“When I came to Thomas Jefferson as a freshman, I lacked confidence. I was an isolated and socially-awkward kid,” recalls Padraig Harris, a soon-to-be Gryphon graduate who is now headed to Northwestern University with a full-ride scholarship. “Today, I feel that I have come into my own. I feel smart and liked, and I am excited for the future!” Harris, who earned a perfect score on the ACT and is ranked in the top ten of his class, has found “a match” through Questbridge, a national non-profit organization that matches high-achieving, low income students with some of the best schools in the nation. Students who receive a match are automatically guaranteed a full-tuition scholarship at the school with which they match. Harris is the first TJ student to claim this prestigious honor.
It is his mother, more than any other, Harris says, who has helped him become the person that he is today. “She is always pushing me to be my best - in school and as a person. As an autistic individual, I have had many challenges, but my mom has helped me figure out how to let those challenges shape me. I always keep her guidance in my mind.”
Harris also believes that his experience at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy has shaped him into the person he is today.
His family moved to Shelby from Auburn, Alabama after his eighth-grade year, and they wanted to find a school where he could flourish as an individual. “I had been in a very large school in Auburn, and it didn’t work for me,” Harris described. “I wanted a school that would be both challenging and welcoming. My mom researched schools in the area, and she knew that TJ was the school that I needed. And she was absolutely correct,” Harris proclaims with a big smile on his face.
“I will never forget that on my first day of school, Adam Short invited me to sit with him in assembly. He invited another new kid, too, and I knew then that I wouldn’t have to work to get into the community. I was just automatically welcomed into it.” Harris says that he also found a welcoming community in TJ’s theater program: “In theater, I found an even tighter-knit community because of the collaboration.” Harris received a big role in his first production - Roughman in Fair Maid of the West. “Getting that important role gave a big boost to my confidence.” “Every time you play a character,” Harris muses, “a small piece of that character gets left in you. Roughman was transformed from a coward to a hero during the course of the play, and he never lost his confidence. I kept his confidence within me, too.” Since his freshman year, Harris has developed many deep friendships with both his peers and teachers, and he stuck with acting too - a choice that he believes led him to great happiness and fulfillment.
TJ didn’t let him down on the challenging promise either. “TJ definitely challenged me, but it also gave me a holistic education.” Harris is quick to say that all of his teachers challenged him, but he says that the Stearns-Tiren duo has influenced his thinking the most. These teachers, Harris says, made him really think about what it means to be human. “They ask us: What is the experience of humans, and how does that apply to you? When we read The Odyssey and The Inferno, for example, we looked carefully at how the protagonists of these works were reaching their goals, at how they were reaching their destinations. Our conversations about these works allowed me to be retrospective and ask myself - ‘Is what I am doing good?’” Mr. Alex Tiren, Senior Literature Teacher and Cultural Studies Department Chair, for his part, knows that Padraig Harris has made the most of his TJ education: "Padraig is one of those unique people who chooses to invest in education for its own sake and not just endure it -- he's a classically educated student. Not many high schoolers readily trace connections between literary works written across the span of three thousand years; Padraig does. I'll miss having his insights and humor in my classroom, but I look forward to hearing how he continues his good work with this new opportunity."
Mr. Greg Stearns, Logic and Philosopher teacher at TJ, commented that “Padraig’s thoughtful comments are always a joy to hear. His eagerness to learn and his desire to seek truth will take him far in life. In addition, his respect for his peers is second to none. Teaching him was a privilege.”
Harris hopes to study Computer Science at Northwestern and one day develop his own video game.