Alumni Spotlight: The Leal Brothers

Waterside alumni are a central part of our community. The School maintains relationships with each graduate, working with them through early adulthood to ensure all our alumni are empowered to become the leaders of tomorrow. 

The Leal brothers enrolled at Waterside’s original location in 2008, two years after immigrating to America from the Philippines with their parents. Jaren joined the Class of 2010 and Jemel joined the Class of 2013. 

“I would say academically, Waterside was the toughest school we had gone through at that time in our lives,” Jaren shared. “Our first school in America was so easy. Then, coming to Waterside, when something was too easy for you, they would increase your level of learning. It was the best elementary school experience I had ever gone through.” 

During their time at Waterside, they both developed the virtues and skills that the School works to instill in each and every student: resilience, curiosity, and determination. 

“You don’t just go to school at Waterside, they push you so you respect learning to the point that I loved algebra in the fourth grade,” Jemel said. “They taught me to place the pursuit of knowledge in a high regard and to continue that pursuit throughout life. This has become a guiding principle in my life philosophy. I continue to learn, ask questions, and criticize current beliefs I have in every aspect of life because I never want to be complacent and believe it’s all I know––there’s always something more to learn.”

After graduating in 2010, Jaren attended New Canaan Country Day School––Jemel planned to join him until they moved to Tampa, FL in 2012. The pair of brothers continued their education in Tampa’s school system and matriculated to University of South Florida (USF). Jemel is a senior year studying International Business with a minor in Spanish. Jaren graduated from USF in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems. 

“Home is a place where you can be yourself, a place where you’re allowed to fail, where you’ll eventually grow out and evolve,” said Jaren. “A place that you’ll leave but always carry with you wherever you go; Waterside, to me, is that transient place called home.”  

For the past two summers, Jemel worked with Waterside’s Alumni team to gain access to internships. In 2022, Jemel was a Business Analytics intern at Bags, with fellow alum Clea Ramos ‘14.

“I was applying to internships on my own, but these internships––the quality of them and the people who knew Waterside––made them remarkable,” Jemel said. “I feel blessed that there are people out there still looking over me and trying to make sure I succeed in every way after elementary school.”

This past summer, he worked at SwiftConnect as a User Experience (UX) Design intern. Jemel has found his passion and will be pursuing a career in UX Design after completing his undergraduate education this spring. 

For the past year, Jaren has been working at Ernst & Young, where he gets to problem solve every day as a Tech Consultant.

As the two brothers continue on their paths toward success, they shared what they hope for current and future Waterside students:

Dream large, the world is what you make it to be, don’t let anything stop you from becoming what you want to be.  Never stop learning, always be curious and be hungry for knowledge. Don’t be afraid of failure, things will challenge you in every chapter of your life and you may fail but that’s ok, learn from it and come out stronger, remember you can’t beat a person who never quits. Cherish the moments, life goes through quick, one day you’re graduating elementary school and the next you just graduated college, pause and embrace the struggle, the fun and the experiences that life has to give. Hug your parents, they are the people other than Waterside that want you to succeed abundantly, the ones who will care for you when you’re sick, the ones who will sacrifice everything for your future, give them a tight hug and thank them. They deserve it.”