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Class of 2019: Merry Jiang

By: Mrs. Pam Zettervall, Lower School Faculty
The first time I laid eyes on Merry, as far as I remember, was on the Cape Henry Collegiate softball field in the Spring of 2016, her 9th grade year. She wasn’t on the field, but in the catcher’s box, catching some balls and missing most. It was probably an actual game because I remember giving my daughter, Merry’s teammate, a pep talk that night about how things would get better and sure enough, they did. Things improved for the team and things definitely improved for Merry, in this case it was softball. Coach Souther put Merry where he needed her. “He had a plan”, she said. From catcher to first base to third, her bruises got fewer and fewer and the team better and better. Merry says that struggling through losing seasons, different positions and different coaches over her high school years, helped make her who she is today. Those experiences helped Merry come out of her shell. Merry “found her family” in coaches like Souther, motivation to play from Jeanne Short and more importantly, her sisterhood in her teammates. 

Little did I know that 2015-2016 year was Merry’s first year at Cape Henry. She felt shy and out of place but to those around her, she seemed to have been at CHC a lifetime. Her parents are first generation immigrants from China and wanted a better life (you know the story, she says), so they came to the states where they met in New York, settled in Maine for a bit and then to Virginia Beach. “They worked their butts off so that my brother, Kevin, and I could get the best education. They are my biggest shout out and I can’t imagine life without them.”

Asking Merry about how she ended up at Cape Henry, she said at first she didn’t want to go after Middle School.  She knew her parents had a plan for her and her brother and that the smaller class sizes, more individualized instruction and a place where everyone knows them would ultimately benefit them both. Sounds great, right? She gave in. When Merry received her first English essay back and had a horrible grade on it, she wasn’t so sure. English is her second language after all. After meeting with her teacher multiple times about how to improve her English essay writing and her English grade, it did and her faith in her school choice was renewed. Not because she had a better grade, but because she saw first-hand that she’d get the individualized help she came for and the support to allow her to thrive. 
Merry once again, “found family” and excelled. She says her biggest mentor at CHC was Deanna Thompson. Deanna met Merry in the 9th grade and checked on her all of the time. “Mrs. Thompson is like my mom at school. She gives hugs when I need them and always makes me feel better when I am down. I can go to her with anything. I will be forever grateful that our families are connected.” 
It was similar with other teachers. Coach Chris Souther wasn’t just a coach, but her first science teacher at Cape Henry. He encouraged her to take as many science classes as she could. 

“Having Tracey Pinkin was awesome. I have never seen someone so full of humor. She definitely helped bring me out of my shell. I am also part of the Sports Medicine Honor Society because of her.”

“Mrs. Moore,”... hmmmm, Merry pauses here and then tells me all about AP Bio and Global Health and how Mrs. Moore changed her life as well. Again, Finding Family. 

I had the pleasure of traveling with the Global Health students in the summer of 2018 to Grenada, and Merry herself. The quiet, and self-proclaimed “scared-to-do-something-different-girl” wasn’t the girl I chaperoned at all. Her zest for life was infectious. She was talkative, fun and appreciative of the opportunities around her. She was humorous. We spoke about opportunity a lot on that trip, especially in regards to whether or not she was going snorkeling near an underwater statue sanctuary. Just when I had decided I couldn’t talk her into it, in the water she went and came out smiling and thrilled that she had taken advantage of the opportunity to do that with her new-found friends and other CHC classmates. Finding Family.

Her advice to others is not to be scared to take risks. She said she would have never felt that way in the 9th grade, but traveling with Nexus over the years and signing up to be a Peer Leader with Kim Johnson are two things that pushed her out of her comfort zone. “ I never felt this way about myself until Senior Year”, she says. Merry has met amazing friends like Madisen Patrick (“best sister I could ever have”) and Ashley Wendt. She’s part of prestigious academic groups such as the National Honor Society, the French Honor Society, the Sports Medicine Honor Society and the Math Honor Society. 
Because of Merry’s high achievements academically and involvement in many things in and out of school (she is also a competitive pianist), she had the pick of where she wanted to attend college. Merry’s choices were The University of Delaware, The University of Maryland, Seton Hall, George Mason Honors College, American and George Washington University. Merry came out of her comfort zone again and chose George Washington University- what she says was her reach school. “With both Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon, it’s the best of both worlds. I loved it and toured three times!” 

Asking Merry what she will miss the most as she ventures off to George Washington, without a doubt she mentions her brother, Kevin, also a Cape Henry Collegiate student. She says they haven’t ever been separated. He is her best friend. She tells him everything. “I have had the support of the most amazing family- my parents and my brother. I’m not sure what I will do without my brother everyday to lean on, but I know I will meet new people and find my way.” 

Merry, these next steps may cause a few bruises but just like softball, there will be fewer and fewer. Cape Henry Collegiate is proud of you and I am proud to have had the chance to get to know you and I know you will Find Family.
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