As the summer grows closer and the school year comes to a painfully slow conclusion, most seniors have already begun to “check out” of school. The term “senioritis” comes to mind for many, and if you walk by any given classroom of seniors, you are bound to see at least a few staring out the window of their classroom, daydreaming. Some may be dreaming about the beach, others about going on vacation, and many others are probably dreaming about what they will do on June 30 when Norwalk High School’s class of 2010 has officially graduated. Senior class president, Jake Passero of Norwalk, CT, has something a little more exciting to daydream about, although you will never see him do so. If Jake were to daydream, it would look something like this:
It is early fall, approximately 8:00 am, and time for another day of college classes. He sits up in his bed, and looks out the window. Staring back at him is the most famous and revered golf course in the world. The 18th hole of St. Andrew’s greets him. He is attending the University of St. Andrews, one that is nearly six hundred years old, and is the fourth ranked school in the United Kingdom.
This daydream would be a fantasy for any serious golfer, but for Jake it is not. Fantasies are defined as unrealistic or improbable suppositions, and for Jake Passero, this is neither unrealistic nor improbable. For him, the fall of 2010 will be the beginning of his college career studying business and economics at Scotland’s first university.
Every day, when Jake gets home from school, he walks through his garage and takes a quick glance at the sawed-off golf club with a faded green handle that was handcrafted by his father’s friend, and that he used the first time he played the game, at five years old. This seemingly insignificant, rusty club reminds him of his past and all the hard work that he has put into becoming the successful young man that he is today. His father took him to Sterling Farms Golf Course in Stamford, CT, with his homemade club, and Jake was a natural. It was expected that once joining Norwalk High School, Jake would choose his best sport to play for the school. True to Jake’s form, he decided instead to take on a challenge. He wanted to play lacrosse, a sport that he began playing only two years earlier. After three injury-plagued years, Jake chose to go back to the sport that he truly loved. As a senior, he joined the golf team, and he immediately shot to the top of the team. With no high school golf experience under his belt, Jake was consistently the low score on his team. He even took home the John Connolly Cup, which is given to the player with the lowest score in the cross-town rival match against Brien McMahon High School. It is no surprise that Jake brought his “A game” in the biggest match of the year. To culminate his season of accolades, Jake was named to the All Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference (FCIAC) Central Division; an honor not achieved by a Norwalk High School golfer since his elder brother accomplished the same feat in 2007.
Jake’s success on the golf course is only the tip of the iceberg when compared to what he does off the course. While he says that he plays golf “five to six times a week from the time it stops snowing until it starts snowing, and sometimes even in the snow,” Jake still finds time for what he feels are the truly important aspects of life: helping his classmates, school, and community. This seems like a lot for any adult to have on his plate, let alone a seventeen-year-old kid, but for Jake, it is simply what he enjoys doing. He volunteers at the Kiwanis Club, an organization that raises money and then uses it for scholarships for Norwalk students. He volunteers because he would rather see a smile on somebody else’s face than on his own; however, it is rare to not see a smile on his, as well. When asked to describe himself, Jake’s response was quite simple: “On any given day, I will be smiling; whether it’s sunny or rainy, it doesn’t matter, I have to stay positive because it is what people expect.” His peers voted him class president this year because, according to Jake, “they wanted somebody who could make their senior year memorable.” That is a responsibility that Jake has taken very seriously. He was not going to be the type of school officer that was voted in based solely on popularity. From the second Jake was elected, he began mapping out ideas on how to make the school a better place. His most successful idea this year was the “Hit ’em For Haiti” charity dodgeball tournament that Principal Lenny Mecca allowed the National Honors Society to plan. Jake got people excited, and with the help of the student government put together the most successful charity event that Norwalk High School has ever seen. With over two hundred student participants and over forty faculty members involved in the festivities, the school raised over eight thousand dollars for Haiti. Jake’s desire to help out a country devastated from earthquakes was just another example of his propensity to put other people’s needs before his own.
Jake Passero’s personality is not the only impressive aspect of this young man’s life. He ranks in the top eight percent of his class with a cumulative grade point average of 3.61, while challenging himself with multiple honors and advanced placement courses. It was clear that Jake was going to have a good chance to pick the college of his choice. What many people, including Jake, did not know is that the college of his choice would be in Scotland. He had applied to numerous schools in and around Connecticut, but he said that none of them felt right. His guidance counselor would ask him what his “reach” school was (a school that a student would love to go to, but it may be a reach), and he didn’t have one. Then, Robert Kane, the Brien McMahon High School golf coach mentioned the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. From that moment, every time he had a minute to relax and think a little, Jake found himself pondering what it would be like to go to school and to play golf at St. Andrews. He jumped on the computer, and after one look at their website, his decision was made. He described his initial opinions by saying, “It was like looking at Hogwarts. There were castles. I had never seen anything like it. The tradition and history that surrounds and makes up the school were things that I couldn’t stop thinking about.” He applied, knowing it would be a reach. As time went by, Jake began to realize how much he wanted to go to this school. He waited impatiently by his computer when he was home, and checked his email constantly while at school. The University of St. Andrews began to consume him. Then, in early December, the email arrived. Jake, who describes St. Andrews as “equivalent to an Ivy League school in the United States,” was afraid to open the email. I, along with a few other teachers who had built a relationship with Jake left the room, so he could check the email in private. We were nervous because we knew how badly he wanted this, and for a kid who has more heart and selflessness than most adults, we all knew that for once, Jake needed something for himself. The door opened and the effervescent smile that defines his character was even bigger than usual. Jake’s “fantasy” school had become a reality.
Now that Jake had officially been accepted to St. Andrews, he had time to think about the possibilities and questions that awaited him in Scotland. He was going to be nearly 3,300 miles away from his family and friends, but Jake sees this “as an opportunity to explore a different culture.” When I asked him why he made the final decision to attend St. Andrews, Jake responded simply, “I wanted to be different, and this was my chance. If I stayed here [in the USA],” Jake continued, “I would have never truly experienced a different culture.” He couldn’t help but get one last thought in, though, and with a smile bright enough to light an entire room, he joked, “I hear the golf courses are pretty nice there, too.” It hasn’t sunk in yet that he will be teeing off in the same tee boxes as golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Arnold Palmer. He has trouble believing that in a few short months, he will be sitting in a dorm room, staring out at the fairway of the 18th hole of St. Andrews Golf Course, but anybody who knows Jake can safely assume that when he takes that daily glance, no matter what test he may have that day, or what essay may be due in an hour, a broad smile will engulf his face and will stay there for the next four, undoubtedly successful years at the University of St. Andrews.
Interview with Jake Passero
University of St. Andrews