The following story was posted with permission of the Hi's Eye, the student newspaper at Westfield High School.
WESTFIELD, NJ – Respected leader. Dedicated service member. Beloved friend. Adored father.
Dr. Derrick Nelson, principal of Westfield High School, was a hero in every sense of the word. His courage, selflessness and integrity inspired the Westfield community and his legacy lives on in the countless lives he touched along the way.
Last month, Dr. Nelson, 44, passed away due to complications associated with a stem cell donation in late February. He dedicated his life to his country, to his family, to his students and to those in need. In memory of his service, Dr. Nelson has been named Honorary Grand Marshal of Westfield’s Memorial Day Parade.
Dr. Nelson’s commitment to service began when he enlisted in the Army at 19 years old. He served as an officer in the Army Reserve for more than 20 years and was deployed with the 143rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command to Afghanistan in the summer of 2013. His service earned him the title of Chief Warrant Officer Nelson.
“Dr. Nelson was a true American hero,” said Westfield High School counselor Paul Valenzano. “Whether it was the work he did in education or how he served his country and even the selflessness that led up to this tragedy—all things point to the fact that he was a real American hero.”
Service came in all shapes and sizes for Dr. Nelson. Service was fighting for his country and trying to save the life of a young boy he didn’t know with his stem cells. Service was also asking for donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital instead of gifts for his last birthday. It was calling students into his office simply to ask how they were doing or being there for his colleagues during difficult times.
Service was hosting a barbecue for the entire Westfield High School staff at the end of the summer, running with the track team during practices and bonding with students while breaking out his legendary dance moves at prom.
“A selfless gesture can make all the difference in the world to a person,” Dr. Nelson said in a 2014 high school graduation speech. “Most times, being kind to someone can cost you nothing, but it can pay in dividends.”
Dr. Nelson’s impact is still reverberating — through the hallways where he would sing at the top of his lungs after school, through Kehler Stadium where he would ignite the crowd on game days and through his own home where he would make his 5-year-old daughter smile and laugh. Dr. Nelson showed the Westfield community what it means to be a true hero, inspiring others to strive to do the same.
The Westfield Memorial Day Parade is sponsored by the Town of Westfield and the Martin Wallberg American Legion Post 3. The parade is scheduled for Memorial Day, Monday, May 27. Opening ceremonies will start at 9 a.m. at the World War I Monument Circle. The parade route will proceed north on East Broad Street ending with a small ceremony at Fairview Cemetery.