“I believe that it will be the kids who grow up and learn in diverse communities who will solve the problems of inequality and injustice in the United States.”–Dr. Melanie (Ferrara) Finkenbinder, Valedictorian, Class of 2000

SEL teachers are always making a difference in the lives of their students, although they may not realize how much of a lasting difference they’re making every day. Melanie Kay (Ferrara) Finkenbinder, Valedictorian of the Class of 2000, spoke with us recently about what she’s been up to since graduation and how her  teachers and her time at South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools influenced the person she has become.

Working now as a primary care physician at Lower Lights Christian Health Center in Columbus, Melanie serves the Latin American immigrant population. She is also a medical student educator and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Global Public Health. “The part of Columbus our clinic serves is a food desert. There are few grocery stores in the area and many of our patients are food insecure. One new initiative in our health center is the addition of a free ‘grocery store’ right in our building.” Melanie is devoted to improving the health of Columbus’s Latino population—making sure they have equal access to health care in spite of the poverty and discrimination she sees her patients face everyday.

After leaving Brush, Melanie attended Washington University in St. Louis and went on to medical school at The Ohio State University. Melanie is married to David, a structural engineer, and they have two sons: Paul (3) and Henry (1).

Melanie’s Spanish language classes at Brush have paid off, as did her semester abroad in Chile during college. She uses her foreign language skills every day as she speaks Spanish to her patients and to her children at home. In discussing her time at Brush, Melanie reflects on the classes and teachers that made a difference in her life and helped shape her future. “Ms. Doerder’s AP Biology class was hugely formative. It’s how I, and at least six of my classmates become interested in medical science, and decided to become physicians. melanie-finkenbinder-picture

The AP teachers and their hands-on approach influenced me to excel. Ms. Cassidy, Mr. Welsh, Mr. Mastrobuono, Mr. Nemecek, and Ms. Clemson helped me to become a leader and learn to work as a team member.” In addition to her AP classes, Melanie was very involved at Brush, serving on Student Congress, participating in the theater program, and being part of the softball, soccer, and swimming teams.

Melanie’s future goal is to move with her family to a developing country to help set up a health system from the ground up. This desire to help the underserved and level the playing field is common among many Brush graduates. Melanie feels that attending SEL Schools made a difference in her perspective about the world. “The more that we continue to segregate ourselves by skin color and religion, the more we will continue to misunderstand each other.  I believe that it will be the kids who grow up and learn in diverse communities who will solve the problems of inequality and injustice in the United States.”

“We don’t live in a world where everyone is the same, so why should our school experience be any different from what’s out there in the real world?” –Mary Noakes Mosquera, Brush Valedictorian 2010

In her 2010 Valedictory speech, Mary Noakes Mosquera had some sage advice for her fellow Brush graduates: “We define greatness and success for ourselves.” Mary has been defining her own success in the years since her graduation. After graduating summa cum laude from the Dietetics program at Ohio State University and completing her Dietetic Internship at Bradley University, Mary moved to Long Island in New York where she accepted a position as a Registered Dietician at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. She hopes to someday open her own private practice, centered on nutrition education and stress management through yoga and meditation.

Mary considers her SEL school career to have been a positive experience that helped shape her world view and set her up for success in life. “Attending a diverse school and making friends with people who were different from me helped in my academic career as well as in my professional life”. She mentioned that when she arrived at Ohio State some of her classmates had a harder time interacting with different kinds of people and seemed less open minded. “Attending SEL Schools made me realize that no matter what someone looks like, we all have the same wants and needs.”

When she thinks back on her school career, Mary recalls many memorable teachers who made their subjects come alive for her. “I had Mr. Beck for freshman English. He challenged everyone to do their best and inspired me to work hard and find meaning in what I was learning. That’s why he was my favorite teacher.” She recalled his creative lesson plans and the way he would go above and beyond every day to make students want to learn. Mary acknowledges that the negative perceptions of SEL Schools caused her and her classmates to work harder to prove that those perceptions were unfounded. “The perception of being ‘less than’ made us work harder to be ‘more than”, recalls Mary.

In August of 2014, Mary married her OSU classmate, Juan Mosquera, who now works at a non-profit devoted to helping kids learn to cope with negative emotions through yoga and meditation, called YES! For Schools. The couple hopes to someday move back to Ohio, but for now are enjoying their lives in New York.

In closing, Mary offers these words: “To any parent who is worried about the diverse environment at SEL Schools preventing their kid from getting a good education, don’t be. Sure, diversity can be messy and complicated, but we don’t live in a world where everyone is the same, so why should our school experience be any different from what’s out there in the real world? I’ve heard it said that ‘our diversity will not be a barrier, but rather a reason for our success’.  And in my educational experience, that’s been completely true.”Mary Mosquera