'This is not an act': Meghan Markle's former teachers describe her as genuine and bright

Students and teachers at Immaculate Heart school in Los Angeles say the monarchy isn't typically their cup of tea, but that this royal wedding is different because Meghan Markle is one of their own.

Instructors at Catholic girls school in Los Angeles remember future royal as authentic and kind

Meghan Markle, seen here with Prince Harry in Nottingham, England, in December 2017, is being described by former teachers as genuine and kind. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Ask any student at Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School where Meghan Markle's graduation photo is, and they'll take you right to where it hangs on the wall.

"It's really cool that she went here and walked these grounds," said Logan King, 15.

King and her fellow classmates at this private, all-girls Catholic school in the Los Feliz neighbourhood of Los Angeles admit they're not big followers of the monarchy. But the upcoming royal wedding is different — Prince Harry is marrying one of their own.

Students at Immaculate Heart, Meghan Markle's former middle and high school in Los Angeles, toast the royal bride-to-be and alum. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

"She still talks about this school," said Yannick Birotte, 11, of Markle. "That means this school really pushed her to be the greatest person she could be."

Markle attended Immaculate Heart for grades 7 through 12 from 1993 to 1999. The school also counts supermodel-turned-host Tyra Banks and late comedian Mary Tyler Moore among its alumni.

"We know that we can do anything if we put our minds to it," Birotte said.

Yannick Birotte, 11, says Markle mention of Immaculate Heart in past interviews shows how strong of an influence the school had on her formative years. (CBC)

A natural leader

Christine Knudsen says the soon-to-be royal was a natural choice as a leader at the school's annual four-day retreat during her senior year. Knudsen, who has taught theology for 30 years, said she worked closely with Markle, 36.

This is not something that's done for the camera. This is who she really, really is.- Maria Pollia , teacher, Immaculate Heart High School and Middle School 

"What we're looking for is girls who have gone through something so they have a depth to them, but also they're articulate. They have the courage to stand up in front of their peers," Knudsen said. "She was wonderful. She entered fully into anything that she did."

And that included school plays and musicals.

"She could play any character — anything — she was just superb," Knudsen said.

Christine Knudsen, who taught Markle theology, said her former student stood out as a leader from a young age. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

Knudsen says Markle's father, Thomas Markle, who worked on television shows such as General Hospital and Married... with Children as a lighting and photography director, would also help out with school theatrical productions.

"Out of the kindness of his heart, he would come for our own plays and musicals, and he would help with the lighting," she said.

"So you'd just see him walking around. You knew who he was. He was just a kind and generous man. And even after Meghan graduated, he still came back to help."

Father 'doted on her'

Her father and mother, Doria Ragland, divorced when Markle was six but raised her together. Her mother still lives in L.A. Her father lives in Mexico.

Teachers and students discuss Markle's connection to the all-girls private school in Los Angeles which helped shape her 1:44

Thomas Markle made headlines this week after falling ill just days before he was supposed to walk his daughter down the aisle.

Knudsen said Markle's father loved his daughter and "doted on her."

"I think she was very close to him," said Knudsen.

Maria Pollia, a theology teacher who taught Markle, says the former actress will fit into her new role well because she's genuine and kind. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

Markle's persona 'not an act'

Even though the future TV star could already act in high school, Maria Pollia — who also taught Markle — remembers her as a genuine person and a "bright and positive presence in the classroom." 

She was "always trying to find solutions," Pollia said.

"This person who we see coming in and out of Kensington Palace — and she meets people, she talks to them, she looks in their eyes, and she hugs them ... this is the Meghan that I knew," said Pollia. 

"This is not an act. This is not something that's done for the camera. This is who she really, really is."

To Prince Harry, Pollia says: "You are so lucky."

Meghan Markle's warm public persona is her true self, says one of her former teachers. (Rui Vieira/Associated Press)

She respects tradition

The longtime teacher recounted a story of Markle's volunteer work at a downtown Los Angeles soup kitchen, where Pollia also donated her time.

"She knew all of the people by name," said Pollia. "She knew all the homeless people that I knew. So we would catch up together on, how Bill was and how Betty was."

Students, who celebrated the upcoming nuptials with a "toast" to the couple in the school's hillside courtyard Tuesday, say Markle is relatable and a role model for young women.

Emery Secor, 14, celebrates the upcoming royal wedding in the school's courtyard. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

​"Because she's mixed [race] and has been divorced, I think it's very different for people to see that kind of person marrying a prince," said 13-year-old Noah Johnson. "I think people are really interested in that."

Despite speculation that the former actress's marriage into the Royal Family might help reshape the monarchy into a more modern institution, Pollia says she doesn't believe Markle is doing it deliberately.

"I think definitely, she will operate and do things according to her own conscience and her own way of wanting to do things," said Pollia. "But in no way does she have any intention of shaking things up. She has a very deep respect for tradition."

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About the Author

Zulekha Nathoo

Multi-media reporter, L.A.

Zulekha Nathoo is based in Los Angeles and has sat down with some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Denzel Washington, Cameron Diaz, Robert Downey Jr. and Matthew McConaughey. She also works as a CBC News on-air reporter, and has spent more than a decade at stations across Canada.