2018 Laurel Ridge graduate Michael Mallery’s keychain has a special significance. On it, are the keys to the homes of families who saved him from homelessness.
A 2015 graduate of Warren County High School, Mallery became homeless while still in high school. Mallery thought he would join the military, but was steered to Laurel Ridge by his high school teachers.
“My teachers kept forcing me to go check you guys out,” Mallery said. “I was afraid of college because I thought it was only for smart people.”
With his teachers assuring him he had the intelligence to pursue higher education, Mallery started his first year tepidly, but went “full throttle” his second year and was thrilled to realize he could succeed.
Along the way, he occasionally experienced homelessness. He was taken in by various families, including that of Laurel Ridge career coach Nancy Ris.
“I really couldn’t have done it without them,” he said. “I have a key for each house I stayed at as a memory of them. It’s something I hold on to to remind myself how far I’ve come.”
Mallery also said he appreciates the support he received from his grandparents.
“I couldn’t have done it without them, I love them and thank them for everything,” he said.
Ris said her family got to know Mallery through the Warren County High School cross country and track teams when he was a teammate of her daughter’s. She said she has seen his confidence and writing skills greatly improve over the past few years.
“It isn’t always easy to take constructive criticism and apply it, but he did, and to learn to trust good people, and he did that too,” Ris said.
Following his graduation from Laurel Ridge, Mallery transferred to the University of Mary Washington, where he was able to fulfill his dream of running on a college track team. One of his professors there, the late Susan Llewellyn, was a tremendous source of inspiration and support who further inspired his motivation to continue into graduate school.
For both of his years at UMW – from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in U.S. history in 2020 – he received the Stephen E. and Karen S. Wisecarver Endowed Scholarship, which is awarded to Laurel Ridge graduates transferring to a four-year university.
Currently, Mallery is working at a vineyard and pursuing a master’s degree at James Madison University.
Ris proudly noted that Mallery was chosen for one of the just 14 spots in the graduate history program.
He hopes to eventually earn a doctoral degree and become a history professor so he can influence young students who might share a background similar to his.
“The reason I want to be a professor is to help students in need in those kinds of situations,” said Mallery.
His father discovered a journal kept by a Canadian World War II soldier and gave it to Mallery, who showed it to Laurel Ridge History Professor Curtis Morgan. Professor Morgan suggested Mallery make the journal the subject of future Ph.D. research.
“Looking back, some of your best professors I feel like come from Laurel Ridge, and some of your best years come from there,” Mallery said.
One of his favorite professors was English Professor Ruth Holmes.
“She is amazing,” Mallery said. “I told her, ‘If I didn’t take your English class, I probably would’ve never pursued my degree. She was what kept me going.'”
Other favorites were math instructors Dennis Myers, who also taught him at Warren County High School, and Mary Kenney.
“He was my high school cross country coach, and he has been helping me since high school in geometry,” he said. “She could teach a rock math.”
While at Laurel Ridge, Mallery also benefited from the TRIO program, which provides additional services and supports to students who are low-income, or are first-generation college students, or have a disability.
“TRIO was incredible,” he said. “They helped me so much with gas money. I received a $500 scholarship from the program. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
After he attains his master’s degree, Mallery plans to work while studying for his doctoral degree.
“When I get my master’s, expect an application at Laurel Ridge,” he said. “I hope to give my power back to Laurel Ridge. My message is everyone’s got a story. Everyone has had their issues. They all have their impacts on the world. What are you going to leave behind is my question.
“You can come from a disadvantaged background, and for sure it’s hard, but what are you going to do to get out of it? That’s the question I had to ask myself often.”