Jesuit senior reeling from Harvard acceptance and journalism award

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Mariel Klein, a senior at Jesuit High School, takes a break between classes in the hallway in school between classes. For most high school students, spending spring break with the family in Southern California is a satisfying reward all by itself.

To learn during the sunny excursion that you’ve been accepted to an ivy league university — and honored in a national journalism competition, to boot — to say the least, adds a bit of icing to the cake.

Just ask Mariel Klein, a senior at Jesuit High School.

“I was in the car with my family,” the Southwest Portland resident explained. “I looked up from my phone and said, ‘Oh my God, I just got into Harvard!’ My mom said, ‘Are you serious?’ She was shocked and surprised. It’s a good thing she wasn’t driving.”

Mariel, 17, who applied at other universities including Yale, Georgetown and Duke, said she would “probably” be heading to Cambridge, Mass., this fall. While she hasn’t decided on a major, her passion for storytelling makes journalism a likely career pursuit.

She was encouraged, therefore, when she found out — still on vacation, mind you —┬ávia email that she received the $1,000 second-place prize in the Earth Day Network’s Healthy and Sustainable School Food Journalism Awards.

Best-selling author and food activist Michael Pollan selected Mariel, who serves as editor of the The Jesuit Crusader student newspaper, as second prize winner from a pool of finalists that judges at the University of California, Berkeley, had narrowed down.

The network, which works with partners in 192 countries to “broaden, diversify and mobilize” the environmental movement, announced the award winners today. In addition to the $1,000 prize, Mariel’s win also comes with $200 for Jesuit’s journalism program.

Food for thought

Her award results from an article in the January Crusader about Jesuit’s antiquated cafeteria. In “Chew on This,” she questioned the facilities as well as the quality and healthiness of its culinary offerings.

“Kitchen volunteers churn out huge quantities of food—1,750 chicken strips on Thursdays and 396 personal pizzas on Fridays,” she wrote. “The options span the spectrum of nutritional value. You could belly up to the salad bar, but is free will guiding you toward potato wedges and nachos? ... Here’s something to chew on: are students willing to pay more for healthy food that’s grown locally? Are Jesuit leaders prepared to enlarge the kitchen so our cooks can serve up less processed food? The complicated recipe for great lunches will continue to simmer.”

“The kitchen’s not been remodeled,” Mariel explained this week of her motivation behind the article. “It was built to feed a few hundred boys. Now, there’s 1,000 people. Maybe it’s time to think about (getting) a new kitchen. I was glad to have an opportunity to write something about that and shed a little light on that topic.”

Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, praised Mariel’s insight and writing as getting to the heart of the matter when it comes to nutrition and the environment.

“Mariel’s article demonstrated a level of engagement with these issues that her peers should emulate,” she said in a statement, “and it exemplified the growing desire of students, parents and school administrators that schools be given the tools they need to serve healthy food produced in a way that helps the local economy and is environmentally sustainable.”

Surreal senior year

Rather than put her entire economic focus on a journalism major, Mariel plans to explore environmental studies or government/public policy and apply her knowledge in a journalistic context.

“I love the idea of being able to tell stories and give words to people who might not normally be heard,” she said, noting her passion is for news writing. “I think that’s so important right now. There’s so much going on in the world. Being able to tell the stories of people struggling and give attention to their issues is very important.”

Mariel credits her mother, Elisa, a former news reporter for Portland TV station KOIN 6, for inspiring her journalistic passions.

“She pushed me to start taking journalism at Jesuit,” Mariel said. “She’s definitely been helping me a lot through this.”

Although her parents had hoped to keep their daughter on the West Coast, they are thrilled with the opportunity being admitted to Harvard provides.

“It’s a blessing she has this opportunity,” Elisa Klein said. “We will miss her dearly. With three daughters there’s a synergetic joy to our everyday life that’s almost impossible to describe. During her college search, we told her there needed to be a compelling reason to study far from Oregon, but also encouraged her to follow her heart.

“Luckily,” she adds, “there’s a non-stop from Portland to Boston.”

For a girl about to graduate high school, Harvard acceptance and writing awards are heady spring break stuff, indeed.

“There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening,” she observed. “It’s pretty crazy, kind of surreal.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Mariel Klein, a senior at Jesuit High School, found out during spring break that she was accepted to Harvard and received second-place in a national journalism competition.

• To see Earth Day Network winners and Mariel's second-place submission, visit