Dream Take Flight

First Place Essay by Mary Elizabeth Johnson

Since the seventh grade, I have had a deep passion for the classics: Roman and Greek culture, history, and language. Whenever people ask me why I developed such a love for this subject, I point to many factors, from my inspiring Latin teachers, to the wonderful friends I made at all the competitions we attended. But when it comes to the people who encouraged me to actually pursue a career in the classics, I credit my friend Melissa.

Melissa was actually my parents’ friend first. Her younger brother was their close friend when they attended high school at Chamberlain. Many years later, Melissa continued to live in Tampa, working as a piano teacher and sharing her love with the children of many of her friends. She viewed these children as her kids, since she had none of her own, and treated them as such. She would watch their family pets when they were out of town, play with them when their parents were working, and talk to them whenever they needed advice. She always treated them as if they were adults, and they loved her for it.

Her unofficial life’s philosophy was that everyone should always do something that they loved. In keeping with this, she went out of her way to attend school plays, dance recitals, sports games, and awards ceremonies. She was like a beloved aunt or grandmother to her own little group of children.

Melissa fought cancer for most of her adult life. She never allowed it to prevent her from playing the music that she loved, or from enjoying time with the children she had adopted as her own. She would fight off the disease, only to have it return again a few months later. Yet she never complained, and always acted as if she was better off than she truly was around her friends. So when she finally succumbed, in November of this past year, it came as a shock to everyone.

Looking back at the last few months Melissa was with us, there is one memory in particular that stands out for me personally. I had stepped outside one morning to feed our dog (who loved Melissa in the way everyone seemed to), and found that our friend had stepped into our yard on her way home to water our poor dying plants for us (since gardening was another one of her gifts). We had not spoken to each other for several weeks. She asked about Latin, and I told her of the colleges I was thinking of applying to and the career I hoped to have one day. She looked at me with pride in her eyes and told me “You’ve got it all planned out, girl. You know exactly what you want to do and how to get there. You just keep doing that, and you’ll go far, I know you will.” A few weeks later, when she had passed away, I realized it was the last conversation we had ever had.

I believe we should all remember those like Melissa, who not only choose to follow their own dreams, but who inspire others, including children, to do so as well. She would view this as the highest honor to her memory.