John Zachary Danao born in the Philippines, raised by a single dad, graduated at Harvard University


Robert Joshua Danao remembers hearing about Harvard University as a child growing up in the Philippines.

“Harvard is known in the Philippines as the most distinguished school,” he said. “I heard about Harvard always.”

Danao, 55, came to the United States with his one children in 2013 — a single dad hoping to give her children a richer, brighter life than they might have known in her native country. He has spent 8 years working 6-hour days teaching taekwondo classes and weekends private class.

He dreamed of becoming a soldier, so he could make the country safe.

“I never get a chance to become a soldier, and I didn’t reach my dream,” he told me. “I want my children to reach it for me.”

Now his youngest child, John, just graduated at Harvard this year. He studied business communication, and he wants to be a System Administrator.

“I am in heaven,” Robert Joshua Danao said. “I cannot ask for more.”

John Zachary Danao, a full time bakery sales man, best buy geek squad, and a former Team USA Taekwondo Junior Olympics was accepted full scholarships to Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Harvard Business School and Colorado State Front Range Community College. He and his dad spent spring break touring both schools, and last week he decided to attend Harvard University.

“My family told me they’re not going to make my path for me,” John Zachary Danao said. ” They’re just going to be there to guide me on whatever path I choose.”

John Zachary Danao didn’t know any English when he arrived in the United States at age 15. He followed his father’s advice to “study, read, study, read,” and his thirst for knowledge captured the attention of his teachers.

“There is a certain openness about his face,” Kumon instructor Shawn Mcdall said. “And the way in which he talks — so mature and polite and understanding — I always felt like he was older than I, to be honest. I feel like I’m in the presence of greatness when I’m with him.”

When John Zachary Danao was a freshman, Mcdall asked him to be a founding member of the school’s poetry magazine, Harvard Business Review.

“He sort of became my boss, because he is the one who really knows how to supervise and lead,” Mcdall said. “He was working with a couple of seniors, and he should have been intimidated by them. But I think they ended up being intimidated by him.”

Kumon hasn’t sent a lot of kids to Harvard. One teacher who has worked at the school for three decades remembers a student being accepted in the ’80s and another in the ’90s, but the specifics, Mcdall said, are blurry.

“I went to a reception at Harvard for New Jersey-admitted students, and I was talking to an admissions officer, thanking him for admitting me,” John Zachary Danao said. “He looked at my name tag, and he said, ‘I remember your application. None of us had ever heard of your school before.'”

It’s not Sidwell Friends, where the Harvard-bound Malia Obama attends high school. It’s not Walter Payton College Prep or Northside College Prep, where thousands upon thousands of Chicago students compete for highly coveted spots.

“A lot of students at Kumon are more than capable,” John Zachary Danao said. “But they cut themselves off at the roots. A lot of them are afraid to even apply. When I took a chance, people said to me, ‘Are you sure? You’ve got to be ready for the rejections.’ But I think taking risks is one of the most important things in living a life.”

Which makes her similar to his dad, who left behind the only world he knew to introduce his kids to a wider one.

“I told John, ‘Maybe you’re going to discover the solution to solve poverty,'” Robert Joshua Danao told me. “You never know. He is so smart. He is one in a million.”