By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
In its 63-year history, Pope John XXIII Regional High School has watched countless students pass through its halls, graduate, and go on to attend great colleges and universities.
However, it has never seen more than one graduate attend Harvard University — the country’s oldest university — in a given year.
That is until now, as three graduates — 2015 alumnus Harry Tanzola and 2018 alumni Jake Brown and Margaret Butler — are current students at one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions.
And for this trio, they could not be more proud to be the first group of PJ alums to attend the Ivy League school in Cambridge, Mass. in the same year.
“I think it is awesome and so rare,” Tanzola said. “To have parts of the Pope John community, which I was really close to while I was attending school, at Harvard is really nice.”
“It’s a great feeling,” Brown said. “All of our hard work in high school paid off. It is now time for us to work just as hard, if not harder, to make our talents and abilities shine at the next level.”
“It’s a prestigious honor to be part of the first group from Pope John John to be up here in the same year,” Butler added.
With Tanzola, Brown and Butler now on campus, Pope John has had seven graduates in its history become members of the Crimson. Before them, Emil Stefkovich ’68, Abigail Jewkes ’91, Paul Torres ’94, and Meagan Murphy ’00 all attended and graduated from Harvard.
And like their past predecessors, Tanzola, Brown and Butler are carving their own path at the 382-year-old institution.
Tanzola is planning to graduate this spring with a concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology and to attend law school. On top of his studies, he is the co-chair of the House Committee in Quincy House (one of 12 on-campus houses that students reside in), a four-year player and starter on Harvard’s rugby football club, a member of the rugby club’s board, a member of the Harvard Sports Statistical Cooperative (a group that works with Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is contracted by professional teams throughout the country to provide statistical support for them), a Harvard tour guide and a member of the university’s Alzheimer’s Buddies.
Butler is leaning toward concentrations in English and/or Government. She is also trying to balance her classes with being a part of the university’s Army ROTC program, which she formally contracted with recently after passing the Army Physical Fitness Test, being an actress for Harvard’s main stage production of Romeo and Juliet, and competing to be a part of WHRB radio (Harvard’s student-run broadcasting radio station).
Brown is looking into concentrating on Economics, but is still undecided at the moment. In addition to his academic studies, he is playing football for the Crimson on the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision level as a linebacker.
While they all have great demands to meet, the three Pope John grads are thrilled to have a nearby support system they can fall back on if needed.
“It’s definitely nice to know,” Butler said. “Jake and I are in ‘The Yard,’ which is where all the freshmen houses are located, so it wouldn’t be hard to reach out to him and talk to him. Harry is located in one of the upperclassmen houses that is close by, too. We’re never to far away from each other.”
“When there are people who are going through or have gone through the same experiences as you, it’s good to have them by your side,” Brown said.
Brown and Butler already felt this support on Sept. 3 when they attended the first-year convocation for the Class of 2022. Tanzola watched the convocation from afar, while fellow Pope John social studies teacher Mrs. Jacquelyn Burt served as a Dorm Marshal for Mass Hall the event.
“It was definitely crazy to see everyone there who walked the same hallways as me,” Brown said. “It shows how hard we worked to get here.”
“It was really nice,” Butler said. “It was great to see Mrs. Burt and Jake. We got to talk about Pope John and everything while enjoying a special day for us as freshmen.”
Burt, a 1984 alumna of Harvard who is an alumni admissions interviewer for the university and is Tanzola’s mother, was so happy to see Brown, Butler and Tanzola all get to this point in their lives and is confident that they will do great things for the university.
“It was in some ways surreal, but in some ways it was not because I know Margaret, Jake and Harry will all succeed there,” Burt said. “I recused myself when these three students were applying and interviewing, but I know they were well prepared and could handle the workload that Harvard will throw at them. I know they can handle it academically, socially and athletically. Harvard expects champions. They expect social justice champions, academic champions and extra-curricular champions and what will make these three so successful is that they can do all these things well simultaneously.”
As Tanzola, Brown and Butler get underway with their classes and activities for the year, they will never forget how much influence Pope John had on their lives.
“It all starts with Pope John,” Brown said. “The school helps everyone get prepared for life. All of our successes could not have happened without Pope John.”
“The time management that I learned during high school has prepared me for the challenges that Harvard will present,” Butler said. “Between the academic workload, the extra-curricular activities and the relationships I built, I look forward to college knowing that I am prepared largely due to Pope John.”
“It’s a testament to Pope John’s commitment to helping the students achieve their best,” Tanzola said.
More importantly, they hope they can build a pipeline from Pope John to Harvard for future Pope John students.
“That would be absolutely great,” Tanzola said. “It would make a huge difference for our school and our community to have a Pope John graduate guide incoming students who are former Pope John students for the foreseeable future.”
“That’s the goal,” Brown said. “As we start to succeed, people are going to see where we come from and we will tell them proudly that we are from Pope John.”
“To be the ones that could potentially open the door for Pope John to become a feeder school like some other schools in the nation would be an honor,” Butler said.