Puerto Rico to Packer: The Journey of Mr. De Jesus
“Good Morning!” exclaims Jose De Jesus, head of the Upper School, as he stands at the podium on the chapel stage.
“Good morning,” a few Packer students sleepily mumble in response.
“I said, good morning!” Mr. De Jesus repeats, with a bit more determination and enthusiasm.
“Good morning!” responds the whole Upper School in harmony.
Anyone who has attended a Chapel meeting since Mr. De Jesus joined the Upper School four years ago is familiar with this scene. This imperfect call and response has become a school staple at this point, and is undeniably an integral part of the Packer Upper School experience. It is rare to make it through an assembly without it.
And much like his signature Chapel announcements, Mr. De Jesus’ presence at Packer has become a vital part of being a high schooler here. Throughout his tenure in the Upper School, Mr. De Jesus has been a pivotal and valuable part of Packer, fully immersing himself within the Pelican community.
“It’s hard to imagine this place without him,” said Faridat Salami (‘20). “He has simply been such a large and central figure throughout this place.”
But despite how clearly and seamlessly Mr. De Jesus fits in here, his path to Packer was a winding one, filled with many bumps and turns.
Mr. De Jesus was born in Puerto Rico and was raised there for the first years of his life. He was brought up primarily by his grandparents during this time, for his mother was living on mainland U.S trying to get her degree, and his father was, for the most part, not involved in his life.
“My father went through a lot of personal struggles, and was not able to be a consistent figure in my life. He was a loving man but he was someone who had a hard time being there for me,” said Mr. De Jesus.
When Mr. De Jesus turned six, he moved to the bustling city New York with his mom and brothers. He did not speak a word of English at the time, but with the help of his first-grade teacher, who he fondly remembers as “the most game-changing teacher of [his] life,” he managed to pick up the new language and begin adapting to New York.
It was people like his teacher—people who believed in him—who Mr. De Jesus attributes to his successes in life.
“One of the great gifts I’ve had throughout my whole life is that I connected with people that had my back, believed in me, and accepted me for who I was. I ran with some kids who were pretty tough [in elementary and early middle school]—one of my friends was homeless while I knew him, another was involved in gangs, another was a drug dealer, and one was pregnant at 15 or 16, but they were all so smart, thoughtful, sweet, beautiful. And they all had my back. I can’t thank them enough… I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without them”
Mr. De Jesus’ admiration for those who believed in him as a child is reflected in much of the policy he has implemented here. Our advising program, which is set up mainly to guide and support students throughout their time in the Upper School, was largely the workings of Mr. De Jesus. The protection of Community Time, allowing it to be a time for the community to engage and build relationships with each other, has also been a strong point of emphasis of his.
“I think I have had an impact in terms of connecting student with adults, as well as connecting them to each other, which I consider one of my greatest accomplishments here,” he said.
However, out of all the relationships Mr. De Jesus has fostered in this community, the most important one has undoubtedly been his own with Packer. “He has one of the most joyful laughs that fill a room, and to me, that is emblematic of his relationship with this school,” said Ms. Allison Bishop, dean of student life. “He has this joy and boisterous presence, as well as such a positive attitude about what this place can be. He approaches everything with a wonderful sense of humor… and this place is going to feel a little empty without him.”