When I first got my acceptance letter from De La Salle Academy (DLSA) in the spring of 2012, I was ecstatic. My parents were thrilled since they have always believed education to be important for getting the opportunities that were not available to them. My mother immigrated from the Dominican Republic as a teenager, while my father was the son of Puerto Rican immigrants and had endured the Southern Bronx public school system of the 1970’s. They both had instilled in me the importance of always trying my best academically and always being grateful for any opportunities given to me.
While reading my acceptance letter, I was very touched that someone had believed in me enough to give me such an opportunity. I was also nervous about starting a new school and meeting new people. I remember arriving at DLSA on orientation day for sixth graders and taking a seat in the auditorium with a bunch of other nervous-looking middle schoolers. It was in that auditorium that I made my first significant memory of the person that would come to define DLSA for me: Brother Brian. He made it clear that he would treat us as adults as long as we acted like adults. This was a revelation for me since I had arrived from a charter school that made us walk in pairs from classroom to classroom like kindergarteners.
I also remember him saying that I was sitting with people who would become my friends for life. I admit that I was a bit skeptical of this. We were only eleven year olds and I would just be grateful for a year-long friendship. However, as time went on, I realized that his prophecy would come true. My best memories of fun times at DLSA were created because of the people I was surrounded by. I remember chatting with friends during my study halls in the library and laughing next to each other during lunch. I also remember us huddling together like penguins outside when Brother Brian took us onto the street in winter. Those friendships I made at DLSA have lasted until this very day and they still support me in all of my endeavors while helping me grow as a person. Whenever I see these friends, I feel as though no time has passed since we were at DLSA and running up those stairs together.
At DLSA, I also learned an important lesson: how to face academic challenges. I had flown by academically in elementary school. When I started DLSA, for the first time in my life I actually tried my best on something important and didn’t do as well as I had hoped. I was astounded! How can someone do better than their best? It seemed to me like a scary existential crisis. I eventually figured out the key for success: not being afraid to ask questions. In my sixth-grade math class taught by Ms. Obregon, there were many moments when I was completely confused, but I was too embarrassed to raise my hand. I didn’t want people to think that DLSA was too hard for me. However, as I saw the actions of other students, I soon realized that asking questions is what learning is all about. Ms Obregon never seemed to think less of me for asking questions. If I was still confused, she would even meet with me briefly after class to explain the concepts. It was okay to be unsure of things and it was perfectly normal to not get something right on the first try. I have taken this lesson with me throughout my academic career and still ask questions, even in college.
DLSA’s impact on my life is simply impossible to overstate. When I try to characterize the impact to others, I find myself using an analogy. Before I went to DLSA, my life was like a car driving on a certain highway. When I enrolled at DLSA, an invisible force picked up the car and put it on a totally different highway. DLSA opened my mind to dreams and ambitions that I never even knew I could have. The idea of being able to go to high schools with so many resources had never crossed my mind or the minds of my family. We didn’t even know that such places existed. DLSA not only helped open those doors for me, but also gave me the confidence in myself that I would need to fully step through those various doors.
After DLSA, I have tried to implement its lessons of community-building and love for others that made my experience there so special. For high school, I attended Convent of the Sacred Heart where I volunteered at Summer Steps, a summer program dedicated to helping low-income children between the ages of three and five prepare themselves to get into NYC private schools for kindergarten. At Smith College, I am currently co-chair of Caribe, a club dedicated to establishing a community among Caribbean students and providing resources to enable them to succeed in an environment where the majority of students don’t look like them. In fact, Caribe was founded by another DLSA alum who graduated last year from Smith and was one of my DLSA moms. I’ll never forget how warmly she welcomed me when we ran into each other during my first week of college and how she still remembered my name after so many years. When I saw her, the rain clouds of my homesickness were swept away by her kindness. It reminded me that DLSA follows me even in the worst of times and unlikeliest of places. I am also treasurer of the Pre-Law Society, an organization that tries to make it easier for all students regardless of background to be able to apply to law school and be educated fully about that choice. I also give tours to prospective students, because I remember how nervous I was when applying to different schools for high school and college. During the pandemic, I interned with Congressman Espaillat’s office over the summer to help provide services to many New Yorkers who were unfortunately going through tough times.
Although it has been six years since I graduated from DLSA, it is an experience that I think about constantly and will never forget. My experience at DLSA, through DLSA’s unconditional love for me, EMPOWERED me to be myself. DLSA is a beacon that I try to use as a moral compass whenever life gets frustrating or difficult. It is very comforting to know that I have a place that I can always return to just to get a hug or pieces of advice. I am eternally grateful for the family that I was able to create there and only hope that I will be able to pay it forward as my life progresses.