Paul VI senior feels welcome as a student, athlete and mascot

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When it came time to write his college entrance essay, Paul VI Catholic High School senior James Dunbar was like most college-bound students — at a loss for words. That was until one night after he returned home from playing the Paul VI Panther mascot during a particularly exciting high school football game.

He decided to write about his experience as the mascot and what it meant to him. 

Dunbar didn’t enter high school with ambitions of being the Panther. It’s one of many opportunities that crossed the path of the initially shy freshman from St. Leo the Great School in Fairfax. He said it wasn’t until junior year that he began to break out of his shell. 

“I had been really shy, a lowly fish in the big pond of high school,” he said. But he admitted that he thrives in a community. 

He found that community after getting more involved in the student groups that Paul VI offered. As an athlete, he appreciated how easy it was to get involved in hockey, track and cross country. 

“There is an unsaid acceptance and welcome, regardless of talent,” said Dunbar. “They are my best friends and I would not have met them in class. I needed sports to make that connection.”

 In a further attempt to get out of his comfort zone, Dunbar joined the student ambassador program his junior year and student government his senior year. He was also a member of the National Honor Society and participated in the school’s annual phone-a-thon fundraiser. While it was intimidating initially, it turned out to be a great experience for him. 

“It was fun to talk to PVI alumni such as the ones that played some sports,” he said. “I got to hear about their time at PVI and why they really enjoyed it.” 

His participation in student government continued to build his confidence. 

“I had never been in a position where I had to get out of my comfort zone, (take the) initiative and deal with people. It was something I never got out of a classroom experience.”

It was during a student government event that he first donned the Panther costume. When Dunbar volunteered, he initially felt like he had drawn the short straw. To his surprise, he discovered that he could be much more outgoing in the costume and he received a lot of encouragement from his fellow students. 

It comes as no surprise that the Panther plans to become a Wildcat at Villanova University this fall. After thriving academically at Paul VI, he found similar Catholic values and community while touring the Villanova campus, which is located near Philadelphia. He is grateful to the teachers at Paul VI. He said their passion has inspired him.

“I can’t name one teacher at PVI who is just there for the money,” said Dunbar. “They do it because they love what they do. It has encouraged me to ask the harder questions.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018