Scholars’ Voices

Sunshine and Giggles by Mary Marshall

Author: Mary Marshall, Cohort 12, Roanoke, NC


Hey y’all, I’m Mary Marshall from Roanoke Rapids, NC, and I’m currently a senior at KIPP: Pride High School, which is a nationwide college-preparatory charter school organization specifically instituted for helping students from low socioeconomic and disadvantaged backgrounds. The mission of the school is to equip students with the knowledge to achieve success in college, fight for social justice and give back to their community. I have come to adopt this mission in my personal life outside of education. In school I’m a member of the Youth Philanthropy club, BETA club, gaming club, and Yearbook. I have an array of interests, so often my schedule can seem hectic and cluttered. I’m also the women’s captain for our Cross Country and Track & Field team. Outside of school I worked my junior year at a local grocery store, Foodlion, as a cashier. Like most of my peers I would soon know, I come from a low income household where a portion of my care is my responsibility through maintaining this job. So when I’m not at school or working, the only other place I’d be is at home with my dog Leo, binge watching Netflix documentaries.

Prior to my arrival at the LEDA Summer Institute, I spent a lot of time exchanging numerous friend requests on social media with my fellow Cohort members. Weeks leading up to the arrival date, June 18th, there were connections, jokes, and relationships that instantly formed and became an integral part of shaping the experience of all 100 Scholars. During this time, I was still in school finalizing my end of the year exams and saying goodbye to all my friends for the upcoming summer. One of my biggest worries leaving home was not being there to care for my mom physically and mentally. She is currently diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. I felt guilty leaving my family behind at such a critical time when my mom needed me to drive her to appointments, or to complete household tasks because neither of my parents are physically capable. It was a valid feeling, but it was also one they wouldn’t let stop me from coming to this rewarding, enriching, free program: LEDA.

Fast forward to June 18th, and the most distinct memory was a blur of orange. I remember sitting next to this girl from Hawaii in the airport, who an hour later would be declared my roommate for the next seven weeks. Seven weeks seemed like an eternity! Seven weeks without my Leo, seven weeks without driving a car, and seven weeks without my mom’s home cooked meals; amidst my excitement, I was utterly terrified. The very first night I met one of my best friends that I’d literally spend every day with from there forward: Ghawayne. When Vynessa (Director of Residential Life) was going over the rules in Forbes dining hall, I sat in the first empty chair I saw. As she cautiously advised us not to form any romantic relationships while being here, Ghawayne and I broke into loud giggles. At that moment our friendship was born. Phil (Resident Mentor) tried to scold us, but we kept laughing.

I wasn’t worried about making friends because approaching people was natural; it was Southern hospitality. Being Southern would become a bigger part of my identity than I thought. I realized this soon when the attempt at mimicking my accent through the phrase “I’m Mary Marshall from Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, the 252” became one of the most prominent LEDA sayings. I didn’t mind though, I liked the admiration for my southern belliness. It’s been pretty evident through 4 Aspects rotations that the majority of the Cohort holds liberal beliefs, and although I agree with them on many topics especially revolving around social justice, there are some that firmly stand with me probably because I’ve grown up in the South. On that note, abortion and gun laws tend to be the most interesting topics discussed in class. Regardless of having the minority opinion or not, I’m going to say what I think, and LEDA validated that mindset even more for me over the course of the summer.

What I remember most about LEDA is definitely my friends. I’ve spoken to everyone here, formed connections, etc, but the people I literally call family: mom, dad, brother, step brother, and cousin have transformed me beyond what a mere friendship could do. We all met each other and really talked in the first week and we all instantly clicked. Our bond was glued together with laughter, complaints, sarcasm, and sass. Rachel, Ghawayne, Anthony, Zandro, Adamari and I. We were thee gang. Everything was so fun and free until Cross the Line. Then it got real. After the whole group exercise, our smaller group went outside in the backyard where it was pitch black and one by one we told each other our entire life stories. I told them about my mom, my fears, my hopes, and I couldn’t fathom the fact that I was crying and sharing something so personal and scary in front of individuals I only met 3 weeks prior. I knew then that this is what LEDA was. It wasn’t the classes or tutoring or advising; LEDA was the diverse connections and relationships that we would all come to form and strengthen every day here. We spoke the language of funny memes, questions of political ideology, and obsessive Snapchats. These are just a few of the things defining Cohort 12.

Seeing that it’s currently 12:17am on my last day at Princeton University, I’d like to recall my favorite memories. Going back to my friends, it was the second day of LEDA and my perfect roommate, Andrea, and I were telling each other how close we got to people when again it was only the second day! Looking back at the moment still baffles me. Speaking of Andrea, that’s my girl. She is as sweet as the Hawaiian chocolate she brought me on the first day we met. And still as sweet as the ube candy she let me try our last week here. LEDA gave me the perfect match, and our late nights talking until 3am- with 8 o’clock classes the next day- didn’t bother us because we simply just wanted to share secrets, and we did. We didn’t need to hang out the entire day; she had her closer friends just like I had mine, but at the end of the day she was my Andray-dray. Two nights before the end of the institute, my friends and I took a trip to the water fountain. We had made these plans the entire summer, but never followed through; we were spontaneous this night though. Completely clothed and unprepared we ran under the fountain hand in hand and came out the other side drenched. Rachel, who’s afraid of water recorded us and provided perfect background noise. There were strangers all around us gawking at our boisterous behavior, but we didn’t care. It was our last outing together and all we wanted to do was shout and profess our love for each other. All summer LEDA preached validating our opinion and presence, and united we did that- while also listening to Rihanna.

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