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Joseph De Jesus ’16

Graduate Says St. John’s Set Him on Path to Harvard Law

When Joseph De Jesus ’16C marched at St. John’s 146th Commencement Exercises last May, he knew exactly where he was headed in the fall—Harvard Law School.

“If I hadn’t gone to St. John’s,” he said, “there’s no chance I would’ve wound up accepted to Harvard.” Joe also gained entry to other top-tier law schools.

As an Ozanam Scholar, a St. John’s program that focuses on social justice issues, Joe graduated summa cum laude with a double major in English and government and politics. His high grades are especially impressive in light of his many other activities, including the Mock Trial Team, the University’s Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program, and the President’s Society, St. John’s top honor for undergraduates.


Encouraged to Do More

Joe excelled at St. John’s even though he is legally blind. He was born with a rare hereditary eye disease called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), which affects 1 in 80,000. His older brother Christopher also has it. Mostly blind in his left eye and unable to see at night, Joe hopes medical advances may be able to treat the condition before his vision completely slips away.

“I didn’t understand my situation when I was younger, and it used to really trouble me,” he said. “But don’t feel bad for me—I consider my life an adventure.”

That optimism has helped him to overcome challenges posed by the condition. His high school teachers had told him he couldn’t enter Advanced Placement (AP) English because the reading would be too arduous. But at St. John’s, he achieved success in English and every other subject he studied. “Everyone at the University encouraged me to do more,” he said.

“Joe is an energetic intellectual, a meticulous student, and a respectful and generous peer to his fellow students,” said Kathleen Luby, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English. “His intelligence and hard work make him entirely deserving of his truly remarkable success.”

Making a Difference

St. John’s also offered opportunities to assist those in need. Joe volunteered as a case worker for Project ID, a program that helps homeless people to obtain vital identification papers; strengthened his interest in immigration advocacy after attending a seminar in the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s School of Law; and conducted research and service in Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Rome, and Washington, D.C.

Beyond the University, Joe counseled visually-impaired youth at Camp Helen Keller and served with the Long Island Bombers “beep” baseball team, a competitive version of the game for visually impaired players. “It teaches young people with visual impairments that there will always be obstacles in life,” he said. “With accommodation and perseverance, there’s always a way around them.”

Joe is the first person in his family to attend college. His parents immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. Joe learned much of his work ethic and commitment to service from them—especially his father, who has worked overtime to help pay for his son’s education. “I hope my first day of work will be my father’s last day of work,” he said.

St. John’s, Joe said, brought him closer to realizing those dreams. “It’s changed me permanently in a very positive way. I realize now that success is not about bringing yourself up—it’s about bringing up the person next to you.”