While she might now be the Duchess of Sussex, a couple of decades ago Meghan Markle was just an everyday girl growing up in Los Angeles. And it was during this time that the young Meghan penned an eye-opening letter to a classmate – revealing what the future royal was really like in high school.
But although Meghan now lives in the U.K., she wasn’t born there. Instead, she entered the world in Los Angeles in 1981. Her parents are social worker Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle, who was once a lighting director on Hollywood productions; the pair split when Meghan was young, though.
And while growing up, Meghan would visit her father on the sets of some of the shows that he worked on, such as sitcom Married… with Children. Perhaps, then, these outings spurred on the future duchess’ passion for acting; they may have even ultimately led her to the role in Suits that made her name.
Way before Meghan ever became a star of the small screen, though, she was a student at Immaculate Heart High School. The Catholic school in Los Angeles is no stranger to well-known alumni, either, as Tyra Banks, Ione Skye and Mary Tyler Moore have all also walked through its doors.
Furthermore, it was at this all-girls private institution that Meghan developed an interest in mathematics – which she would later claim to be her favorite school subject. But after graduating from high school in 1999, the duchess-to-be wouldn’t take this penchant for math any further. Instead, she majored in both international studies and theater at Northwestern University.
After Meghan got engaged, however, a TV production team went to Immaculate Heart to speak to her former teachers. Specifically, they were shooting for a Paramount special called How to Bag a Prince, and it was during the making of this show that a very special note from the duchess was shared.
Indeed, while filming took place, theology teacher Christine Knudsen revealed a letter that had come from one of the duchess’ old classmates, Michelle Fanara. And this handwritten note provided something of an insight into the teenage Meghan’s personality.
Principally, it appeared that the message had been written in a bid to give Fanara a confidence boost. “I got this letter from one of the students in [Meghan’s] group,” Knudsen explained on the show. “This student was very shy. She was very unsure of herself. She was kind of a bit of a loner.”
Meghan recognized this, however, and apparently made an effort to help her peer come out of her shell. “Meghan wrote [Fanara] the most wonderful loving note… even though Meghan was not her close friend at all,” the teacher added. “It just shows the depth of her heart.”
Written in the 1990s in extremely neat cursive writing, the letter shows Meghan’s excellent penmanship. She would later use that skill to her advantage as a calligrapher – a field she dabbled in to earn money while trying to make it as an actress.
And Meghan would say to Fanara in the missive, “You are so strong and so wonderful. Your courage in strength in times of hardships is as admirable as your optimism and friendly nature. I am so lucky to have you in my group and to be able to lead you on this adventure. Never stop sharing your beautiful spirit, and always remember how special you are.”
Plus, even though the two weren’t good friends, Meghan evidently wanted her classmate to know that she could depend on her. “I am here if you ever need me,” she wrote, signing off, “I love you, Meghan.” Fanara, now a martial arts instructor, told Inside Edition of the note in July 2018, “It kind of made me feel a little bit more special, because [Meghan] didn’t have to write me a letter. But she did.”
But the heartfelt message wasn’t the only positive memory that Meghan’s former educators had of her. The school’s religious studies teacher, Maria Pollia, recalled how the future actress had spoken about taking part in community service. “One day, after class, Meghan approached me and said, ‘So, tell me more about serving on Skid Row,’” she explained on How to Bag a Prince.
Pollia added, “And so I suggested [Meghan] continued to volunteer at this soup kitchen in her senior year. Meghan always took it a step further – not just distributing food but learning people’s names [and] their stories. Because that’s where I think her compassion comes from: connecting with people.”
And Pollia further explained that it’s easy to see why Meghan has became heavily involved in charitable efforts – first as an actress and now in her duties as a duchess. “I think it’s important to know that her heart is in everything she does,” she said. “The fact that Meghan is interested in these causes such as hunger and empowerment of women and many other things she’s been involved in – that’s not new.”
Yet while some have reacted to these reports of Meghan’s early altruism with cynicism – suggesting that her deeds were undertaken simply as part of her school’s curriculum – others have praised the erstwhile actress. “Meghan is absolutely gorgeous and such a humanitarian. She truly is a breath of fresh air and very inspirational,” one person commented on a Daily Mail report about the How to Bag a Prince revelations.
Another individual was just as effusive, writing in response to the Daily Mail article, “Meghan is beautiful on the inside. That and her work ethic are the reason she’s had such good fortune. And that’s the reason Harry fell in love with her and she married her prince.”
Of course, Meghan has continued her philanthropic efforts since becoming the Duchess of Sussex. In 2018 she began visiting the Hubb Community Kitchen, which was created by survivors of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London. This initiative has seen local women, who wanted a space to cook for their families, coming together to use the facilities at West London’s Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre.
However, after learning that the group were hoping to keep the kitchen open throughout the week but didn’t have the funds, Meghan suggested that they create a book of recipes, with the proceeds going towards the initiative. Together: Our Community Cookbook was then released on September 25, 2018, and it includes a foreword written by the royal herself.
Meghan has long been a proponent of charitable endeavors, too. And there’s little evidence to suggest that she’ll stop helping others now she’s part of the British royal family. “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches; I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works,” she wrote in an essay for Elle in 2016. “And this type of work is what feeds my soul and fuels my purpose.”