Unforgettable: Stories Of Local Grads And The School Mentors Who Changed Their Lives

As part of WBEZ’s #ChiGradWeek, three students share what their speech coach, “work mom” and music teacher mean to them.

collection of portraits of graduating seniors and their mentors
collection of portraits of graduating seniors and their mentors

Unforgettable: Stories Of Local Grads And The School Mentors Who Changed Their Lives

As part of WBEZ’s #ChiGradWeek, three students share what their speech coach, “work mom” and music teacher mean to them.

WBEZ this week is celebrating local Chicago-area graduates — as well as the mentors who helped them make it. In three audio conversations, WBEZ brings you the stories of local students and the adults that taught them, coached them and helped shape them. Press play below to hear the difference one adult can make.

Photos Melissa Feinberg and Malien Tingpalpong looking at one another
Courtesy of Melissa Feinberg, Malien Tingpalpong

Melissa Feinberg and Malien Tingpalpong

When Malien Tingpalpong, a 2020 high school graduate, first joined the speech team at Fenton High School in the northwest suburbs, she was “so quiet and shy,” said her speech coach, Melissa Feinberg. “I remember having to work so hard to get her to project and just to be comfortable using her voice.” Over four years, Malien said Feinberg helped her “believe in the power of my own voice and my own message.” Along the way, the pair forged a deep and lasting bond.

Malien Tingpalpong: “She’s like a mother/sister/friend figure now. And beyond being my coach, she’s been one of my No. 1 supporters and No. 1 people to have in my life. Not having her in my life is just something I can’t imagine.”

Melissa Feinberg: “I’ve never seen anyone grow the way that Malien has. Not so much in her talent and her ability, but in the way that she believes in herself. This girl came in so small and ended up so big.”

Photos of Patricia Guy and DeMario Tribett looking at one another
Courtesy of Patricia Guy, DeMario Tribett

Patricia Guy and DeMario Tribett

For three years, DeMario Tribett, a 2020 theater and performance arts graduate from Governors State University, worked at his school’s center for performing arts under Patricia Guy, the box office manager. He said Guy helped guide him through school, work and the ups and downs of life in theater. In “Ms. Pat,” as Tribett calls her, he found a mentor and friend that he said “loved and cared for” him and pushed him beyond his “limits and comfort zone.”

DeMario Tribett: “Ms. Pat, I don’t even think you understand the magnitude of how you’ve impacted me throughout these last three years. Thank you for always being there.”

Patricia Guy: “DeMario, all I can say is you brought everything to the table, and I so loved working with you and growing. I think we grew together.”

Photos of Matthew Jones-McCann and Kevin  looking at one another
Courtesy of Matthew Jones-McCann, Kevin

Matthew Jones-McCann and Kevin

Kevin, a shy and anxious middle schooler, struggled at Ebinger Elementary School in Chicago as bullying affected him emotionally and academically. But the 2020 eighth grade graduate eventually found a home in the musical world created by his teacher, Matthew Jones-McCann. While practicing and performing in the school musicals, Kevin discovered a place where he could have fun while also becoming a role model for other students. WBEZ is not using Kevin’s last name to protect his privacy.

Kevin: “Mr. Jones, you have impacted my life more than I think you know. … I don’t think I would have made it through seventh and eighth grade without your help and support.”

Matthew Jones-McGann: “You are an example to the younger guys. I mean, when they watch you on stage, without even realizing it, they want to be you.”

Susie An covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @soosieon.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.