My name is Jasmine Mitchell from the class of 1995.
I remember starting the sixth grade learning how to navigate three trains to get from Park Slope to the Upper West Side, where De La Salle was located on the very top floor of the 97th street school building.
I learned of De La Salle from my mother who was a teacher at the elementary school that I went to. The principal told my mother that she thought I should go to private school, and years later I would find out that she was the person who paid for all of my applications.
It was by chance that my mother saw a flyer for De La Salle in the trash can of the teacher’s lounge. The guidance counselor at my elementary school didn’t think that there were many students who would qualify for the program, and had thrown the flyers away. By some luck, at the same time that my family was exploring different school options for me, it was a flyer in the trash can that really propelled me into my next step.
My first year at De La Salle was a transition period with my commute and the many trains that characterized my mornings and evenings. Coming from an interracial family, I was also learning how to navigate these different forms of difference: racial, ethnic, neighborhoods, music, etc. I played ice hockey and ran track at that time, was preoccupied with saving the whales, and my love for Country and Hip-Hop music. At first I didn’t know if I would fit in at De La Salle, but I quickly realized that everyone does, in a way that I now know is incredibly special and unique to our community. Everyone contributes to the community here, and everyone has something to add, every member of the community helps build and enhance it.
I am really grateful for the foundation that DLSA gave me. By the time I got to Andover, I had a really strong sense of self and ways of embracing the parts of myself that were unique, and that I could have easily shied away from to be “cool.” At De La Salle, I learned that accepting yourself, and others, brings strength. I didn’t struggle as much socially for these reasons, I didn’t doubt whether or not I deserved to be there. De La Salle gave me such a great academic foundation that at Andover, I was tracked at a pace that I just wasn’t ready for at the time. I was adjusting to the workload, among other things, and quickly learned that it was important to ask for help, and that at times, I would really need it. So, my first semester at Andover, I failed Math. I moved down in some courses, and began asking for help earlier on.
I graduated from Andover in 1999 and went to Williams College where I majored in American Studies. Once again, the seeds had been planted at De La Salle, particularly in Mr. Witty’s class, we would have debates about Hobbes and the “individual versus public good” even though we were “only” 13 year olds. That really stuck with me, and I draw from these kinds of classroom experiences when I teach today. I completed a doctoral degree in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, and now I am a Professor at SUNY Old Westbury, one of the most diverse colleges in the country. Working primarily with first-generation students, to have other Professors sometimes suggest that reading Marx would be beyond our students reach, struck me as very elitist. Perhaps they don’t get it right now, but maybe they will next year. Perhaps I have to present this information in a multitude of ways to plant a seed in someone’s mind. I learned that at De La Salle, especially in Mr. Witty’s classes. He encouraged us to go through texts and content that in other contexts, seemed very advanced for 13 year olds. Once, we were reading a play by August Wilson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Mr. Witty candidly explained the cultural context, class politics, gender and sexual politics to 8th graders.
The faculty at De La Salle think of their students as more than just students, but also as fellow scholars. In my experience, embracing the fact that you are a scholar as a student is key to the learning process. It’s the idea that you aren’t here to passively take in knowledge, but that in the classroom, we are able to make knowledge together. Even in college I don’t think that I was surrounded by students as engaged by this challenge as my peers at De La Salle were. I have been grateful for the cultivation of research, teaching, and writing for social change as embodied in De La Salle Academy. The seeds of my forthcoming book, Imagining the Mulatta: Blackness in U.S. and Brazilian Media were planted at De La Salle with the encouragement of thinking critically about my own experiences, and the politics of race, gender, and sexuality.
So many of my peers that I remain in contact with today foreground elements of De La Salle’s community in our personal and professional lives. It has been so intriguing to watch as so many of us craft our respective professions and passions around the communities that we are within and identify with.