Remembering Mari Tisera: Mason Confers a Rare Posthumous Degree

Two young adult women with long hair sit close to each other and smile at the camera.
McKenna Beauchamp, left, and Mari Tisera. Photos provided.
A young woman in a green shirt and with sunglasses atop her head smiles at the camera.
‘She lit up every room. She had no enemies, and her laughter is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.’ - McKenna Beauchamp

For just the 32nd time in the 52-year history of the school, George Mason University will confer a posthumous degree.

Mari Tisera, a student in the Schar School of Policy and Government’s Government and International Politics program, will receive her bachelor of arts degree at the Schar School’s Degree Celebration on May 10 at EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia. Tisera passed away June 6, 2023, of melanoma. She was 20 years old.

It is just the third posthumous degree awarded to a Schar School student. Mason alumna McKenna Beauchamp, a 2022 integrative studies graduate, was not going to have it any other way.

Beauchamp was transferring from John Tyler Community College (now Brightpoint Community College) in 2020 when she met Tisera during an incoming new student group chat. Despite the group chat being virtual due to the Covid campus lockdown, the two became best friends, a relationship that blossomed when in-person opportunities resumed.

“She was diagnosed her freshman year,” Beauchamp said, still in awe of her friend’s indefatigability. “She worked, she went to school, she would do her homework during her treatments and come to campus to take an exam.”

Beauchamp, who is now event coordinator for the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area, did not learn of Tisera’s disease until a year after they met. “She was so strong,” she said, “and she didn’t want anybody to really know about it.”

Despite the disease and the debilitating and time-consuming treatments, Tisera packed her short college career with as many opportunities as she could in her pursuit of her goal of an eventual law degree.

In addition to studying government, she was also a Spanish language minor and organized marches for women’s, LGBTQ, and Black rights, and continually fought for the rights of the unhoused. She was proud to be a “sweetheart” for the Mason campus fraternity Zeta Psi, a symbolic position for women that afforded her opportunities to contribute to the fraternity’s activities.

In July, U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) delivered a eulogy from the House floor honoring her. Tisera was an intern for the congresswoman.

“It was wonderful having Mari serve in my Capitol Hill office at the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022,” Matsui said. “She worked hard, was eager to learn, and served my constituents and all visitors with kindness and warmth.

“I know that Mari has said that all of us in the office had a positive impact on her, but she also had a positive impact on all of us who worked with her that we will never forget. Mari wanted to come back and work in our office after she graduated, and it would have been an honor to have her back on our team.” (A full transcript can be found on this page.)

“She never let her cancer define her or hold her back in any way,” said Beauchamp, who was relentless in advocating for the rare posthumous degree. “She lit up every room. She had no enemies, and her laughter is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It just really brings joy to everybody.”

Tisera’s mother and father, who immigrated from Argentina in 2000 and live in Front Royal, Virginia, where Mari was raised, will be in attendance at the Degree Celebration, Beauchamp said, as will her brothers and their wives.

Beauchamp will be there as well.

“I’ve turned something positive out of all this,” she said. “It’s really a good thing to celebrate. It’s helping me with closure so I’m sure it’s helping other people as well.”