Texas natives Baltazar “Zar” A. Zavala ’11 and Melanie Johns first became friends in gym class during their freshman year of high school. Johns spent weeks sitting out the class due to a broken ankle, and Zavala would ask her to hold his locker key, gently teasing her about her cast.
That June, before the start of sophomore year, Zavala and Johns began dating. They will marry on June 23 of this year—their seventh anniversary—back home in El Paso, Texas.
When Zavala left for the East Coast to attend Harvard, the transition to a long-distance relationship proved to be difficult for the couple.With Johns working as a full-time ballet instructor at two schools and Zavala as a student and varsity football player, opportunities to visit—and even time to talk on the phone—were scarce.
“Freshman fall was miserable,” Zavala said. “Adjusting to college in general—with football and with the season being as long as it was—that was definitely the hardest point in our relationship.”
“But it got easier every year,” he added.
Despite the distance, their busy schedules, the long flights, and the all-too-brief stays, Zavala and Johns remained devoted to each other.
Zavala had been unhappy about a particularly low midterm score when Johns visited him during one of the darker periods of his sophomore year. Zavala was in poor spirits during the couple’s visit to the New England Aquarium, and Johns sat him down for a pep talk on a bench in front of a 7-Eleven outside of the aquarium.
“Mel grabbed me and sat me down on a bench and said I needed to man up, that one test was not a big deal,” Zavala said.
He never forgot that night, and a year later he proposed to Johns on that very bench.
After the wedding, the pair plans to relocate to England, where Zavala will study at Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship and Johns hopes to continue teaching dance.
Despite their impending international move, the pair emphasized their hope to eventually settle in their Texas hometown.
“We both love El Paso,” Johns said. “I can see us settling down and raising a family in El Paso—not immediately, but I can see it in the future.”
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Harvard Today: Sept. 17, 2013