Senior Spotlight: Mary & Melissa Serve as South HS Leaders
Melissa Flores (left) and Mary Ghebremeskal (right) hold senior leadership positions at Minneapolis South High School.
Minneapolis South High School recently announced its newly-elected Senior Class President and Vice President, representing one of the largest Minneapolis Public Schools senior classes. It just so happened that both roles are filled by MNUDL debaters!
We caught up with Mary Ghebremeskal, President, and Melissa Flores, Vice President, to learn what they’ve got in store for the senior class, what they’re up to after graduation, and what advice they’d give to younger students at South.
Melissa’s Debate Story:
Melissa earned several top speaker and top team awards while taking on the challenge of competing alone (as a “maverick”) in the Spanish Debate League.
“I’ve been in Spanish debate since 6th grade in middle school at Anwatin. I had some excellent teachers who saw my potential. They talked about debate. At first, I was doubting, thinking, ‘Am I able to do this?’ Once I tried it out with my teammates, that boosted my confidence. When we went against other schools, I came in fifth place. I was surprised that I did a good job, and then after that I put more effort into it.
At first, when we got to South, there were not a lot of people that were into Spanish debate. So me and one of the Spanish teachers, we recruited students. That’s how we entered the Spanish Debate League in South High. Now I’ve been in debate for six years, thanks to the teacher that got me into it- Señor Sanchez.”
In the time since then, Melissa has stayed involved as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I really don’t regret anything I’ve done so far. I joined the soccer team, the debate team. I’m also a student aide. I have three student aide classes where I help out teachers, and now that I’ve been named Vice President, I have a lot of plans for the school year, so we can have an amazing senior year.”
Mary’s Debate Story
During this East African Debate tournament held at Augsburg University in 2018, Mary weighed the benefits and drawbacks of attending a culturally-specific charter school or public school.
“I began debate in my eighth grade year at the East African Debate League. I had always wanted to do debate, but we didn’t have it at my school until then. That was pretty fun. Later, at South, I joined the Financial Literacy Leadership Debates team,” Mary tells us.
Back in 8th grade, Mary told us in an interview, “I plan on being the valedictorian in high school! What I want to learn from debate is how to read something, summarize it, and understand it enough to argue about it. That’s something I know I need for college and essays and stuff like that.”
Looking back, Mary laughs. “Well, I ended up getting a 3.9 – which is not valedictorian, but I think I did pretty well!”
Mary continues, “Doing debate gave me a lot of skills, like working with a team and working with others, that I don’t really think I had until then. Debate is something where you argue your points. I feel like it’s forcing you to be a leader in some way. I eventually became interested in the humanities, especially when it came to activism and politics.”
What inspired you to run for senior office?
Serving as Senior Class President for a graduating class as large as South High School seems intimidating, but Mary already had leadership experience. She had already served as the 2021 Minneapolis Public Schools Student Representative and taken on other leadership roles throughout the community. She shares why:
“I guess I felt like I could never really affect change because of my age. When I was in high school and I could change the things happening around me, it just made me realize that I had a lot more power than I thought I did, with my voice and my actions and being really intentional. If you truly care about something you can create change. I’m not saying that change isn’t difficult, but, you’re never gonna be a part of that change until you really put your foot forward.”
Mary also tells us why she chose to run for senior office:
“I consider youth voice as something very important, and especially this year, when it was kind of lacking when it comes to communication between the administration and students. And I wanted to be the President because I wanted to make sure it’s going to be a really interesting senior year. We’re the first people in two years who can actually enjoy it, having lost so much of our time as teenagers. I just wanted to make this like a really special time for everyone and make sure that we would be able to do justice to everyone’s experiences.”
Melissa ran her campaign for a deeply personal reason.
Melissa tells us:
“In my four years of high school, I haven’t seen a Hispanic person in the senior office- someone speaking Spanish that can communicate with people who don’t know English. I saw a lot of my friends struggle to understand what they were talking about at the senior meeting. They wanted to have a good senior year. High school is sometimes hard because you don’t know who to communicate with, who you can trust or you can talk to about things. I came here to the United States without knowing English, so I know how it feels to not have a person you can talk to, you know, in your own language. I want them to feel heard…
…They began bringing me so many ideas. I was glad to see them all happy, because they were able to talk to me and they were bringing me ideas. I wanted it to be a different year for me, full of responsibilities and experiences.”
What ideas are you bringing to your time in office?
“Due to the pandemic, a lot of people are on their own. We’re trying to bring people in, as a senior, as a group, as a community. That’s one of our main ideas for this year,” says Melissa.
“Bringing people together was the best thing we can do right now. We’ve talked about doing a senior sunrise, senior sunset and creating more opportunities to be together,” Mary adds.
Beyond senior celebrations, they will also engage with students on important upcoming issues.
“We’ll also be working with students, being in the principal listening sessions that are going to be happening next month, and working with the student equity team to bring back Race Justice Day, with a bunch of student-led workshops around like political justice and activism,” says Mary.
What’s next for you after graduation?
Both senior class representatives have exciting plans to share.
“My parents just opened their own business, Tamales RUBI inside the Supermercado la Mexicana. I’m helping them as much as I can because they’re doing it to pay for my college. My goal after high school is to study, have my degree, and help them out to make their business even bigger. I’m trying to study business so I can help out my parents. That’s one of my biggest goals after high school,” says Melissa.
Mary will attend Yale University in the fall: “I’m going to go to college, get my degree, and hopefully get a job I enjoy. I’m ready to take the next step.”
What’s your advice for current students?
Mary: “Do debate. You’ll become a better thinker, a better learner, and you’ll meet a community of people who share the same experiences as you. And you’ll have a fun time!”
Melissa: “Do as many things as possible in high school. Try everything. If you don’t like it, then you already know you don’t like it, but you’ll never know if you like something if you don’t try it. High school has a lot of opportunities. You can check everything out, make new friends, and you can meet new teachers that care about you. That’s how I met a lot of my wonderful teachers. Try everything and enjoy your high school time.”