By Dustin Perry, Teacher and Lasallian Youth Moderator, Christian Brothers High School, Memphis, TN
Attending my first District Lasallian Youth Gathering in 2003, I was overjoyed to meet fellow Lasallians. I was so excited to learn of all of the others around the Midwest United States that shared in the same values and culture that I had learned about though my first year at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, TN. It took ahold of me like a virus, and I have been excited about being an active member in the Lasallian community ever since. As I continued to attend these summer gatherings, I formed strong relationships with Lasallians around the District, several of whom have gone back to serve at Lasallian ministries.
And throughout high school, no bond was ever stronger than that of my Lasallian Youth friends, especially at CBHS. We were always together, and while there were not very many of us, we worked hard to make Lasallian Youth all that it could be. More than 10 years later, these are still my best friends, and three of them, including myself, currently serve in Lasallian ministries.
I attribute this success to two key factors: feeling that we were part of a community, and a strong role model, who led by example. As members of the community, we knew that we would always be there to support one another. We knew that as members of the Lasallian community, wherever we went someone would be there for us.
Our role model, and Lasallian Youth leader, was Joe Hughes, a Young Lasallian himself. Only in his mid-30s, he had this charisma about him. We all wanted to follow him, and never wanted to disappoint him. While Joe was not perfect, he guided and encouraged each of us with special care in our Lasallian missions. He taught us to love ourselves, love each other, and love those around us. I don’t remember ever questioning him. When he said “I’ll see you Saturday at De La Salle,” I went to do service. When he said we were going on a trip to Chicago, we went. When he told me to join the wrestling team, I did. And everything that he guided me to in life has strongly influenced me to be the man that I am today. And in the four short years that I spent with him at CBHS, he had a profound impact on my life, and the lives of many others. Joe moved away the summer after I graduated, and died suddenly of a heart attack four years later. Barely 40, he left behind a wife and kids, who I used to babysit. It was like losing a big brother. When we heard the news, four of us were together at a party. We went into a room together and cried and hugged each other. Then I had to call my best friend, who had moved from Memphis. Without the support of his friends around him, he took it pretty hard. We would never have become friends if it weren’t for Joe. He took a group of boys and turned them into a community of Lasallians.
I returned to teach at CBHS the next year, and I have loved every day of it. When you have a role model like Joe, and the community experience that I had, you want to dedicate your life to being that role model for others, and fostering that kind of community in your school. After two years at CBHS, I was put in charge of Lasallian Youth. I told all of my friends that I was going to be the new Joe: educator, coach, Lasallian Youth leader. I am working hard every day to make that positive impact on those around me and to be for others what Joe was for me.
I think it is essential for all of us, especially Young Lasallians, to be that positive role model that can touch the hearts of those entrusted to our care. It is our duty to build and grow a community where our students feel accepted and learn to be agents of change in the world. If someone had that impact on your development, then it is essential that you be that to the next generation.
Now when I reflect back on my Lasallian history, along with the new experiences of this week, I think about all of the amazing role models and vibrant communities that there must have been to bring all of these wonderful, diverse people together from around the world. I was so amazed more than a decade ago when I took my first look into the Lasallian world, and as I sit here in the Generalate, in Rome as part of the ISYL, I continue to be amazed at this new view of the Lasallian world at present, and the future world ahead. Looking into the future, I am filled with hope: hope for Young Lasallians, and hope for the world.