Now in my seventh year as a commercial litigator in one of the country’s premier law firms, I often find myself reflecting on how I got to where I am today. As a young boy from the South Bronx, I didn’t know any lawyers growing up—in fact, I hardly knew any lawyers until I went to NYU School of Law. As a first generation American, I hardly knew anything about the American justice system. Nor did I even know I wanted to be a lawyer until after college when I worked at an international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Yet somehow, I found myself where I am today. I would like to share with you how my short time at De La Salle Academy (“DLSA”) contributed to getting me where I am today.
Last month, I was delighted to learn that DLSA was featured in a February 9 article from Fortune, titled “Feelings of belonging at school are important for student success—and mental health.” (Link). To me, the title conveyed what seemed like a common-sense yet novel idea: “belonging” sounds positive so I could see how it might be important to success. But when I typically thought of “success,” the word “belonging” wasn’t first to come to mind. I thought of things like hard work and having a strong support network. And, of course, privilege—something you start with (or find). To me, these were the low-hanging fruit of what I already knew that DLSA has to offer its students. But “belonging”?
Then it hit me: the strongest sense of belonging I’ve ever felt was during my time at DLSA. I remember arriving early before the doors opened and leaving often late at night when the doors closed. My friends and I would sit in the library or in the building staircase and play an endless amount of chess games. Or we would play Pokémon (the card game). Or computer games in the lab. Most commonly of all, we would simply sit together in silence, working hard on our homework (which we rarely ever did at home) with our gel pens, and motivating each other to work hard as well. In my formative years at DLSA, I was among people who were kind, hardworking, unentitled, diverse, and fun. And above all, they were people who cared—either because they naturally cared or because DLSA provided an environment that fostered caring. Each day I walked through those red doors, I honestly never wanted to leave.
So how did my feeling of belonging help get me where I am today? Simple. Those who belong thrive. For minorities with an underprivileged background, sometimes knowing that you can belong gives you strength to overcome the times when society tries to tell you that you don’t belong. Once you’re exposed to something so magnificent, you seek it out wherever you go: friends who not only are fun to be with but who push you to thrive; work that is not just hard but which drives you. All while having knowledge not just that you are good and can do good, but that there are people in the world who deserve the best you that you can give them. Thanks to DLSA, that is the experience that I bring to my life and work every day, whether it is in the courtroom or at home, and it has helped bring me to where I am today.