“If I didn’t go to St. John’s,” said Joseph De Jesus ‘16C, “there’s no chance I would end up getting accepted to Harvard.”
De Jesus, a double major in government and politics and English, will graduate summa cum laude this May and has been accepted to several top-tier law schools including Harvard, Columbia, Berkeley, Duke, and UCLA. He’s received partial and full scholarships to other schools where he applied. De Jesus credits the SJU faculty and students with inspiring his career ambition to practice and teach immigration law, instilling in him a passion and commitment to service, and, as a legally blind student, accommodating his disability and providing opportunities for him to succeed.
As a student at St. John’s, De Jesus has been a member of the President’s Society and the Ozanam Scholars Program. He has also participated in the mock trial team and the Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program. Through the Ozanam Scholars, he traveled on research and service trips to Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Ecuador, and Rome, Italy. Also as part of the Ozanam Scholars, he volunteers as a case worker with Project Identity, a program of St. John’s Bread and Life, helping homeless clients obtain vital identification documents. “The Ozanam Scholars Program exposed me to a wide variety of social justice issues and instilled in me a passion and obligation to give back and to help others more than myself in my career,” said De Jesus. “It has changed me permanently in a very positive way. I realize now that it’s not about bringing yourself up; it’s about bringing the person next to you up.”
In the Ronald Brown program, his interest in law became a drive toward immigration advocacy after attending a seminar taught by SJU Law School professor C. Mario Russell, J.D. Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development, Elaine M. Chiu, J.D., recalls, “It was a distinct privilege for so many of us in the program to work with [De Jesus]. If you looked behind his constant friendly smile and his remarkable politeness, what you saw and heard was always an intelligent, incredibly hard-working, thoughtful, and humble young man. Over time he dared to dream big and bigger as he realized his own talents and strengths and was advised by scores of very impressed advisors and faculty members. Joseph is on his way to one of the country’s top law schools and we are so proud and look forward to all that he will accomplish as a member of the legal profession.”
Outside of SJU, De Jesus volunteers as a counselor to visually-impaired youth at Camp Helen Keller, and with the Long Island Bombers beep baseball team, serving as an ambassador to the sport throughout New York State. He enjoys watching young people with visual impairments move from fear and reluctance to excitement as they become more comfortable with the sport: “It teaches them that there will always be obstacles in life but with accommodation and perseverance there’s always a way around them.”
De Jesus’ parents immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic and he is a first-generation college student. De Jesus calls his father his “hero” and attributes his own work ethic and commitment to service and family to his father’s example. De Jesus recalls a time when his father was late picking him up from wrestling camp because he stopped to help someone change a flat tire and De Jesus asked him why he always made time to help others. His father said, “How do people treat you? I go out of my way for others because I hope that others will go out of their way to help my family.” De Jesus, too, wants to help his family: “I hope that my first day of work will be my father’s last day of work,” he said, because his father has been working overtime to help pay for his education.
De Jesus was born with a rare hereditary degenerative eye disease called Leber’s congenital amaurosis (LCA), which affects 1 in 80,000. His older brother Christopher also has the disease. Currently, De Jesus is mostly blind in his left eye, is night blind, and hopes that scientific advances in treating the disease will become available before he loses his vision completely. “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. My life is an adventure.”
Told by his high school teachers that he couldn’t enter Advanced Placement (AP) English because the reading would be too difficult for him, De Jesus chose SJU for the opportunities and support he found here. “St. John’s was the only school that would take a chance on me,” he said. “People will tell you that you have limitations. I never encountered that at St. John’s though. Everyone was encouraging me to do more, like studying abroad in Rome and Ecuador.”
He not only completed a major in English, but excelled at it. Kathleen Lubey, Ph.D., associate professor of English, said of De Jesus: “He is an energetic intellectual, a meticulous student, and a respectful and generous peer to his fellow students. In the literature course he took with me, he stood out as an insightful interpreter of texts, and his papers were especially attuned to questions of social justice and human rights. Joey’s intelligence and hard work make him entirely deserving of this truly remarkable success.”
Though De Jesus has not made a decision about which law school offer he will accept yet, his career ambition to serve others and make a difference in the world around him is already well underway.