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School community sets up scholarship for fallen hero

Kirsten Carlson
School community sets up scholarship for fallen hero
Staff Sgt. Joan Duran of Roxbury was killed in a non-combat related incident while serving in Iraq in 2007.  Friends and former schoolmates have come together to form a scholarship in his honor. (Photo: courtesy of the Joan Duran Committee)

By all accounts, Staff Sgt. Joan Duran of Roxbury loved helping others.

Now, two years after Duran lost his life in a non-combat related incident while serving in Iraq, friends of the fallen soldier are following his lead.

Six of his classmates from Boston Latin School recently began raising funds to set up a permanent Sgt. Joan J. Duran Boston Latin School Prize Night Scholarship, to be handed out each spring to a deserving senior.

Several of Duran’s friends had been floating ideas around about how to best honor him, when, in early fall, a current Boston Latin senior contacted Daniel Weissman, a close friend and former teammate on the Boston Latin football team, explaining that for his senior paper, he planned to write a biography about Duran. The senior’s interest turned out to be the catalyst for the founding of the Joan Duran Remembrance Committee.

“We realize it’s been two years since he died, but his legacy is still going strong,” said Stephanie Maneikis, who serves as the Committee’s Director or Public Relations and Special Events. “We want to make sure people are still writing senior papers on him 30 years from now.”

Maneikis described Duran as, “easygoing, someone who was friends with everyone, the type of person who could easily go between all of the groups. He was a person who always wanted to give back.”

The goal of the Committee, comprised of some of Duran’s closest friends from Boston Latin, is two-fold. In addition to establishing the scholarship, the Committee would like to see a plaque in Duran’s memory displayed in the entryway of the school, which features those of other Boston Latin School alumni who died serving their country.

During a recent meeting with the Committee, Lynne Mooney Teta, Boston Latin School’s Headmaster, expressed her full support of the idea.

Fundraising for the scholarship kicked off last Saturday with what Maneikis describes as a “night of solidarity.” Friends, teammates, teachers, Boston Latin alumni and others came together to celebrate Duran’s life. The evening had an uplifting vibe, with music, dancing and door prizes, as well as touching speeches by Duran’s track and football coaches, and his older brother Ramon Espinal, among others. Espinal brought a poster-size, blown up photo of a teenage Duran dressed as Superman, his hero, which was prominently displayed next to the deejay booth.

“It was really amazing to see everyone come out for the cause,” Maneikis said. “From the get-go, this came together really quickly. The support has been overwhelming.”

By the end of the night, $5,000 had been raised. The Committee’s goal is to raise at least $50,000, the amount needed to create a permanently endowed scholarship. Maneikis said that realistically, she does not expect the scholarship to be handed out until the 2011 Boston Latin School Prize Night, a night when scholarships and awards are given out.

While the criteria for the scholarship is not yet finalized, the Joan Duran Remembrance Committee website said it will include a combination of “excellence in mathematics, low income background, excellence in track or football (or a combination of varsity athletics prowess), and devotion to community service and leadership.”

Maneikis said Duran’s family will be the ones to determine the final criteria. Maneikis sees the winner as “someone who best exemplifies who Joan was.”

The Committee hopes to have a fundraiser every season. They are now working to create an event to coincide with the Boston Latin/ English High School Thanksgiving Day football game. Plans for a 5k walk/run in the spring and a golf tournament in the summer are being discussed.

 Maneikis said Duran was known for his smile, something she is picturing again these days.

“We feel like he is looking down on us and smiling, saying ‘Thank you.’”   

For more information about the Joan Duran Remembrance Committee, or to make a contribution, visit