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A Dream Meets a Legacy

Raised in the Bronx, memorial scholar John Jankovic pursues a future built on his love of people, community and politics.

John Jankovic wearing suit and holding backpack strap

John Jankovic ’20 was raised by a dedicated and tireless single mother, who often worked three jobs to support him and his sister. His mom pushed him to go to college, allowing him to dream about career possibilities. The Matthew Ross Wanetik Memorial Scholarship helped John focus those dreams on pursuing a life of public service that pays tribute to the young man for whom the scholarship is named.   

“Matthew passed away before he had a chance to fulfill his dreams,” says John. “I wanted to figure out ways to live out his legacy. Being a memorial scholar changes your perspective.” John found a way to express their shared love of people, community and politics in everything he does on campus—from interning in the government and community relations office to helping other students succeed as a peer facilitator and tour guide.

John sat down with us to discuss his Syracuse University experience and what the Watenik Scholarship has meant to him.

Where I’m from…

I was raised in the Bronx, New York, in a single-family home. Even though my mom worked three jobs at times, we didn’t earn above the poverty level until two years ago. I started working when I was 14, making $8 an hour, but got scholarships to attend a private high school in New York City. That opened up my eyes to the importance of college, but it was my mother who really pushed me to apply. 

Why I chose Syracuse University…

I actually applied to 22 different schools, but I chose Syracuse because I was first attracted to the architecture program, which also helped me understand how the way cities are built could impact people and communities in positive ways. I shifted my focus to political science, concentrating in democratization and mobilization. 

What I love most about Syracuse University...

I love the chance to really practice what I’m learning in the classroom in all my activities outside the classroom. When you pursue public service as a career, it was a great experience and really fulfilling to be able to help coordinate a disaster relief trip for students and go to Puerto Rico to help after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Being a SEM 100 peer facilitator also helps me open others’ eyes to the real diversity of life experiences that are brought together here on campus. 

What I do at Syracuse University besides study...

I’m a member of Phi Alpha Delta, the pre-law fraternity. I was elected to the Syracuse University Student Association, where I’ve been an Assembly Representative since 2017. I now serve on the association’s cabinet as the co-chair of Student Life, where I constantly advocate for bettering the student experience. I was active in getting students registered to vote as a campus coordinator for Democracy Matters, and I’ve been a University 100 Tour Guide for two years, now a tour manager for the Office of Admissions. And I intern in the Office of Government and Community Relations.

What I will do with my Syracuse University degree…

I see myself working in the White House one day. More immediately, I would love to serve a presidential candidate, work on a political campaign and advocate for progressive causes in various communities across the country.

What my scholarship meant to me…

The only way I could pursue a college degree was with scholarship support. I budgeted those dollars specifically to pay for rent, books and the cost of living. But the Matthew Ross Wanetik Memorial Scholarship meant more than money to me. It was incredibly humbling to receive this award, to help me focus on what matters in life and to find a way to make a difference in people’s lives—something Matthew wanted to do, but couldn’t because his life was cut short.

What I would say to someone who is thinking about giving…

Your gift is an investment—not just in a person but in their dreams. And when you give someone like me an opportunity to achieve their dreams, your contribution affects a countless network also part of that dream. 

This story was first published on January 13, 2020 and last updated on .


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