Remembering B.J. Giannone

Remembering B.J. Giannone

Ben Ackman, Editor-in-Chief, Staff Writer

An innate quality of high school is transience. At any point in time, the student body is completely different from the one from five years before. Consequently, most inside jokes and common memories are eventually forgotten. Only on rare occasion does a student attain lasting fame and become a legend in Prep’s common consciousness. B.J. Giannone was such a student.

Despite having attended Prep while most of its current charges were learning how to read, B.J.’s name is still visible here today. At many a teacher’s desk, bracelets reading “Live Like B.J.” can be seen; those bracelets were also handed out to seniors in dress down ahead of their departure for Emmaus 303. The Robotics and Yearbook teams use the B.J. Giannone Center in the brightly lit basement of Moriarty Science Center. Every year, a swimmer is honored with the B.J. Giannone award. Despite his name’s pervasiveness, the vast majority of Prep students know very little about who B.J. was, or what he did, or why the slogan “Live Like B.J.” is all over campus.

B.J. fell into cardiac arrest after a race with the Prep swim team and passed away suddenly on the evening of January 31, 2011. Immediately, the Prep community was thrown into distress. A funeral mass was held at school that Saturday, and his family held its own services, but the void B.J. left was far from being filled. His fellow seniors, who had known him for the longest, were particularly devastated. “To lose one of your brothers in your fourth year together is just devastating,” said Prep Italian teacher Rosalie Romano. “Obviously, it doesn’t matter what year, but it was the start of the second semester, where the best was yet to come.” No event after that January was quite the same for the seniors, not even prom or graduation. Even Prep’s Italian guests from the previous year’s exchange were devastated. Emanuele, B.J.’s exchange partner, had returned from Italy months after his visit to spend the summer with him. Istituto Gonzaga, our sister school in Italy, held mass in his honor. 

Prep faculty was no less affected. B.J. was close with Ms. Romano in particular, with her being his Italian teacher since his sophomore year. She was also his homeroom teacher, in a time where students met with their homerooms daily. “He was already very witty, smart, quick on his feet with remarks, always had some great stories that he shared with his friends at homeroom,” she said of B.J. “Just a great kid, and so polite.”

In particular, B.J.’s exuberant personality was what endeared him to so many people. B.J. loved to laugh. He frequently quoted Will Ferrell movies (particularly 2008’s Step Brothers), and founded the Society for Comedic Appreciation, which was mainly a place to screen those movies. His optimism and sense of humor uplifted his family and friends; he was described as being able to light up a room with his smile. Aside from comedy, he also had a great passion for sports. He was a dedicated member of the baseball team and had committed to Virginia Tech to study sports media. His dream was to be a sports broadcaster, like his uncle, John Giannone, who covers the New York Rangers for MSG Network. 

Having gone on the Italian exchange his Junior year, B.J. also adored Italy. He enjoyed his trip so much, he wrote a poem about the country for his creative writing class. It now hangs engraved on a plaque in Ms. Romano’s room. The footer reads “Rimarrà nei nostri cuori per sempre” (“You will remain in our hearts forever”), signed by his classmates from his Italian section. The class of 2011’s final tribute of the year to him was a two-page dedicative spread in the Petrean, festooned with pictures of him and bedecked in Virginia Tech orange. Written by then-Editor in Chief John Serzan, ‘11, the dedication remarks: “As an only child to Maureen and Bill Giannone, BJ quickly learned what it meant to have brothers in all of the friendships he made here at Prep.”

Twelve years later, the memory of B.J.’s spirit is still cherished. His monuments are spread all over Prep, noticeably in the Campus Ministry office. There even exists an entire room dedicated to him, off the beaten path in the MSC basement; MSC018, the B.J. Giannone Center, is used by TV Studio, Yearbook, and Robotics. A commemorative sign bearing his portrait is bolted to the wall outside. Beneath his image, a short message honors B.J. for expressing love “in deeds more than words,” referencing a quotation from St. Ignatius. The sign also thanks “[Giannone’s] family, friends, Prep brothers, and the MSG Network” for their generosity in furnishing the room, and expresses their hope that the addition would “inspire generations of Prep students to ‘Live Like B.J.’”

The eternal slogan “Live Like B.J.” defines the man’s legacy. It is emblazoned on signs, on bracelets, a decal in the Campus Ministry office, and on the hearts of the class of 2011, who were brought together by their common grief. It persists in the tradition of Prep swimming as well; the B.J. Giannone award is handed down year over year to those who embody his legacy. But how does one exactly do that? The simple slogan is vague for those who were unfamiliar with the man himself. Ms. Romano describes B.J. as “being that Prep student who embraced everything.” She continued: “Here’s someone who’s into sports, but can balance it all and say, ‘you know what, I’m not just a jock, I love to go to the opera as well. That’s what made B.J. who he was.” B.J. loved sports, but he also loved comedy, and Italian culture. “This school gives you so much,” said Ms. Romano, with renewed vigor in her voice. “You want to take advantage of it, and embrace everything that Prep gives you, and enjoy it to the fullest.” 

But although B.J.’s way of living could be characterized by his deeds, his friends remembered him for who he was, not what he did. The man was defined by passion: his passion for his loved ones, for sports, and for Prep. He was known not just to his friends but to the entire school for exemplifying the ‘Grad-at-Grad’ trait of being loving. The life B.J. led, the person he was, that brought his class to memorialize him to such an extent, was characterized by his enthusiasm for everything he did, and how that enthusiasm lifted up everyone around him.

Four months after B.J.’s passing, the class of 2011 graduated and scattered to pursue their own futures. In the years since, B.J. may not be talked about or celebrated as much simply due to time and new student bodies coming to and leaving from Prep. Fortunately, with the current breadth of options in student life, living like B.J. Giannone is easier than ever. When the opportunity presents itself, think about going on that SPPAC trip, or attending a meeting for that club you signed up for. It’s what B.J. might have done- and he did a lot of things right.