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College Student Devotes Herself to Others

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for all are her goals in life

By Amanda Baltazar

Along with learning and playing, Mary Romanello spent her elementary school years holding bake sales and hosting lemonade stands, and raised more than $5,000 to support the military, her school, breast cancer research and the homeless.

“When I have free time I like to serve my community, to volunteer, to do whatever I can to give back,” says Mary, who’s now a senior at Christopher Newport University in Newport News Va., where she’s majoring in political science.

She really hasn’t stopped doing good since those early grade school years. Once Mary made it to high school, where she was class president, her dreams simply became bigger. She founded her own charity, Spread Love, which supports students internationally, providing education, food and animals for families in need. She’s less involved in this these days, due to the rigors of her university life, but is about to hold a brunch, which will raise money for a school in a dangerous area of Madagascar.

To come to the current day, Mary’s plate is full. Along with her studies, since September she’s been president of the Student Government Association (SGA), and is also one of six students on the President’s Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

The latter, she says, is important for tackling inclusivity, for different races, religions, and members of the LGBTQ community. Currently, she points out, the university is the most diverse it’s ever been with 24% of students being people of color.

She also belongs to the campus ministry, which she says, really pushes diversity, equity and inclusion, especially for students who are part of the LGBQT community. “We encourage those students to come and share their beliefs and we want to be as inclusive as possible, especially surrounding religion,” she points out.

Focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Diversity, equity and inclusion are extremely important issues for Mary.

Recently she took immediate action when someone at the university made hurtful, public statements regarding the LGBTQ community. Mary was instrumental in leading the SGA to host a forum for all, especially the students who were directly affected by those comments. Almost 400 people attended, “they shared how hurt they felt,” Mary explains. “It was very hard to hear, but important. It’s important that I make sure that no matter who people are and what they believe in, they have a place in our university.” This event, spearheaded though Mary’s leadership, made a difference and students found it to be inspiring and informative. Because of this success, upcoming forums are already being planned.

In her first three years at Christopher Newport University, Mary held various roles. During her sophomore and junior years she worked as a Resident Assistant, where she helped new freshmen address campus life challenges and opportunities. In addition, Mary has been involved in student government for all four years where she’s held different leadership positions. She also became the chair of student affairs where she attended meetings with the Asian Student Council, the Black Student Council, and the Student Diversity and Equality Council. “I was a listener at those meetings. We have the ability to make a difference and we want to make sure we’re doing it with all facets on campus, not just those who reach out to us. I took the initiative to go to those meetings; it was about hearing what they had to say.”

Unconditional Love

Mary’s motto, she says, is “Live to love others unconditionally,” and that’s how she’s lived her life. “I’ve had a passion for making sure people are included – this includes people with disabilities. In high school I worked with a lot of students with disabilities.”

Once she graduates in May, Mary plans to take a gap year. Needless to say, she won’t be spending this on frivolous pursuits, but hopes to become a university fellow to work as an ambassador for Christopher Newport on the East Coast, promoting the university and answering questions prospective students and their parents might have. In the second half of that year, once students have applied to the school, she would have the opportunity to interview those students “to learn about their wants and needs,” she says. Following that, she plans to pursue a Masters in public policy.

Mary has a busy life, but does make sure to set aside time for her significant other and herself. “I’ve learned how to set boundaries because if not, the leadership could crumble and your mental balance could too.”

She admits that her social life mostly revolves around her work for the university “but I’d rather be dedicated to the university and doing things for it than watching Netflix. I really do get enjoyment helping other people.”

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