2015 was undoubtedly the worst year of my life.
It had some of the highest highs, but the lows were, well.. low. The way it started is a prime example of the massive oxymoron of a year I’m referring to.
2015 had all the ingredients for the most exciting and fun year that I’ve been building up to for many years.
- Hopping 4 A Cure was set to host our first Hopscotch Tournament at Florida State University (FSU)
- I just finished up an Internship with Disney in Orlando (my first Corporate Internship)
- Signed up to run my first Full Marathon since High School with an IRONMAN in sights
- I was running almost every organization at UF that I had wanted to since I stepped foot on campus
- My 21st Birthday was right around the corner (Although I never cared to drink much anyways)
I left Disney the first weekend of the year and returned to UF for a short week before returning to race in the Walt Disney World Marathon (January 11th, 2015). In that short week, I welcomed the 3rd class of the Innovation Academy to the University of Florida, moved into 406 in Beaty West for my second year of being an RA, and on Wednesday I had lunch with a great friend who I haven’t seen since I crashed on his couch for 3 weeks before officially starting my internship in Orlando.
Usually when we met up for food, it would be at Broward Dining Hall (Fresh Food Co.) on campus, but for whatever reason I recommended we meet at the Chic-Fil-A right next to it. When we got there I didn’t even feel like eating but he still bought a chicken sandwich and waffle fries. I felt bad since I recommended it. We talked about projects and plans we had for the next year. He had plans to focus his energy on a few of the many ‘Lifestyle’ Twitter accounts he owned into all out web-based businesses to try and expand his expertise beyond just Social Media. In most of my conversations I was always glad I was friends with him. Felt like I was smarter by association and believed he was one person I’d be saying ‘I knew him when..’ in however many years it was until he was a huge success in whatever he pursued. We said goodbye and went our separate ways, I went to Beaty, he said he was going to the Library or somewhere near Turlington.
That was the last time I spoke with my friend, Jerry DeClasse.
Friday night on my ride down to Orlando for the Marathon, I received multiple texts and a phone call from his roommate, Erick Rodriguez, expressing concern on Jerry’s Whereabouts and recent activities since it has been a few hours since he had come home. I figured it was a Friday night and his phone may have been off or not with him. I tried calling and texting but no answer. Not thinking much of it, I continued to the Hotel where I met my mom for the race.
Picked my packet (bib, shirt, etc.) up on Saturday. Since I only had audiobooks and forgot to put music on my iPhone 4 before I left Gainesville, I stayed up a lot later than I should have Saturday night saving music for the run.
Just after 11, I received a call from an unsaved number on my cell. It was a man with a thick accent asking for me, and proceeded to tell me that he was Jerry’s father. He asked about Jerry’s personality, if he ever used any drugs, or how he acted in any of my recent interactions with him. I answered as honestly as I could – Jerry was as straight edge as me when it came to Drugs and Alcohol, and outside of our lunch I only said hi to him for a brief moment at the ‘Launch Into IA’ event welcoming new IA freshman as we were both Ambassadors for the program.
Mr. DeClasse then shared that he was calling from the hospital in Gainesville and Jerry was staying the night.
Still not thinking too much into it, I had my mom in my other ear reminding me I needed to get some sleep before the Marathon which was only a few hours from then.
Had a nice race and took many pictures with characters before I headed back up to Gainesville that night for classes on Monday. On my way back, I spoke with Erick about Jerry and what had happened. He said Jerry had been hit by a car, had a broken leg and a concussion but everyone was staying positive.
Monday after class, I limped to my car wearing my Marathon Medal and drove to visit Jerry in the Hospital’s ER (wearing the medal and event shirt of the race the following Monday is a tradition I’ve kept from my friend, Alex, since my first race in 2011). As I drove up to the ER’s Valet, I contemplated wearing my medal into the Hospital to show Jerry and make some sort of joke as I imagined we’d both be limping around obviously severely underestimating the severity of the situation. Before I handed the keys off, I made a game time decision not to wear the medal into the hospital to be safe since I didn’t want to show off in front of the other patients and be ‘That Guy’.
The lady at the desk of the ER said he had actually been transferred to another room of the Hospital outside the ER on the 3rd floor in another wing.
I was allowed to enter the area after being cleared by some of the nurses and then met Jerry’s Dad for the first time. He continued clarifying my answers over the phone from the other night then led me to Jerry’s room.
Still, I was completely oblivious as to what I was literally walking into.
Please skip to next line break to avoid potentially graphic descriptions
The dimly lit room sounded with soft religious music from Hatian/Creole origins. Jerry’s mom was sitting next to the wall on the left and his aunt (if not his aunt, it was his mothers’ friend from church) was on the opposite side of the bed holding a very inflamed right hand, reading /singing out of a book to Jerry and hoped he could hear their voices – as if words were beyond his comprehension.
His hand and wrist were swelled to almost double the size I remember them, and his head/face were puffy as well. I could see visible marks on the top left of his head but was unsure if those were caused by the accident or the doctors. He was hooked up to a lot of machines that monitored everything, some I’m sure were assisting him breathing to keep oxygen circulating and maintain any brain function that was left.
Jerry was in a coma. If he were to survive, he would be severely brain dead with minimal chance of leading a normal life again.
They all said I could say hi and talk with him privately if I’d like, figuring it would help if he heard someone else’s voice to stimulate more brain function.. I couldn’t find any words and cowardly stood there speechless.
I’ve never been close to anyone who had been in such critical condition. It is a surreal experience that I obviously do not wish on anyone else.
What confused me even more is how I believe I was the first and only person outside of his roommates who had visited him or even known that he was in the Hospital! Jerry’s local priest/religious leader was there with the family and was talking as if Jerry had already died – I was pissed with the guy and although I answered his questions about setting up a memorial event on campus plus a fundraiser for Jerry on campus, I couldn’t help but feel disdain for this seemingly nice douchebag. My friend was still breathing 10 feet away from us! That conversation was a little premature for me, but again, I was the first friend there.
Leaving the hospital, I couldn’t think of how to act. I thought the world would stop for a moment to let me understand the situation, but time keeps on moving.
Jerry DeClasse passed away January 17th, 2015.
I do want to give a special thanks to Dr. Citty and the Innovation Academy Office who visited Jerry every day once they found out he was in the Hospital. They gave his family care baskets and spent hours with the family showing support.
I’d consider myself an outwardly happy person who knows a lot of people and who a lot of people know, especially in Gainesville. Although I have a stupid 3,512 ‘friends’ on Facebook, and a couple hundred acquaintances at UF/in Gainesville, I’ve only truly considered one person a ‘Best Friend’ and only a small, select, specific few close friends. Although Jerry was not who I considered my ‘Best Friend’, looking back he was that and more – I spent almost everyday with him Sophomore year and we connected in mindset, interests and work ethic. Even my ‘Best Friend’ and I do not relate or connect in those areas.
Joni Mitchell’s lyric ‘You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone’ is surprisingly applicable and so true.
I’ll always remember the awesome times Jerry and I had from staying up until morning scheming up money making opportunities, to tag-teaming Gainesville Startup Hours, while practicing our Les Mis duet ‘Confrontation’ with plans to burst out in song at a Startup Hour soon after watching Neil Patrick Harris and Jason Segel performing it on ‘Inside The Actors Studio’.
Spring 2015 continued, and although things didn’t get worse, Summer began with the passing of another friend and leader in the Gainesville community just after my 21st birthday.
I read about Josh Greenberg and Sam Tarantino long before I shared the same room with either of them. My relation to Josh was not more than casual conversations about business and life but he was always there if I needed help or advice. Grooveshark shutting down only a few months before he died wasn’t positive for anyone close to him or the Gainesville community. The speculation and coincidence of his timely passing only made conversations a bit more depressing.
My grades were the worst they’ve been since High School and mentally I wasn’t enjoying my time as much as I had hoped. Plus I hadn’t been training for my IRONMAN almost at all until that point.
The Internship offer from Intel provided some much needed positivity. Although I knew my training would be much better if I stayed in Gainesville and been an RA in the new Infinity Hall, it was an easy decision to move to Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Without going into much detail on my internship (I’ll write about that soon..), I learned the guy who was going to be my boss, the man who interviewed and hired me, actually left the company for Google only two weeks before I started!
My new boss was a great guy but I had a feeling he wasn’t sure what my role was supposed to be or how to fill my time everyday. He was still transitioning as well into a new position.
That said, my first few weeks were real rough and I wasn’t enjoying my time. The added fact that UF was having an amazing Football year was just the icing on the cake to my 8+ hours a day sitting at a cubicle looking for cool things to do and events to attend to make the most use of my time.
As the internship progressed, I understood the conversations had in the meetings I attended, and began carving out a nice job/workload that my boss ended up giving me to do. People like my new friends Danny and Shirley were crucial to my success at Intel.
During my time at Intel, yet another friend and Gainesville community member Devon Grimme passed away. Another shocking, unexpected, horrible accident.. I do not know much about the details since I was not in Gainesville but I will miss him sincerely.
5 months later and I’m working part time for Intel in Gainesville for another month or so while Interviewing people to take over my position when my internship is ‘over’ (which is whenever they are hired..).
The highest points of 2015 came with the time I spent with my brother in California and on our road trip back to Florida. We had some crazy adventures and stories that we can finally laugh at although some of the situations we found ourselves in were not the most comfortable or ‘traditional’ to say the least.. (Some of those stories I’ll write about as well..).
So far, 2016 has been amazing. Finishing the road trip with a night in Tallahassee with my best friend Gary was fun. Now I’m back in the swing of things being an RA in Beaty East for the 4th and 5th floors.
Every year since 2013, I’ve been in the Hospital for at least one night within the first two weeks of January. This year seems to have broken that trend!
Over the past few days, Trevor Abbott and Aidan Augustin hosted an awesome potluck/cookout for the Gainesville Startup Community, my favorite event of the year! (so far.. 😉 ) I Celebrated the birthdays of my old Roommate, Pablo, and my great friend, Hammaad. I’ve even begun organizing our next Hopping 4 A Cure tournament with our UF team.
Being back in Gainesville, reconnecting with so many cool people, and simply living life as a student again is nice.
Later this year, I’ll have to take the GMAT and apply to MBA programs. Ideally, I’d like to take the next year off and travel if all goes well, then start into an MBA program when I return. I’ve already started making a list of countries and people I’d like to meet up with and visit. Here’s a short list:
- United Kingdom
- Spain (Europe)
- Thailand (Southeast Asia)
Let me know if you’d like to join for a few days/weeks! If you’d like to host and be a personal tour guide, please let me know and I’ll try and make it to wherever you are!!
As far as my new years resolutions..
- I am going to invest in the relationships I have and try to connect with some new awesome people.
- If you are reading this and we haven’t talked in a while.. please message me and let’s set up some time to talk – I’ve been meaning to catch up!
- I will spread Hopping 4 A Cure to at least 1 more school/community
- If you know anyone interested or are interested yourself in getting involved with Hopping 4 A Cure, let me know!
- I will have as much fun as possible
- This is not trying to be forced, but by trying new things and saying ‘yes’ to new adventures, I’m excited for what this year can bring with graduation around the corner.
Thank you for reading this post, I know it may not have been easy however I felt the need to write it all down and read somewhere it can be therapeutic to express myself through writing like this. Blog posts may not be ideal but I’m writing these more for me than anyone else and since my handwriting ‘peaked in 5th grade’ according to my FB status this week, I probably won’t be able to read anything I write 10/20+ years from now.
As I mentioned before, I’d love to reconnect with friends reading this – even to those who I do not know, please say hello! I am easy to get a hold of with all this social media..
@TheDavidNassau <- on every platform