From hopes and dreams to Harvard

James Mendez will attend Harvard University this fall

For Dual Credit Spanish IV, juniors Colton Amaya and James Mendez set up an ofrenda in the library. The ofrenda served as a school celebration of Dia de los Muertos,

Margaret Edmonson

For Dual Credit Spanish IV, juniors Colton Amaya and James Mendez set up an ofrenda in the library. The ofrenda served as a school celebration of Dia de los Muertos,

By Emma Siebold, Smithson Valley High School

From the concrete steps of Smithson Valley High School, to the nearly 400 year-old pathways of Harvard University, James Mendez will make the 2,000 mile journey to the prestigious university in Cambridge, Massachusetts this August.

The esteemed university has an acceptance rate of about 4.5 percent, meaning that if 40,000 students applied, only 1,800 would be accepted. As well as being America’s oldest learning institution, Harvard has been attended by many notable alumni, including Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerburg. 

Mendez is in the top five percent of the class of 2020. As well as being a top scholar, James is a member of the debate team and a defender on the varsity boy’s soccer team. The senior has dreamed of attending Harvard since he was in the third grade.

“Harvard, as one of the best schools in the world, presented the opportunity for me to be challenged and so I could surround myself with like-minded individuals,” Mendez said. “The summer after my freshman year, I visited the campus, fell in love and knew I had to attend.”

In order to achieve his Ivy League goals, Mendez has had to give up certain classes, activities and fun events.  

“To a certain extent, I have had to, on multiple occasions, turn down social events to make sure I was always on top of what I needed to be doing,” Mendez said. “I also was not able to take certain classes of interest because I had to load my schedule. I have always been busy and I sacrifice sleep a lot.”

Though Mendez is in the top five percent of his class, the news of his acceptance came as a surprise. 

“Honestly and truly, I did not expect to be accepted at all,” Mendez said. “Applying to Harvard is ultimately a lottery for even the most qualified candidates. When I opened my application update, I was completely shocked and in disbelief. I also teared up because this is something that I have wanted and been working toward for so long.”

Mendez’s calculus teacher, Kathryn Rutledge, was thrilled to hear of his acceptance, and she believes the senior has a bright future ahead of him. 

“I was elated. I was so excited because I know he wanted it so bad,” Rutledge said. 

Though Rutledge teaches the challenging subject of calculus, she says James is always thinking two steps ahead.

“He remembers concepts very well, and he has this thing where he has a concept and can go forward with it,” Rutledge said. “He has this ability to see more than just what’s there.”

Besides attending Harvard next fall, Rutledge sees an even future for James. 

“He could be the president one day, he could,” Rutledge said. “I’m not sure he knows what he wants to do, but whatever it is, he’ll be good at it.”

Harvard has been attended by eight Declaration of Independence signers, eight U.S presidents and many billionaires. In August, Mendez will wander through the same hallways that many remarkable men and women have walked through themselves.

James’ biggest supporters on his journey to Harvard have been his parents.

“They have raised me lovingly and always help me back up when I fail and they have guided me when I stray or lose sight of my goal. They always expressed confidence in me when I had no confidence in my abilities to get in.”

His younger sister Valerie is a freshman at Smithson Valley. She is also proud and supportive of James’ hard work. 

“He was so excited and shocked that he got in,” Valerie said of her brother’s acceptance.

Not just anybody can be a class leader and Harvard student, but Mendez has worked endlessly in order to achieve his goals. 

“Being top of my class has required me to push myself constantly to put in the hard work and extensive hours to make sure I stay where I want to be,” Mendez said.

When asked to give advice to other students who strive to go to an Ivy League university, Mendez emphasized the importance of not giving up on yourself.

“Make sure to be involved with extracurriculars and leadership or significant community service,” Mendez said. “The road may not be easy at the moment, but work does pay off in the end. Most importantly, however, I would say to be confident in yourself and what you can do, and never limit yourself on your potential by being too afraid to try.”

This summer, James will join thousands of more brilliant students attending Harvard. Every essay, test and pop quiz has been worth the moment of opening up an envelope and watching his life-long dreams unfold.

This story was originally published on Valley Ventana on February 22, 2020.