I don’t remember the first time I walked up the four flights of stairs to the original home of De La Salle Academy (DLSA) on 96th Street and Amsterdam, but I can still picture those stairs now. It was the daily subway ride from the end of the F train line in eastern Queens that was originally the most daunting part about going to DLSA; I remember my mom rode the train with me the first few days to give me pointers. It soon became, and still is, a badge of honor that I rode the subway to school for seven years for DLSA and later, Regis High School.
It quickly became apparent that DLSA did things very differently from any other schools I had ever heard of. We cleaned our own classrooms and bathrooms. A student was in charge of ringing a large brass bell when the class period was over. We played intramural soccer on Fridays. We’d have a school wide seder service to commemorate Passover, and morning Advent celebrations during the Christmas season.
Our teachers were dedicated, caring, and confident; they knew we were hungry to learn and they were ready to challenge us. We looked at our teachers and saw who we wanted to be one day as adults: educated, enthusiastic, and altruistic. It was a learning experience unlike my prior public school days; even though I had been in a district gifted and talented program, it was a far cry from what DLSA offered on a daily basis.
The DLSA community will always be our school’s superpower, we learned early on that we could be ourselves and thrive. We also learned to be tight knit and supportive, the only competition was with yourself. Whatever the conventional wisdom is about the trauma of the junior high school experience, I can only think how fortunate I was that Brother Brian had successfully built in De La Salle an environment that was its exact antithesis.
I came away from DLSA knowing that I could always walk through the door again and feel right at home, and deeply committed to making sure it was still there for those who came after us. My own path after DLSA was winding, first to Regis, but then to Baltimore to attend Johns Hopkins, and a few years after to South Korea and Iraq as an Army officer. I finally returned to New York, ten years after leaving, to work in financial technology.
Looking back over the thirty years since I graduated, I am grateful that I am still able to support De La Salle both financially and with my time. De La Salle is at a key moment in its existence, as Brother Brian steps back and our best alumni step up to lead it forward. We owe it to our younger brothers and sisters to lend as much support as we can.