Mariah Berner: Giving Back
Many of us remember when Laurie Berner brought her infant daughter, Mariah Joy, home from China. We remember Mariah’s cancer diagnosis at a young age, and the inspiration that Mariah, Laurie, and Mary (Martin) showed us all. How quickly the years have passed, and this June, Mariah will graduate from high school.
Mariah had the good fortune in her life to learn very young that every day is a gift, and she has dedicated her life to making the most of the time she has, and to “giving back.” As she says, “I have been given so much. I just want to be sure that I am helping others.” She has done this well.
At East High School, Mariah gives back by her involvement with National Honor Society and Association, helping to build school spirit in such a way that all students feel welcomed. She is part of the core group of Students for a Future—a future of racial and social justice. They seek to cultivate an inclusive campus climate at East, raising awareness of issues of diversity among students, and letting students’ voices be heard. They address racism, discriminatory remarks, and exclusion at school, and call on faculty and administration to respond appropriately. They participated in Rachel’s Challenge (named for the first victim of the Columbine shootings), to create a chain reaction of kindness. They also created a documentary: PRIDE – P(eace), R(espect), I(ntegrity), D(iversity), and E(nthusiasm) which they showed to every class at East to raise awareness of issues of cultural diversity, and will also host a community forum on these issues.
Mariah has also been involved with the music program at East, and is part of both Sterling Strings and the Symphony Orchestra. Music is the joy of Mariah’s life. She began playing viola in third grade at Lowell. Her teacher, Miss Kimmes, introduced her to the man who has so inspired her own musicality, Mr. Hoeschen, the principal violist of the DSSO, who invited her to be on stage with him! She has been a part of the Duluth Superior Youth Symphony, and this year had the honor of being a part of the Side by Side program, playing next to her role model, teacher, and mentor.
Mariah has also devoted much time to her studies, hoping to become a pediatric oncologist. In the meantime, she volunteers with the Essentia Junior Volunteer Program, providing snacks, coffee, and good cheer and company to cancer patients going through chemo. She also works in the Cancer Research Center library, and has loved working on the pediatric wing. In September, Mariah will be attending the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, majoring in biology and psychology.
Mariah does not want to be defined by the fact that she had cancer at a young age and the resultant amputation of her leg, but this certainly has impacted her choices and goals in life. Mostly she is grateful for the miracle of her life–that her mom, Laurie adopted her and brought her to the United States, where she was able to get the treatment she needed. She says that the illness brought her family closer. Of her family–Laurie, Grandma Mary, and herself — she says, “None of us is blood-related, but we’re family. We care and love each other.” She also credits her mom, Laurie, with who she is. “This part of me, (the part that gives so much of herself to others) is what she is. It’s what she taught me.” And she is grateful to the members of her Peace Church family, who have done so much to support her and her family. Mariah, we are grateful to you, for all the gifts of grace, kindness, and joy you have brought to us all.
Congratulations to you and all of our graduates!
Interview by Beth Bartlett — Thank you to Pamela Mittlefehldt for editing the Voices for Justice article each month!