Leader on the Field—and Everywhere Else

Undergraduate student president, Jumbo defensive back, and Beelzebubs singer Jaden Pena is a team player

Jaden Pena is driven by a desire to make things better.

With the Jumbo football team, he’s a senior defensive back whose enthusiasm is contagious. The same can be said for his leadership style outside of football—as student body president.

Pena was elected president of the Tufts Community Union (TCU) last April and is currently serving as undergraduate student leader for the 2022–23 academic year. He’s also playing a valuable leadership role as the Jumbo team strives to improve upon last season’s 4-5 finish.

“What makes Jaden such a special leader is his ability to bring people together and make anyone feel welcomed and valued,” said Izzy Lobin, A23, his football teammate and campaign manager. “This shows up on the field and in Senate meetings. He truly cares for people and is willing to do whatever it takes to help someone. I don’t know anyone who works harder or cares more than Jaden.”

Pena is a double major in political science and music, sound, and culture. He also commits nearly 10 hours a week to practicing and performing with the Beelzebubs, Tufts’ oldest all-male a cappella group.

Pena was a student-athlete and senior class president at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island, before coming to Tufts. He had football opportunities at NESCAC and Ivy League schools, but connected the most with Tufts head coach Jay Civetti.

Jaden Pena staring at an opponent during a football game.

“There’s not a day that goes by when I’m not using pinpoint skills that I’ve learned from guys on my team, the coaches on my team, from the athletic trainers at Tufts,” said Jaden Pena. Photo: Jon Bird/Tufts Athletics

“It really came down to my trust in Coach Civetti,” Pena said. “I hadn’t even visited campus, but just through conversations that I had with him I knew I wanted to come to Tufts. He was someone you’d trust with your life after talking with him for 10 minutes.”

Pena’s four years at Tufts have been shaped by the unique experiences brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Those areas were the key initiatives of his platform during his run for student body president.

\Now in office, he and his staff are working to revitalize campus life following the limitations put in place due to COVID. Overseeing a $2.4 million budget, he is doing this in part by supporting student organizations that need extra funding to get back to pre-COVID operations.

Prior to becoming TCU president, Pena was a junior class senator and elected chair of the Senate’s diversity committee. This year he is continuing the work he started then, such as trying to establish an empowerment hour at the fitness center for women and gender-minority students, seeking to provide a comfortable space for them to work out.

Though these issues have proven to be challenging, Pena feels as though he has been in the right place at the right time to help lead Tufts through them.

“The timing has been so interesting, but I think everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I feel like I have been put in this role to deal with these things to hopefully make it so that people won’t have to deal with it after me.”

“Even days when I only have 10 free minutes, I do something that makes me happy.”

Jaden Pena

With a daily schedule that keeps him busy from early in the morning until late at night, he’s also keenly aware of keeping his mental health and wellness in check. He delivered that message as part of a speech to Tufts’ Class of 2026, which arrived on campus in late summer.

He still finds time to have fun, including listening to theater music, which is another of his passions.

“Even days when I only have 10 free minutes, I do something that makes me happy,” he said.

Pena’s leadership on the football field is exemplary as well. That was evident at spring practice last year, when the coaching staff was particularly hard on the team trying to push them to be better.

Despite not receiving the playing time he might have hoped for on game day in last fall, Pena stepped up as a team leader in the spring. He has continued working to help the Jumbos get to where they want to go in 2022—winning a conference championship.

“He cares about people,” Civetti said. “It’s very much not about him, it’s about others. He’s a true testament to that way of living. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, or what the situation is, Jaden is the first guy to take his shirt off his back for you.”

The collaboration and delegation he’s using to lead on the football field are the same skills he’s employing to lead the entire student body.

“There’s not a day that goes by when I’m not using pinpoint skills that I’ve learned from guys on my team, the coaches on my team, from the athletic trainers at Tufts,” Pena said.

Early in his senior year now, and loving every minute of it, Pena has recently accepted a job offer at Amazon, where he interned last summer. Law school is in his future, not surprisingly to create a path into politics.

He is shooting for the stars and wants to be president of the United States. He told Civetti that during the recruiting process, and hasn’t wavered. He certainly has the right attitude for it.

“It’s all about leaving things better than I found them,” Pena said. “I want to be the best leader I can be, and make someone’s day better even by one percent if I can do that.”

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