Jazmary Rivera
Walking into a dark room, I expected a spotlight above the flowery clothed table but instead found white fairy lights entwined on the ceiling, lighting up the busy brick wall.
Unlike an old, cardigan-wearing woman sitting across from you as you lay on a couch, Jesse Begenyi introduced me to another version of what to expect walking into a therapist’s office: electric pink hair, stretched ears bearing avocado plugs and clothes raided from a teen's closet. Their glittery pink eyeshadow matched the unicorn wall decor that read “be magical,” and that was the sense I felt walking into that room; a realm like Narnia. Halloween decor in the left corner sat horizontal to another dresser covered in old clocks and roller skates, a hobby they took up in the fall of 2016.
We sat down, the chair feeling like a worn-out couch, and the portrait of a little blonde girl holding a cat stared right into my soul.
Jesse Begenyi, 31, was born in Washington, D.C. and raised just outside of Maryland. They moved to Boston to study film photography at Emerson College for their undergraduate studies before going to Simmons College for social work a few years after. Now they work for the Community Services Institute, the parent institute of the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, or, BAGLY.
They decided to move to BAGLY to hold sessions where they can reach other people, specifically LGBTQ+ youth, and work as a consultant for the institute.
“CSI is an agency that works with folks who have MassHealth insurance...we do outpatient outreach therapy, to try to make therapy as accessible as possible to people,” they explained. After working for BAGLY for almost three years and being connected with them for 10 years, Begenyi has that “talk to me” energy. Strangers in elevators and passengers on trains constantly talk to them about their problems or day.

“If I’m on the train, someone’s gonna talk to me, If I’m in the elevator, unfortunately, someone’s going to talk to me,” they said. “But I also sometimes get wrapped up in people’s stories like, ‘Oh, well actually I want to learn more.’”
While studying at Emerson, they found themselves caring more about the people they were interviewing and how they felt than the final project.
“You’re making money off of these people’s stories [in film], and I didn’t like that idea of profiting off of someone else’s life and trauma,” they said.
Not only was Begenyi drawn to hearing stories, but providing quality services, as they never got to experience that as a teen. Empathetic and compassionate, they hoped that others could have a space to be unjudged and “honor all parts of themselves.”
Working adjacently to BAGLY, Begenyi found themselves realizing something after high school, many people at BAGLY don’t have access to therapy. They believe that mental health deserves more focus, and Begenyi found themselves putting the puzzle pieces together, as moving to BAGLY “just kind of naturally fit.”
Having experienced the loss of a friend to in-hospital suicide, they knew the struggle of a young person, especially as someone who identifies as part of the queer community.
Thoughtful and understanding, Begenyi really cares about their clients.
“I think that my clients are some of the most incredible people, they’re so smart and so resilient, and so powerful,” they said. They love the commitment their clients show, and believe that they are motivated to be better, even if they don’t know it. “My goal is not to fix people,” they tell me, but, “to make people’s lives less bad, so they can live the way they want.”
Bonding over cats and the room’s aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, we found ourselves sharing cat pictures and doting on our furry gremlins. We talked about how cute we found Begenyi’s fast-food eating, cowboy hat-wearing cat statue, and the year-round Halloween decor manning a corner of the room. Sharing the joke no one ever finds funny on their cork board, and a cheesy cat quote on the letter board, I found myself realizing the qualities of a good therapist: understanding, easy to talk to, and skilled at listening. Although Jesse Begenyi doesn’t look like the average therapist, they definitely provide a space where both they and their client can feel quirky.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jesse Begenyi uses “they” and “them” as gender-neutral pronouns to describe themselves rather than “he” or “she.” Out of respect for their gender identity, we have followed suit in this piece.
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Michelle Wu
I was escorted by City Councilor Michelle Wu’s media manager, Cassie, to a hallway surrounded by offices.
There, Wu showed me to a somewhat large room, pushed a chair out from one of the rows, and sat down across from me. I could clearly tell she was very down to earth, as she sat by me like we were two friends talking. And it really felt that way.
Wu has been an active city councilor for six years now. She is from Chicago, Illinois where her parents owned a small business. From there, she journeyed to Boston for college, where she attended Harvard Law School (and, fun fact, was a former student of Sen. Elizabeth Warren). In 2012, she was elected to the Boston City Council, and she became president of the council in 2016.
However, she didn’t really have much of a relationship with public speaking before then. “I’m not naturally very outgoing or loud and never met anyone in politics. I think a lot of what I work on now, it just comes from the sense that I want to help you.”
As for Wu’s road to success, the journey was not easy. From her mother battling mental illness to raising her siblings to working at the family business, her life was constantly in motion. But, defying all odds, she graduated as valedictorian from Barrington High School, which led her to Harvard Law School and, in the long run, her election to the council.
Wu has proven countless times that she regards community engagement highly. “It’s the most important part of being a councilor and trying to make a change,” she says.“ What I have learned over my time in government is that you can write laws that change the policies on the books. But unless you’re connecting with communities on those issues and empowering people to advocate and then implement the solution, you’re not actually changing much.”
As important as it is, community engagement is only the beginning of Wu’s struggles when it comes to Boston’s problems. Currently, Wu is working on getting people active in the Boston community, such as protesting the new MBTA prices.
“[R]ight now, the traffic is so bad around Boston almost any time of day, any day of the week, that we should be trying to get as many cars off the road and people onto the T as possible.”

Going back to community engagement, she explains, “We are trying to engage riders. Let people know they can have a voice, it’s not hopeless and here is very specific things that you can ask for.”
Her focus on Boston’s problems span far past the MBTA. “I focus on three big issues: income inequality, racial disparities and climate change.”
She assures me that the way to solve these problems is yet again the engagement with the affected community.
“The way to fix all of those three is what we were just talking about; getting people involved to implement the changes that they are already making in their part of the city,” she explains. “[A]lso certain communities in Boston have a much harder time getting to where they need to go, and often the neighborhoods are of the working class and color.”
Although most of Wu’s current and public political standings were presented in our interview, there is much more to her than what met this interview’s eyes. With a promising future in politics and supporting base that is only growing, more and more Bostonians are becoming confident in her capabilities as a city councilor.
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I’m inspecting a photo of the Fog x FLO project featured at the Newton Free Library. It’s of a performer half enshrouded in a mysterious mist, beckoning inward. A few rays of sunlight shimmer through the mist behind her, adding to the dreamy quality of the picture. Within the exhibition, a few other viewers look at photographs of performers in this artificial fog. I take in the one I stand before and consider how the picture makes me feel, what it reminds me of. But then, something makes a tentative step forward into my bubble of  focus. I hear its voice before I can turn slightly to see who’s there.
“Hi,” says the intruder, “Are you… are you Jack?” It’s Jen Mergel, one of Boston’s leading curators of contemporary art. She conducts herself amicably, yet in the earnest, slightly rushed way of a busy woman with many connections. Her importance is cemented as soon as she introduces herself to the artist of the collection we stand in.
Led by her purposeful stride, I follow her through the library, into another local art display, which she takes hardly a moment to analyze. She turns to me, and delivers her thoughts promptly. We step into a large, silent hall of the library, find a table, and take a plunge into the world of art work, exhibitions, and connoisseurships.
“I would say, I certainly have an interest in making,” said Mergel, who initially thought she wanted to study cognitive neurobiology in college. She was interested in exploring how we make connections and associations between things. Despite how far such a science feels from art, the link is clear. After all, what is the work of a curator if not to use the presentation of the art to spark the intended connections, to provoke thoughts and questions?
After getting into a studio art course, Mergel discovered a newfound love for art. “You know, I could stay up till three or four in the morning and not even notice time passing, because it’s very satisfying, trying to solve these problems,” said said. From there, she attended Harvard University and studied visual and environmental studies. She followed an educational path in art, teaching at universities and museums, until becoming a curator.
For many, the occupation of curator isn’t well defined or understood. Many know it as a career with a vague relationship to art and showcases, but what exactly do curators do? Officially, they select, organize and present artwork. They interpret works, and then use the space, lighting, proximities to the other pieces and the viewer, atmosphere and other important design elements to provoke the right questions and to convey the intended — and unintended — ideas. The curatorial process is quite variable. One of the major factors is the specialty, and what kind of art you may be curating. For contemporary art, the future is the main focus.
“Regardless of discipline, any curator needs to ask some fundamental questions, and they need to be able to anticipate what’s amazing to experience with your senses. What’s going to build curiosity in terms of how does this happen? Why is it this way? Who knew that the thing that I assumed is actually counterintuitive? So an exhibition may raise questions and not necessarily provide answers,” she explains.
Mergel’s personal style involves searching for a piece which is humble and of service to its community. It opens up new perspectives and windows of thought in the viewer, as opposed to being egocentric. She says many art pieces, especially ones of colonial and imperialist times, were made with clear presumptions of superiority, and created to glorify themselves and their creator. But Mergel is more worried about a piece of artwork which was created for the people and changes its audience in a thoughtful way. “I choose projects that are satisfying, and I feel like I’m learning something along the way. I feel like I’m helping other people learn something or rethink something, as opposed to, for example, doing another Picasso show.”
Unfortunately, many of these egocentric mindsets linger as a part of their artwork’s legacy. She explained her decision to leave the MFA as a curator, observing that many of the famous art institutions were founded in the 18th century from a patriarchal, single-minded perspective in which the museum seeks to tell you what the best is, and art was largely presented by and for white men. Despite the revolutionary social and political changes that have occurred since these institutions’ founding, their art is still of course primarily historical, and so their attitudes, at times, have stagnated in the past.
Given the many ways curators can approach their work and the variability of the work itself, there are a plethora of ways curators measure their success. Some feel accomplished when they have mentored a great number of aspiring curators into their own school of thought, and helped them achieve success themselves. Others take pride in rising from curator to director of an important institution. Some find achievement in having influenced the most institutions and policies in the world of art. Mergel, however, values the impact she leaves on her audience and on the field.
She, like other curators who have drifted away from institutional affiliations, is interested in shaping how audiences connect to art, whether in a public space or elsewhere, even helping viewers understand the role of the curator. While many think of beauty and talent when they think of good art, Mergel begs to differ. Good art carries weight, has meaning, and makes you think, and should be appreciated for such.
“People will often say the sign of intelligence is to hold two conflicting ideas that are paradoxically simultaneous... and art can do that in a way that other media can’t.”
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Sitting by the window, Elizabeth Killorin explains that her life motto is “cura personalis,” the Latin expression which means “care of the whole person.”
When it comes to Killorin, a campus minister, playwright and mother, it is obvious from merely an hour conversation with her that this phrase is the driving force of her life.
“I really did try, when I was teaching, to make relationships with the students and to form sort of a community in that class every day.”
When prompted to reflect on her past 12 years of being an English teacher at Boston College High, Killorin fondly recalls the effort she put into encouraging her pupils to open up and experience worlds of literature they had never imagined. “When you’re talking about stories and characters’ lives, you can address issues that aren’t going to play out in their minds.”
Despite the stimulating conversations that take place during book discussions, Killorin felt she would be a better fit as campus minister — someone who provides guidance about a student’s faith — because teaching in the classroom disrupted her ability to build positive relationships with the students.
“It would break my heart when I had a student who is going through a rough time and I would have to turn them away because I really needed to finish making this test for next period,” she said.
Now, to Killorin’s delight, she makes time with the student body without having polishing lesson plans at the top of her list. Her new set of responsibilities allows her to focus on other things like,“[C]ommunity building, on being the emotional support for students and being a trusted adult that they can come to and talk with, or even just joke with,” Killorin said.
Committed to assisting the student body at every turn, Killorin also lends her expertise to BC High seniors as they write their college essays. And no, this is not one of her job requirements.
“Campus ministers aren’t also college essay resource people,” Killorin explains with a small chuckle, “I just love doing it.”
With English teachers often having 50 other students to attend to, Killorin puts it upon herself to be a reliable and personable mentor for college essays. She describes the process as“soul-sucking.”
“It’s a little heartbreaking to see them really see themselves as a product that they have to sell,” she laments.
Her best advice for navigating this tedious process? “Tell me a story. And it might even be something that you didn’t even think was a big deal. But when you tell it to me, I can see all these qualities of you in it.”
Though constructing the college essay is pressure inducing, it’s always worth it in the end when they prevail. “I love when the kid finally gets it,” she said, smiling, like she was replaying the memories in her head, “And you can see like, they’re so proud of it. That’s really addicting. How do you say no to that?”
Despite juggling a promotion as campus minister, and three kids, Killorin has found the patience and determination to write and direct an original one-act play called “Candles By The Sea,” which follows an old married couple as they grieve their son, a New York firefighter who perished during 9/11.
On the night of Killorin’s play, my mother and I arrived at BC High, lowering into the cushioned seats of the BC High auditorium. I flipped through the folded Playbill, apprehensive and excited at the same time. After some chatter, the lights began to dim and we were welcomed to the production.
When a character, Tom, asks the waiter if he’s going to light the candles, he responds, “No, they’ll just blow out anyway.”This on-stage conversation is a microcosm of the age old discussion on the shortness of life, how in moments of grief one can feel apprehensive to seek out light, because it may get torn away once more. Thankfully the ending of the play is one that radiates hope and light.
“I come out for that final scene, where there’s there’s still hope in the darkness. There’s light there,” Killorin recounts.
Her motivation for sharing the story largely stems from her admiration for Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to the New York Fire Department and the first fatality from 9/11. His work resonated so much with her that she included him as a character. “I wanted it to sound like him. So a lot of his lines are actually his words.”
Killorin’s devotion to helping her students is tremendously admirable, as well as her insatiable desire to spew creativity whenever possible. Knowing that a mother of three small children not only acts as a campus minister and college essay advisor, but also writes and directs a 40 minute one-act play for fun, is enough to encourage any current procrastinator to get up and say “if she can do it, so can I.”
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When I arrived at Aceituna Grill in Kendall Square I felt comfortable because it was my own place of work. I started a job there last year, so I knew the people at the restaurant, and I felt like I was in my environment. The restaurant was mostly empty because the workers were preparing the food for lunch. I sat down with Sameer Malik, the co-owner of the restaurant, to discuss how he came to own it.
Malik was born in Lebanon. He had to leave his country when he was very young because of a civil war, so he came to the United States where he would have the opportunity to study and eventually get a degree. He had to apply for asylum to get a visa, and fortunately, he was granted it. He then studied business management at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, and e-commerce at Boston University.
“Basically, [managing] all [of] life plus studies together was a bit hard at the beginning,” Malik said. “But after about a year, I got used to it and it became much easier.”
He is now the co-owner of Aceituna Grill, which serves Mediterranean food like falafel, hummus, shawarma and many kinds of salads. The service at Aceituna is really fast and people don’t wait as long for their food as a regular restaurant, which is great if people don’t have a lot of time to eat. The food is healthy and it is always fresh.
Before he started his business with his friend, he was working in corporate America. Malik ended up owning a restaurant after that friend approached him with the idea.  “I started the business because I liked to cook and my partner approached me with the idea to open are restaurant and I like the idea,”he said. “So we opened [in] 2004, August to be exact. Now, 15 years later, we have three restaurants.”
Malik’s day-to-day work includes delivering food to customers and other companies that want his food catered. He is also always around to help his employees if they are working.
Malik is unique for many reasons. As an immigrant escaping from war, he found many opportunities in the U.S. Many people have opportunities, but not all the people take advantage of them. I enjoyed talking to Malik because he has been my manager for a little while now.
Before asking him questions about his life, I hardly knew anything about him. Now, I can say that I know him pretty well. I believe that I will be more confident in the workplace since I have built a relationship with my manager, who happened to experience a very challenging life. I am inspired by Malik, and I’m proud to share his story.
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