Straight-A Latina Club, Meet Maria Mendoza!

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UPDATE: Maria Mendoza has been accepted into Harvard University, Class of 2019!

Every month, we talk to remarkable young Latinas from across the country to learn about the great work they’re doing both at school and in their communities!

Straight-A Latina of the Month: Maria Mendoza, 17

From: Lyndhurst, N.J.

Let’s start with your nationality! De donde eres?

I am a first generation American of Cuban descent.

What school do you attend?

I study at the Bergen County Academies, specifically the Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, with a Visual concentration. I am very excited to be entering my Senior year!

Are you a straight-A student?

I am an A student, but it definitely hasn’t been easy becoming one. I am proud that I can say my grades have improved every year—and that it hasn’t been at the expense of rigor. I’ve challenged myself every academic year by juggling exigent courses, extra-curricular activities and school clubs. It is because of the rigorous schedule I’ve created for myself that I am proud of the grades I’ve earned and confident in the education I’ve attained thus far.

What clubs are you involved in at school?

I am involved with my school’s chapter of the Junior State of America—an organization rooted in civic education and awareness. Last year I served as the Chapter President and worked on organizing debates and activities that supported chapter bonding and learning. One of my favorite parts of JSA is a model congress trip we have every winter in Washington D.C. In preparation, students—who are labeled “Senators” and “Congressmen” for the entirety of the weekend—write legislation on some of the most pressing issues our nation and world face today. Last winter, I collaborated on a bill focusing on education reform.

The Mock Trial team is another club I am a part of. This year I will be serving as the Team Captain, and last year I assumed the role of Prosecution Closing Attorney. Other clubs I’m involved with are Girls Learn International, the NAACP, and the BCA Diversity Alliance. Through these three clubs, I seek to outline problems in my community and find solutions that we, as students, can work towards.

How many hours of studying do you do, per week?

I would say around three hours a night on average during the week, and maybe six hours total on weekends, which comes out to 21 a week. It sounds like an extreme amount, but in actuality, sometimes studying doesn’t seem quite like homework, and instead becomes leisure reading. For example, quite often throughout various history courses and philosophy courses I’ve taken, an excerpt from a reading or an article might be assigned. I might take it upon myself to research opinion articles on a similar issue, or read reviews on that article, but that isn’t exactly studying—it’s personally finding intrigue and enjoyment in furthering my own knowledge.

What advice do you have for other Latinas hoping to do well in school? What kinds of things can they do to get better grades if they’re struggling?

What has helped me the most in doing well in school is my outlook on education and academics as a whole. I don’t strive to simply do well in school, but instead I strive to learn as much as I can. In the process, my grades improve and so does my education.

I urge other students to become active learners. Focus on the learning, and the good grades will follow immediately. Still, some courses require more work than others: If a student is struggling, they shouldn’t simply give up, but instead contact their teacher outside of class time and explain their situation. For me, math has always been a weakness, but by meeting my teacher for extra help and inquiring about extra credit and retest opportunities, I was able to earn an A this year. 

What colleges are you planning to apply to?  
I’ll be sending applications to schools all over the country, public and private, as well as large and small. To name a few, I plan to apply to Yale University and the George Washington University. I really appreciate the sense of community enforced by Yale’s residential colleges, and the location and opportunities the George Washington University offers. Both schools have some amazing programs as well, but I still haven’t decided which interest me the most!

Who are the Latinas you look up to and why?
There are many Latinas I look up to, but I particularly admire Dolores Huerta and Sonia Sotomayor. To me, Dolores Huerta is inspiring because of the fortitude she brings to the fight for equality. She strives to create economic equality and reform for not only Latinos, but for other immigrants, laborers, and women. She isn’t only a successful and awe-inspiring Latina, but a successful and awe-inspiring human being. Sonia Sotomayor is another idol for young Latinas. She didn’t have a lot growing up, and her father hadn’t received any education past the third grade, but she decided she would go down the path she wanted, even if her background didn’t make it easy for her. Her success speaks for itself, as she is the third female justice and the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. I don’t look up to her simply because of where she is now, but instead because she hasn’t compromised her opinions or beliefs in reaching the Supreme Court.

Do you know a Straight-A Latina? Nominate her for our site by emailing [email protected]!

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About Author

Lee Hernandez is a writer, editor and executive producer. Lee has been the Deputy Editor of Latina Magazine; Editor of Latino Voices at the Pulitzer-Prize winning site The Huffington Post and a breaking news contributor to dozens of leading sites and magazines, including the best-in-class celebrity site; Cosmopolitan for Latinas magazine,, The Wrap, HollywoodLife, Celebuzz, The New York Daily News and Fox News Latino.