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Kevin Cullen

Never held back

Javier Serrano of Somerville tossed a baseball in the air before throwing a ceremonial first pitch during Wednesday night's Red Sox game at Fenway Park. Javier Serrano of Somerville tossed a baseball in the air before throwing a ceremonial first pitch during Wednesday night's Red Sox game at Fenway Park. (John Bohn / Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kevin Cullen
June 5, 2008

They are everywhere these days. Kids wearing faces etched with equal parts hope and anxiety, a diploma in one hand, notes for a job interview in the other.

Javier Serrano is one of them, except for the hands part. He doesn't have any. He was born that way.

He received his degree in social work from Gordon College last week and cast his line into the sea that is the job market at not exactly an opportune time. The economy's slow. But nothing has deterred Javier Serrano in his nearly 22 years on this earth. He'll make do. He always has.

He was born in Texas. His father worked on an assembly line and wasn't really a part of his life. His mother, Rosa, always was, and one day when he was 2, she boarded a Greyhound bus in Fort Worth with him and his older sister, Fabiola.

"My mom's always worked as a housekeeper at other people's houses, to give me and my sister what she could, so she was always my hero," he says.

They ended up in Revere, and one of his first memories is the roll and crash of the waves on Revere Beach. Soon they were in Cambridge, bouncing from apartment to apartment. Javier went to the Amigos School in Cambridge, where he thrived.

One day, in kindergarten, a boy pointed at him and said, "You don't have any hands."

Javier had never thought of himself as different. He still didn't. He shrugged and got on with his school work.

He tried the prostheses. But they didn't feel right, so he didn't use them.

"They had hooks on the end of them, and I was afraid I'd hurt my friends when we high-fived in the playground," he said.

Over time, he developed remarkable dexterity with the stumps at the end of his wrists so that he could write, eat and - you've got to see this to believe it - tie his shoelaces.

He was in fourth grade when a kindergartener saw him and got scared. Javier sat down and explained what a birth defect is.

"He totally charmed her," says Jim St. Clair, a teacher who watched the exchange. "He has a great way with kids. He'd be a great teacher."

He went back to Texas for high school, to be near family. But, like the prostheses he had thrown aside, it never felt like a good fit. He had a 3.8 grade point average, but low SAT scores. During his last week in Fort Worth, a guidance counselor pulled him aside and sheepishly admitted she had not known that, because of his disability, he could have taken the SATs untimed. It was too late. He had applied to Boston University and Boston College but was turned down. He came back to Massachusetts and got into Gordon.

He mentors a kid in Malden. "I don't think I do anything special," he says. "We just hang out, and I encourage him."

He still goes back to Amigos and talks to the kindergartners every year.

"I tell the kids you can do anything you want," he says. "Look at me."

He had a good interview with Blue Cross and Blue Shield the other day. He looks at the soldiers coming back from Iraq without limbs and thinks that some day he will be working with them.

"My cousin is a Marine; he was in Fallujah," he says, and he doesn't have to say anything more.

He is like so many other newly minted college grads, excited and just a little bit scared to be grown up and stepping into the real world. But he exudes something special, this young man who has everything but hands.

The other day, on a glorious afternoon on Castle Island, we played catch with a baseball.

Last night, just before 7 o'clock, Javier Serrano threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park.

It was a strike.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.

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