Jonathan’s Story

The spirit of goodness that continues to guide us forward comes from a 19-year-old known to his friends simply as “Rizzo” and to his mom as “sunshine.” Jonathan Rizzo had an energy and positive outlook on life that people liked to be around.

“This is our purpose, to make as meaningful as possible this life that has been bestowed upon us; to live in such a way that we may be proud of ourselves; to act in such a way that a part of us lives on.”

Oswald Spangler

Jonathan was instinctively drawn towards people that needed help, and this passion for helping others prompted his father Mike to refer to him as “a herder of stray cats.” His parents never knew whom Jonathan might bring home for dinner but they had learned to expect to be ready to set another plate at the dinner table. “He made an impact on a lot of people because he wanted to help,” recalls one of his closest friends, Joe Scorzoni.

Jonathan spent 4 years volunteering at Christmas in the City in Boston and we never forgot the expression and animation on his face when he came home after his first year of volunteering. He was astonished and quite disturbed that these kids, hundreds of them, who were fortunate enough to come to the event, did not have a Christmas morning like he and his brothers did; that they didn’t have family dinners at their grandparent’s house with their cousins.

He never forgot that as he got older and always pushed himself and us to do more. He routinely extended a hand and lent an ear to the downtrodden, ignored and disadvantaged of the world when all too many of us simply passed by.

Who we are 4His generous nature and magnetic energy may have been atypical for his age, but he was by all other accounts a typical teenager with a mischievous side that landed him in a few predicaments that “his parents need not know about,” according to his friend Andrew Foley. Jonathan’s friend Alex Constantine remembers her best times with Jonathan at the Rizzo house and his uncanny ability to make her laugh “even at the most inappropriate moments.”

Like many teenagers, Jonathan and 3 of his friends had decided to get a tattoo (although he became less excited about the idea when he found out that needles would be involved, since they generally caused him to faint). Jonathan died before he could get that tattoo, but his 3 friends thought it a most appropriate way to honor their friend. The tattoo Jonathan had picked out before his death was of the Celtic cross, which is considered a solar symbol and the source of light and ultimate energy. The 4 points of the cross represent the 4 directions and the 4 elements, but to Joe and his friends, it represents the four of them forever bound by the circle that represents the sun. “Sunshine” is indeed a fitting nickname for Jonathan.

Through Jonathan’s life we can learn how to be better people. Through his death we also learn that the spirit of goodness can overcome the force of evil. Jonathan’s light continues to burn more brightly than ever before through his family, friends and even those he never met.

His close friend Joe believes that if Jonathan could send one message it would be that “people have to take care of each other and everything else will take care of itself.” It is a most fitting way of honoring his memory, renewing his spirit and energizing our own.

We don’t know if Jonathan knew of the quote from Spangler but he certainly lived as if he did, and the goal to perpetuate this thought in his memory inspires our mission. Through the Foundation, Jonathan’s spirit continues on, doing the kind of things he did during his all too short 19 years and reminding all of us that it is not how long we are here that counts, but what we do while we’re here.

Jonathan’s College Entrance Essay

Jonathan had a pretty good idea of who he was for a seventeen year old and a belief that he was here for a purpose.

He was determined to fulfill that purpose and have a little fun along the way. His college application essay is a great example of his self-awareness and belief that he would make a difference – and while it is not in the way we expected or hoped, he is doing that through the Foundation.

Who I Am

“I’m Jon Rizzo, a senior at Boston College High School, seventeen years of age. I like the lyrics of Bob Dylan, public transportation, eating cereal at any time of the day, believe in God; love sports, staying up late, reading the paper every day, talking to strangers, singing in the shower, sleeping late, having bread with every meal; dislike stereotypes, hate ignorance of any kind, think it’s alright to make mistakes, believe in smiling as much as possible, in always leaving a good tip, love to argue, interested in politics, enjoy cheese on my burgers and pepperoni on my pizza; proud of my heritage, love my family, like eating plain donuts, talking on the phone, holding hands, hitting the sleep button in the morning, treating others as I would like to be treated, swimming at night, don’t think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone; enjoy a good party, listening to loud music, singing along even when I don’t know all the words; love Boston, Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house, believe that all human life is precious, have a need to succeed, that everyone should exercise his/her right to vote, don’t feel that drinking on the weekend is wrong, am positive that everything happens for a reason, prefer having my windows down instead of the air conditioning on; cream cheese on my bagels instead of butter, snacks before dinner, opening your presents Christmas Day not Christmas Eve, adore the beach, love letting my Mom take care of me, would rather throw around the Frisbee than the football, love Seinfeld, believe that if at first you don’t succeed try, try again, in always saying please and thank you, taking chances, believe that diversity is a good thing, have never lost my wallet, believe in a soul mate; horrible on directions, am a perfectionist, consider myself blessed, would rather laugh than cry, know that God has a special purpose for me; watching David Letterman, believe in driving faster than fifty-five, try to give people the benefit of the doubt, don’t like the way that some kids treat other kids just because they are different, firm believer in standing up for what you believe in, and most importantly, I believe in myself, and I believe that I can and that I will change the world.”

This essay, called by some “an adolescent anthem that speaks of a life full of love, kindness, and hope,” is reflective of Jonathan’s self-awareness. However, we are also reminded by his friends that he was a typical teenager who referred to himself on occasion as “the tower of power” and “too sweet to be sour,” which also defines Jonathan.