John Lantonio

Student Spotlight

John Lantonio

Place of Residence

Blue Bell, PA

Program

Bachelor of Liberal Arts, English

Professional Field

CEO of Parson’s Barbecue

Prior Education

DeSales University
I thought I’d make a good professor. So I came to Harvard to earn the degrees that would help make that happen.

What was the most challenging aspect of your time at Extension? What was the most rewarding?

It wasn’t uncommon to have the rough draft of your major essay dismissed in so final a manner that you knew you’d have to start from scratch with a few days left in the semester. I think the most valuable thing I learned here was that when my back was to the wall, I could pull a rabbit out of my hat. I learned not to doubt myself by pulling lots and lots of rabbits out of my hat. 

I learned what I was really capable of doing. There’s a quote from a novel I spent the last few months scrutinizing that I think sums it up pretty well: “He would find a way to access all of himself. He possessed nothing that anyone could ever call doubt, inside.” 

If you were a distance student, how did you manage to fulfill the on-campus requirement?

I wanted to wring the most out of this experience. So after starting with online classes, I bit the bullet and began to commute to campus. It was a long drive, but I scheduled classes so they were clustered together over a few days. Before I knew it, I was practically living in Cambridge—making friends, learning the town, working out with the boxing club, riding the Red Line into Harvard Square in the morning. I’m still surprised at how great the online lessons were. But for me, I felt that if you’re going to be a part of Harvard, you’ve got to be a part of Harvard. 

How did you manage to balance your studies with work and family responsibilities? 

I dove into this headfirst. I had a small business for 20 years. I closed it. I opened a little BBQ take-out joint which only serves food on weekends. That gave me the week free for school. My son is grown and happily married, so I had nothing to hold me back. Well, just the cat. But I figured that out.

What types of student resources and special options did you take advantage of as a student at Harvard? How did they help?

My advisor, Sarah Anne Stinnett, was wonderful. She helped me plot my course and make adjustments as I went. Her experience in and out of the university was pretty broad. She knew her way around, so to speak, and had a good feel for what classes were right for me and which weren’t. I also used the Writing Center to help sharpen some of my work.

In which ways did you connect with the Harvard community? If you spent time on campus, what was that experience like? 

The [accelerated January term] class was a treasure trove. For a day class that ran continuously through the month, it afforded the opportunity to engage with resident students who, as locals, knew where the best of everything could be found. They opened my eyes to the museums, dining halls, gyms, parking spots, bus routes, etc. I felt most at home after being with them.

Describe your Extension School experience in one word.

Nonpareil

This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

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