michael.
But Michael stayed on track and graduated from Lehman College. Cristian, who took a year off after his associate's degree to attend a computer coding program, is to pick up his Lehman degree next year. Both are making their mom proud.
"She always says I’m not going to cry when I see you graduate but every time she sees us graduate she starts crying,” said Cristian.
Cristian is aiming for an internship at IBM, and Michael is freelancing as he starts his job search. They also plan to become personal trainers and launch a YouTube channel together.
"Not only aren’t homeless people lazy, they actually are some of the most resilient hardworking people in the city of New York,” said Quinn.