MASS award recognizes students’ accomplishments in the face of challenges



Seniors and MASS award recipients Carolyn Parker-Fairbain, Evan Yu and Tiara Ranson pose together with their awards.

Anna Dong, Staff Writer

“When we’re here, we’re here. We’re smiling,” senior Carolyn Parker-Fairbain said.

For Parker-Fairbain and seniors Tiara Ranson and Evan Yu, however, the act of smiling has not come so easy. Each of the three seniors has overcome life-changing challenges during their high school experience.

In recognition of these tremendous feats, the seniors received the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS) Certificate of Excellence from Superintendent Andrew Bott this past November.

In every school district in Massachusetts, the MASS award honors seniors who have demonstrated academic excellence. In Brookline, the award further recognizes seniors who have triumphed both in classroom and in the local community while showing strength and courage in the face of adversity.

Ranson, Yu and Parker-Fairbain have shined through unfathomably difficult obstacles with a perseverance and positivity that makes them role models for other students.

In December of his freshman year, Yu was diagnosed with cancer, just as he was adjusting to high school. In order to push through this life-altering experience, Yu had to maintain unfading emotional strength. For him, the key to persisting was letting his feelings out and talking to those he trusts.

“I’ve learned through it that there’s a philosophy: you really can’t keep stress or anything to yourself. You really have to open up and express it, and that really helps you not let it explode,” Yu said.

Although Parker-Fairbain is not going through a medical challenge of her own, she has had to deal with the pain of both her mother and uncle having cancer. She has maintained adamant optimism throughout the years, but she understands that coming to terms with the truth of these struggles may be a tough but essential part of overcoming.

“I think especially this year, I’ve been on this journey of spirituality of being cool with myself and my heart,” she said. “I think that to continue this journey, I probably need to sit down and accept it. I feel like letting it out will do something good.”

While Parker-Fairbain may still be on that journey of acceptance, she has found support from her coaches and team members of the Performing Arts Crew at the Institute of Contemporary Art, where she shares her love for writing and poetry with others.

With help from the Performing Arts Crew, Parker-Fairbain wrote a poem about learning that her mother has cancer. She found the vulnerability of reciting her poem in front of an audience at a teen conference to be really valuable.

As a member of the Alternative Choices in Education (A.C.E.) program, Parker-Fairbain has taken on various leadership roles within the program, such as participating on the Student Leadership Team. According to A.C.E. Program Coordinator Amy Bayer, Parker-Fairbain has an influential voice as a leader.

“I think the thing that is so impressive about Carolyn is that she’s very wise beyond her years and seems to know herself really well for somebody her age,” Bayer said. “She seems to know what motivates her and what she’s passionate about; she’s not afraid to really engage and challenge adults around the ideas that are important to her.”

Ranson was unable to attend school during the second quarter of her junior year due to medical reasons. Nonetheless, she found motivation to keep an enthusiastic outlook on school through not only her cheer team, which she has been on since freshman year, but also through her own reflection while staying in the hospital.

“I think being out of school for that long just did something,” Ranson said. “You want to be social, you want to be with people, but I was in the hospital. Having that time to just be alone made me realize that I need to go back to school and talk to my friends.”

Through it all, Ranson has demonstrated her incredible ability to be the person that she wants to be and not let those obstacles define her, Associate Dean Brendan Kobus said.

“Tiara is just an unbelievable person,” Kobus said. “To have the challenges that she had and not only to succeed academically, but to just be such a ray of positive light in this school and just be such an effervescent, friendly, compassionate person.”

For any award given at this school, there are many deserving recipients, Kobus said. The MASS award was no different, and according to Interim Dean of Students Lisa Redding, it was both a tough and emotional task to choose these three seniors.

“We had guidance counselors, deans and program coordinators come together and share stories,” Redding said. “The meeting where we were talking about kids and their struggles and their academic success, we were blowing through lots of tissues, all of us. We were just like, ‘They’re so wonderful!’”

According to Kobus, however, Ranson, Yu and Parker-Fairbain rose to the top.

“For this particular award, those names stood out just because we know them so well and what they’ve been through and who’ve they’ve become in spite of everything,” Kobus said.

As role models of courage, strength and perseverance, Ranson, Yu and Parker-Fairbain have not only shown academic merit, but also an extraordinary level of optimism while coping with hardships, according to Redding.

“Whenever I pass the three of them in the hall, the smile is unbelievable,” Redding said. “Carolyn’s smile, Tiara’s, Evan’s. Throughout it all, I’m like, ‘You’re still smiling.’”