High School Junior Mary B.: Just Keep Swimming!
Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Mary Besser, a junior at Loy Norrix High School.
Mary writes poetry, loves to volunteer and cook, and plans to one day open her own restaurant. She first became connected with CIS while attending Woodward School for Technology and Research. That support followed her into her middle school years at Maple Street Magnet School. Last year, during her sophomore year at Loy Norrix High School, Mary reconnected with CIS. [Mary is also featured in the 2021 CIS Annual Report. You can learn more about her story and her resilience in these trying time by going here.]
Mary works closely with CIS Success Coach Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer who says, “Mary is the picture of resilience … She has so many dreams and goals for herself.” Because of her hard work and persistence, Mary is headed in the right direction. Regardless if the waters are smooth or stormy, Mary takes one stroke at a time and moves forward.
A few months back, we met up with this resilient young woman over Google Meets and popped this quiz on her.
Alright, Mary: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.
What are you currently reading?
We are the Perfect Girl by Ariel Kaplan. It’s about a girl who is having issues with who she is. She’s loud and outgoing and also puts others above herself. I’m like that, always trying to make others happy, so that’s all relatable to me.
How did you come to poetry?
It was in sixth grade that we did poetry in my class. It gave me a voice that I never thought I had a voice for. I barely would ever talk up, but that experience in sixth grade, and again in eight grade gave me the voice I needed … By the time I was in high school, I was on the slam team through FIRE until Covid hit. It was at FIRE that I got my name, Mary B. So that’s my poet name.
Are you still making time for poetry, though?
Yes. I still write. I write about everything—losing my mom, anger, and emotions. I used to bottle it all up. But I write about it now.
Here’s a sample of Mary’s work:
“So be grateful for what you have because you will regret it when you lose it. So yeah, I have regrets, but I’m not ashamed of having regrets. I’m ashamed for taking things for granted, those things that everyone has, and now that I’ve lost them, I realize how much I needed them.”
-from “Reminiscing” by Mary B.
What do you imagine yourself doing ten years from now?
I will be about 26 years old then, so hopefully, I’ll be working in a restaurant and saving up to open my own restaurant. French food intrigues me.
Where does your passion cooking come from?
I was always a little chef, helping my mom. But as soon as it came to cleaning dishes, I was out of there. I just loved being in a kitchen and creating my own meals. I made a soufflé— perfectly!—in 5th grade. My mom just stayed in the kitchen and made sure I didn’t burn the place down.
And my signature dish is pork loin.
Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is one of your caring adults?
My mom was my biggest support. If either of us was having a bad day, we could cheer each other up. On stormy nights, we’d have horror movie nights, and cuddle. I miss that.
I went to her for everything. She was my role model. She did foster care before she had kids. She was blind too. She had a Master of Social Work degree and volunteered a lot. I grew up under that influence and was right alongside her from a young age, volunteering with her. She was my best friend …
I love how she helped instill the importance of volunteering in your life.
Yeah, and now I have a call out to the hotel where we stayed when we were technically homeless. At the Staybridge, where we were staying, there was this manager, Joyce. Somehow, she always managed to have a cookie for my mom whenever she’d see her. My mom loved that! During most of our hotel stay, my mom [diagnosed with brain cancer at the start of the pandemic] was using the wheelchair. So I would often wheel her down to go get a cookie.
My mom wasn’t really processing well at this point, so there wasn’t use in arguing with her. I wheeled her to the elevator and down to see Joyce. But this one day, she wasn’t there. We had just gotten out of the elevator, and she put down her foot. I’m not getting out of this elevator! she yelled. I’m not moving until I get my cookie from Joyce!
Mom, she isn’t available right now, I tried to tell her. What do you want me to do? … I ended up taking her back down, and Joy walks around the corner and my mom is so happy. Joy, can I have my cookie?
Not only did Joy always seem to have cookies for my mom, but she and her staff planted some flowers outside the building for my mom. And at the height of the pandemic, they were calling us to see what we wanted for breakfast. Then they would bring up these warm breakfasts to our rooms for us.
They were there for us in our time of need. And because of that, I’ve reached out to them—I just left them a phone message, about hoping to do some volunteer work for them, to give back, like they gave to us.
What is your favorite word or phrase right now?
Just keep swimming. This saying is going to go back to a Disney movie. The character Dory from Finding Nemo says, Just keep swimming.
Anything else we should know?
If you have a chance to do CIS, take it. It may not seem like your cup of tea right away. I didn’t think it was for me, but I got involved with it and it has really helped me … Because of CIS, I’ve even made friends in middle school that I still talk to. You get the chance, you should definitely take it up.
Thank you, Mary, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.
Be sure to check out the 2021 CIS Annual Report to learn more about Mary’s story.
Tags: CIS, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, FIRE, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Loy Norrix High School, Nazlhy Heredia-Waltemyer, resiliency, Staybridge