Joel De La Cruz: Rising young lawyer promotes collaboration for a better society
Hello, my name is Joel De La Cruz. I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. However, I spent the first years of my life in the Dominican Republic, the homeland of both my parents. I came to New York City when it was time to attend kindergarten. I am currently a rising senior attending the High School of Law, Advocacy, and Community Justice; the school is situated in the Martin Luther King Jr. Campus. Every day, I go to that school keeping in mind the lessons great men and women like him had to offer the world, and I ask, “What will I offer?” Looking at that bar from my age and status looks like a very tall bar to pass.
For those who don’t know Joel De La Cruz, I will tell you a few things about myself. I am very busy. I credit my advanced placement world history teacher Ms. Fryer with this drive for productivity and endurance. Ms. Fryer is infamous for the homework she gives, due to its lengthy nature. The school refers to it as Fryer’s Homework. Students with Multiple Advanced Placement Classes, and after school activities would often complain about time. In classic Fryer fashion, she responds with this statement “You can sleep when you’re dead.” Trust me, it sounds a lot funnier and nicer when she says it. In response to this statement, those students would drop whatever extra-curricular activity they had. I didn’t partake; instead I kept my position in the debate team and had an internship for the beginning of the school year. Before you ask, yes I do sleep, but it’s the sentiment of no delay which I take to heart. It’s why I feel sympathetic for those debaters who left the team at the beginning of the year. Ms. Fryer didn’t want her students to stop; she wanted them to move forward. The things I have told you about have all tied into what I am here to speak about: Sustainable Development Goal #4, Quality of Education.
Education is the topic of much debate, not only in my country but in many others around the globe. I’ve done everything within my ability to educate myself on things that simply aren’t as accessible as they should be. This education in history, philosophy, and the sciences, if not most, then partly why I do so well in a debate, and why I am very busy with internships. Websites dedicated to the distribution of information have been very helpful to this end. I like to submerge myself into this ocean of information. This knowledge has often helped me in life and an example of this is debate. It is the norm for me that when debate topics are given that I already have a comprehensive understanding of the resolution. I use this as a launch pad to help my team develop their understanding of the topic so we can all learn together. With every topic, I try to emphasize to my team that this topic matters and that it has a real impact on real people. It is with this vigor and a tenacity like no other, that I distinguish myself in a debate. The suspenders help, but it’s honestly the questions I ask my opponents as I look them in the eye. Some would consider my crossfire hostile and aggressive, but that isn't the intention. I ask the same questions I ask myself when learning and studying. I don’t ask questions that would prove my opponents wrong, though that can sometimes be the effect that takes hold. I ask questions that will make my opponent learn the same way I learned the topics we debate over. This approach has had the effect of me being decorated with medals at the end of tournaments.
With this reputation and understanding of the world, I take myself and attempt to enter new places and expose myself to new experiences. I had a productive summer in 2016. I was a paid intern for organizations in places like the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, which was a 1-hour walk from my residence in the Bronx alongside other exciting places. I was able to volunteer for a summer debate institute as a teacher for the NYC Urban Debate League. I taught middle school age children debate etiquette and technique, and working with them taught me a couple of things about teaching and learning. It is now the summer of 2017, and I think I am having an even more productive summer. I am a legal intern at the Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division-First Department. This is the Second Highest Court of my State of New York, and I am proud to work there. I am also a Communications/Media intern for the civil rights legal firm: LatinoJustice PRLDEF. I am just as proud to be working with them. These internships have provided me with a whole new avenue of educational possibility. Through work, I am improving, and learning in a whole new way. This is an active example in support of my thesis, through a better-educated populace, society will make better decisions that will lead to the betterment of all mankind. Experience is just another level of education; “Dosomething.org” has been an outlet for me to work towards improvement, and information distribution, through their online initiatives for change. All the things I have listed aren’t simple actions or events, they are exchanges. An exchange of and act towards an understanding; one which leads to a more knowledgeable person, thus a better society.
This extensive drive for more and better was born out of one exchange. A program had college students from Columbia University come to my first year class. They taught us a debate topic, and after a few weekly lessons, we were invited to Columbia University to debate what we learned. Being placed in that environment was a factor and motivation for seeking new experiences, and working with others to learn. Exchanges like the ones described should be the goal of any educator, as it stands for the pivotal catalyst that transforms a person’s understanding. Through greater interaction, and connectivity our societies will have a greater capacity for fostering these exchanges. Writing is said to be the greatest invention of mankind, for it allows us to learn something in the fraction of the time our ancestors did. The exchanges I've described walk hand in hand with this idea. Thus, I urge everyone to seek an exchange, and interactions that can lead to a better community for us all to enjoy. It is only then can we through a more informed, and better-educated populace, that we can come together, hand in hand, with better decisions for a better world. It must be us because only we the people have the power to make this life a wonderful adventure, to make this life free, and beautiful.