Chinatown upper school sends first student to Harvard

Josiah Quincy Upper School (JQUS) senior Johnny Fang, 18, did not dream of attending the Ivy League schools.

Josiah Quincy Upper School senior Johnny Fang is the first student from the Chinatown public school to attend Harvard University. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

Josiah Quincy Upper School senior Johnny Fang is the first student from the Chinatown public school to attend Harvard University. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

“I wasn’t the best student until the eighth grade,” Fang said. “I struggled in school for a long time and didn’t get into the exam schools. That’s when I started paying attention.”

Today, Fang is class valedictorian and the first student in the school’s history to be accepted by Harvard University. Fang received a full scholarship, covering his tuition, rooming costs and living expenses for the next four years.

JQUS headmaster Richard Chang said, “Johnny is the first to attend Harvard, but we will have many more to follow.”

Fang’s parents moved from China to Boston, where Fang has spent his whole life. They live in public housing, as Fang’s parents are unable to work due to health issues. When he was 4, Fang was put into foster care, placing him in English-speaking homes in less than a year. Fang was reunited with his parents, but has trouble talking with them due to limited Chinese skills.

“My childhood was unstable and there was no communication,” Fang said. “I’ve found my voice and a way to enter life’s conversation through writing essays and coding.”

Fang’s sister attended Boston Latin School, the most coveted school placement among Boston’s three exam schools. Quincy Upper was opened in 1999 by former Josiah Quincy Elementary School (JQES) principal Bak Fun Wong and only takes JQES students. The students come from low-income families — 96 percent of the student body — and are close-knit, as many have known each other since kindergarten. Fang’s graduating class has 49 seniors, compared to the Latin School’s classes of more than 250.

“What distinguishes Quincy Upper is cultural awareness,” Fang said. “Other schools are clique-y. It’s not like that here. … I learned from people of all backgrounds.”

Outside of school, Fang spent three summers at Harvard’s Crimson Summer Academy and volunteers at Project Destiny Autumn to Spring (PDAS), a program at the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church for middle school and high school students. Before being accepted to the Crimson Summer Academy, Fang was a student at Project Destiny for four summers and attended church services.

PDAS director Steve Liu first met Fang as a middle school student and watched him become a junior program assistant. “Johnny is one of those guys who love when someone tells him he can’t, so he can prove you wrong,” Liu said. “He’s honest, he’s raw, he speaks his mind.”

Fang went beyond the JQUS curriculum, taking computer science and expository writing at the Crimson Academy and advanced math at local colleges. For his International Baccalaureate personal project, he asked science teacher Yuyu Chen to teach him Java.

“I’m looking at studying computer science with an English minor,” Fang said. “I want to create accessible software for people in need. Instead of limiting myself, I hope to develop software related to language learning, education or even the medical field.”

For Fang, giving back is important. His community service includes teaching computer literacy or academic tutoring through Tech Goes Home at the Codman Square library, JQUS and the Paraclete Center. At church, Fang is involved with student ministry and administrative duties as a PDAS program assistant.

Liu said, “He has overcome a lot in his life. From a Christian perspective, God has done amazing things in his life.”

Fang’s college essay discussed cultivating his own values, as he did not have the privilege of a structured family. With Harvard ahead in the fall, Fang’s persistence and hard work has paid off.

“The college process was about being genuine and not fitting the mold,” Fang said. “The ambitious students at our school should not give up after obstacles, like rejections. Figure out what works for you. That’s how you get into a top school.”

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This post is also available in: Chinese

About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England

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  1. FYI, JQUS wasn’t founded in 1999, however, it became the 2nd high school in Boston to offer the International Baccalaureate school, through the efforts of Dr. Wong in 1999. It was one of the strongest non-exam high schools in Boston before that (decades?), though, too

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