Student Story

‘You don’t have to fit in the box that society puts you in’

USC Rossier alum Mariah Lora MAT '24 shares her academic journey from the basketball court and pageant stage to the classroom and commencement podium.

By Ellen Evaristo Published on

On May 10, 2024, Mariah Lora not only graduates with a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), she is this year’s master’s ceremony student speaker. Her path took her from the basketball court to the pageantry stage, to the classroom and soon the commencement stage.

Commencement 2024 - Student Speaker - Mariah Lora

Originally from Downey, Calif., Lora, the only daughter of three siblings, was raised around sports her entire life. An academic and athlete, she played basketball, volunteered and became student body president. While at the University of La Verne and Cerritos College, Lora received back-to-back conference championships in basketball and earned academic all-state honors. In addition to being a star athlete, Lora often found herself rushing from basketball practice in sneakers to pageant practice in heels.

She began participating in pageants in high school to demystify the perception generally associated with pageants of physical aesthetics, crowns, gowns and sashes. “I definitely would say that I don’t fall under those stereotypes,” she said. She wanted to show girls that were also competing that “you don’t have to fit into this box that society tries to put you in.” In addition to stepping out of her comfort zone, the experience motivated and catapulted her career choices.

Commencement 2024 - Student Speaker - Mariah Lora

After being named Miss Downey in 2018, Lora collaborated with the local city council on activities with children in the community. She and the Downey court hosted Princess of the Day events, which included book readings and art activities to inspire and empower young girls to be future leaders. In 2021, Lora competed in and was named America’s Miss California. As a first-generation college student, she championed her platform “Education to Elevate,” which encourages students to extend their education beyond four years of college. “It’s about actively pursuing that passion,” she said. “Education is being able to find something that resonates with you and then lighting a fire to fuel everybody else.”

Lora’s family has been and remains her primary support system. Lora’s grandmother, who immigrated from Mexico, instilled in her the value of an education and asked, “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?” She took that to heart and forged her path. Lora’s parents, high school sweethearts, began their family early. Lack of access and information prevented her mother from pursuing her educational journey. As a first-generation high school graduate and young mother at the time, she was dismissed by educators. “My mom, one of the most intelligent people of color I know, was not given the opportunity to go to college,” Lora said. She decided to pursue the education field to “inspire students that they are beyond capable, brilliant and loved.”

After Lora completed her studies at Cerritos College, she transferred to the University of La Verne where she graduated magna cum laude in 2023 with her BA in English. She also began her graduate studies at the University of La Verne. Encouraged by her mother to expand her academic horizon, Lora applied to USC’s MAT program on a whim. “It was definitely a let’s see what happens,” she said. “Not only did I get accepted, but I was invited to be in the inaugural residency program.” The USC Rossier Teacher Preparation Residency program is a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Ednovate school network. Teacher residents gain experience in diverse educational institutions and become mentors to local youth, all while being supported and funded.

The MAT program’s mentorship and residency drew Lora to USC. “University of La Verne was a great program,” Lora said. “But USC made my dream a reality.” With a school superintendency as her goal since high school and learning from her experience with school safety, she saw the need for change and wanted to make an impact. “If it were not for the residency, I would not be here right now,” she said.

Throughout her time at USC, Lora’s MAT peers were her biggest influence. “My cohort has literally got me through every step of the way,” she said. Their work ethic, values and mission aligned with Lora’s and was her motivation. Her peers in the program each had something unique to contribute. “They’re passionate; they’re exhilarating. But we all come back together with the root cause of wanting to make an impact,” she added.

Like her cohort, Lora believes that everyone has a unique story and that every component of an individual’s personality is just as equally important. Like puzzle pieces, individuals contribute to a larger story. As teachers, educators and counselors, she and her graduating class all have a mission. “It’s our job and due diligence to make sure that we are being authentic and embracing all parts of ourselves because you don’t know who you’re inspiring,” she said. “I didn’t know who I was inspiring when I was competing for Miss Downey or America’s Miss California.”

Currently, Lora teaches 12th grade English Language Arts at Esperanza College Prep. It is important for Lora to embrace that authenticity in the classroom, where her students come from diverse backgrounds as well. “As a teacher, educator and advocate, if you’re able to show that you can embrace all components of your puzzle, it’s going to inspire others to do the same,” she said. This fall she will take on a new teaching opportunity at USC Hybrid High. At some point, she has plans to pursue her EdD.

To USC Rossier’s incoming class, she shared, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Say, ‘hi.’ You’re not going to just create a fan. You’re not just going to create friendships. You’re going to create a family.”

To her family, “They are the best support system in the entire world,” she said, “A special special shout out to my mother because she is the inspiration for my entire journey. As an educator, I hope that I can be a teacher that she never had.”

Article Type