When Derek Donnelly opened his address to students at Northwest Catholic’s Honors Breakfast last Wednesday with a reference to Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, listeners thought they knew what was coming. But Donnelly surprised his audience with: “No, I didn’t learn everything at Northwest.” He continued, “But the most important lessons I learned here are with me today.”
First, Donnelly spoke of learning about the importance of service. He explained how lessons of Catholic social justice helped him understand how he could and should serve. He referenced several firsts he had at NWC. For example, the first time he donated blood was at the school’s blood drive, and he’s been donating ever since. He spoke of the first time he organized a coat drive, and today he still participates in clothing drives. He talked about the first time he volunteered at a senior center, and today, you guessed it — he’s still helping the elderly. Now he’s providing pro bono legal assistance to the elderly who can’t advocate for themselves.
Second, Donnelly told the students about effecting change through collaboration. He gave the example of his participation in a protest to change the school uniform and another where students negotiated lower prices of cafeteria items. Those in the know followed his reference to the “walking taco,” and when the food service personnel raised its price, he and his classmates protested by bringing bagged lunches day after day. Many students even brought bagged lunches for their classmates until those setting the price points retracted the increase.
Today Donnelly celebrates that collaborative spirit. He told the students it doesn’t matter what political party you belong to or what labels have been assigned to you: it’s important to come together to make a difference in people’s lives.
Last, Donnelly stressed how the Northwest Catholic community opens doors. The first person who gave him a job, the first client who signed on the line, his first large account — all Northwest Catholic alumni.
Today Derek Donnelly is an attorney at Blackburn & O’Hara. He lives in Suffield with his wife and two children and remains a proud graduate of Northwest Catholic’s Class of 1998.