Alumni Spotlight: John Volquez ’09

I remember the application process for De La Salle Academy vividly—I was in the 5th grade, and it coincided with my application process for Prep for Prep, which I had purposely sabotaged during the second round because I didn’t want to “become a nerd.” Seeing how upset throwing away the opportunity to join the Prep for Prep family made my mother, I decided—or perhaps was strongly encouraged by her—to take the DLSA process more seriously. 

When I was accepted into DLSA, I was admittedly nervous because I didn’t know what to expect other than commuting from the Bronx while wearing a dress shirt, tie, and slacks every day. I wasn’t sure about how my life at home and in my neighborhood would change once I switched schools. I was still worried about becoming a nerd, and I was cognizant of the reality that DLSA only panned out because my mom wanted it for me so desperately, not because I wanted it for myself. Therefore, my acceptance into DLSA wasn’t something I was necessarily excited about, apart from the video games that my mom promised to buy me if I got in. I was more concerned than anything but my worries quickly waned during orientation when I saw that my future classmates and I had the same interests, came from similar places and backgrounds, and were all somewhat unaware of what to expect at DLSA. I quickly made friends and found myself thoroughly enjoying the time I spent at school. Even though my transition into being a good student at DLSA would come after my 6th grade year, my appreciation of the community came immediately. 

In the 6th grade, I found it tough to completely buy into DLSA’s community values—I came in with my neighborhood’s mentality of what being cool meant (i.e., not working hard in class, poking fun at kids, and being a class clown). Brother Brian and my teachers warned me that my behavior was hurting my progression as a student and the overall community, but I didn’t improve until my best friend was expelled from DLSA a year later. That was when I bought in—I started to arrive at school before Brother Brian even got into the building, and I left DLSA when he would lock it up for the night. The results were noticeable immediately, as I jumped from an S-grade student in 6th grade to an E-grade student in all my 7th-= and 8thgrade classes. The DLSA community was proud of my turnaround, and I began to believe that I had a real chance of becoming successful. This was especially true when I would see the older alumni come back to visit with great high school stories and carrying college acceptances. Their success felt tangible, and I realized that I could have it too. 

My teachers played a huge role in my acclimation to the school and in my discovery of what subjects and themes interested me the most. I remember Mr. Hip’s Latin class, which sparked my love for learning languages. I remember Brother David’s Algebra I class, where he would allow us to work on the problems that we missed on exams for half of the points back, and my making corrections until I got all of the answers correct. I remember Ms. Olsen’s Language Arts and Tell Us a Story classes, where I paid more attention to the delivery of stories and focused even more on my own writing. My happiest moments at DLSA were during the 10-minute breaks after 2nd period, during lunch when we would gather around tables to play Gonggi (the Korean equivalent of the game Jacks), during our retreats—especially at the Brother’s House with the incredible lunch options—and during our holiday events when Brother Brian would bring out his God-like vocals to serenade the community.

After graduating, I enrolled at the Asheville School in North Carolina, then attended Yale University, and recently completed a two-year investment banking analyst role at Lazard in New York. DLSA did a fantastic job setting me up for success in these places—I was prepared for rigorous academics, I understood what social dynamics I could expect, and I knew how far I could go when I was trying my best. Even though the communities I joined after DLSA are beautiful and brilliant in their own ways, DLSA has still managed to feel the most like family, the most like genuine love, and the most life-changing for me. DLSA pushed me to be better every day, and I’ve carried that expectation of myself since then. 

After finishing my analyst program at Lazard last month, I decided to skip the more conventional route of working in private equity, hedge funds, etc. as I instead look to work on some personal projects over the next year and a half. These include writing projects—the biggest of which is a book that I will begin writing in the fall about my neighborhood (think The Hillbilly Elegy but for the South Bronx)—and working alongside one of my best friends from Yale as his personal manager as he pivots into a career in music, among other things. I’m excited to be working for myself over the next year and putting time into what matters most to me at this moment—my people and recreating the opportunity that I’ve been blessed with for them on a mass scale. 

DLSA was more than a middle school for me. It was a window into a new world where I didn’t have to accept dropping out of high school as a likely scenario. It was a door into a reality where I could become whoever or whatever I wanted to, despite the financial situation or neighborhood in which I was born, so long as I worked hard. It undeniably shifted the course of my life, and it does the same for so many people like myself—boys and girls from low-income and working-class families from pockets of New York that don’t necessarily have access to the best public schools. That is why DLSA is special to the world more broadly, because it puts its kids into rooms that were not historically made for them and shows them that they are worthy of a spot. In turn, it seems like DLSA alumni are more adamant about giving back and recreating that opportunity for those that come after them. It’s a wonderfully transformative place, without a doubt, and I am thankful everyday of the opportunities it has afforded me. 

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