The motto “Enter to learn, leave to serve” is emblazoned in large letters in a hallway at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., and that is a lesson that Victor Aldridge, a member of St. John’s class of 2020, said he has taken to heart.

That phrase, he said, reflects the Lasallian education he received there, and the legacy of service of St. John Baptist de La Salle, who founded the Christian Brothers order that sponsors the coeducational Catholic high school in the nation’s capital.

During his four years at St. John’s, Aldridge engaged in a variety of service projects locally, nationally and internationally, serving the homeless and visiting the elderly in Bethesda, doing home renovations for the poor in Mississippi, and starting a pedestrian safety program for children in Brazil.

“I’ve always just felt the need to do things for others, which I feel is a calling as a child of God and following in Jesus Christ’s footsteps,” Aldridge said.

The St. John’s graduating senior, who is Christian, is the son of Peter and Lidia Aldridge of Bethesda, Maryland, and he has a young brother Kevin who will be a sophomore at St. John’s this fall.

Aldridge enjoyed serving others so much during his St. John’s years, that he completed more than 60 extra service hours beyond the 90-100 hours required of students there.

He volunteered serving the meals to the homeless on Sunday evenings at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bethesda.

“I got to know a lot of these people on a personal level and understand how they’ve gotten to where they are,” he said. The experience made him thankful for the things he has, he noted, adding, “I have a roof over my head and food in the pantry.”

In the summer of 2018 between his sophomore and junior years at St. John’s, he joined fellow students on a mission trip to rural Mississippi, where they built a ramp for an older woman so she could get in and out of her house safely, and they did a variety of home renovations for another elderly woman who lived by herself and whose sewage service had been cut off.

Aldridge said he witnessed how institutional racism impacts the lives of some of the nation’s poor. “It was a very eye-opening experience,” he said.

This past summer, Aldridge and his brother Kevin participated in a program called Kid Caregivers, visiting with the elderly at the Sunrise Senior Living facility in Bethesda, doing puzzles with residents and talking with them, including some who had Alzheimer’s disease. He got to know a lot of the senior citizens there and said that experience broadened his understanding about the help that some people need.

Aldridge participated in the De La Salle Scholars Program at St. John’s. Students in that program are required to complete a project, and his involved launching a pedestrian safety system in part of Brazil, where his mother was born.

He launched a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the project, noting that tens of thousands of pedestrians die in Brazil each year, many of them children.

On that page, he noted, “This idea came about when I witnessed a way in which people were safely crossing the streets in the United States. Pedestrians would simply get a neon flag from one side of the road, take it across the street with them, and leave it in a compartment on the other side of the road. The point of this system is to make drivers aware of pedestrians that are crossing the road.”

Aldridge decided to try to set up a pedestrian safety system in a Brazilian community he would be visiting with his family in the summer of 2019. He raised funds in the United States, worked with a non-profit group serving children in that part of Brazil, and got the approval of government officials there to launch the program. During his week in Brazil, he visited students at schools and spoke with them in their native Portuguese about the safety program he was setting up, and then he installed and tested the flag system.

On his GoFundMe page, Aldridge noted, “From the first of the three public schools where I installed the crossing flags, the need for my pedestrian safety project became extremely clear. The areas where these public schools are located are generally unsafe and have few crosswalks and sidewalks; most students walk to school or take public transportation because the public school system doesn’t provide transportation. One school director was particularly thankful for this project because a portion of the students have special needs or mobility issues.”

“It was a great experience,” said Aldridge, who was interviewed by a local Brazilian TV station about the project.

Aldridge, who identifies as Brazilian-American, said that effort was especially meaningful to him because of his family’s heritage.

And he said that experience also convinced him “that’s what I wanted to continue doing in my life… My dream for the future is to get a job in an international organization and work on a project like this.”

This fall, Aldridge will be a student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he plans to work toward a graduate degree in international relations.

Aldridge said he hopes to work in a “career in helping people around the world and giving back to this global community… anything that has to do with sustainable development,” like expanding educational opportunities for children and increasing access to clean water.

At St. John’s, Aldridge started a Brazilian/Portuguese Culture Club, where he and other students with Brazilian roots shared that culture with peers, including teaching the samba dance; listening to Brazilian jazz and bossa nova; sharing brigadeiro chocolate truffles; teaching the Portuguese language; and sharing video highlights of Brazil’s soccer legacy.

“I wanted to bring Brazilian culture to the school community at St. John’s,” said Aldridge, who this past year served as president of the school’s Multicultural Student Alliance.

Aldridge said he entered St. John’s as a shy student, but the school helped him “go way out of my comfort zone” as he met new friends and broadened his horizons there. Now, he said, “I’m a very outgoing, social person. I’m always willing to meet new people and share new experiences.”

While at St. John’s, Aldridge also participated in the Model United Nations and received the La Salle University Book Award for exemplifying Lasallian values through his academic excellence and service.

Dr. Anna Garland, the dean of academic services and director of the De La Salle Scholars Program at St. John’s, praised Aldridge for having “a passion for serving others” and said he “will leave behind a legacy of collaboration, global service and cultural competence. I can’t wait to see all that he is able to accomplish moving forward.” 

Aldridge, who turned 18 in May, acknowledged this spring has been challenging, as the coronavirus pandemic caused local schools to close their campuses for safety reasons and transition to online learning, and caused the cancellation of many traditional end-of-year activities for graduating seniors.

“I wish my senior year didn’t end the way it’s ending, but that’s the way it is. You’ve got to do what you can to survive,” he said.

But as he prepares to graduate from high school, Aldridge has hope for the future, and dreams of helping to make the world a better place.

“It’s exciting to finish that chapter of my life, and move on to bigger and better things,” he said.

Victor Aldridge