On St. John’s University’s Staten Island, NY, campus, students
rise above difficult circumstances, persevere and climb the pillars
of success. Miguel Mendez ’14CPS, a
communication arts major in the College of
Professional Studies, is a good example —the first member of
his family to attend college.
Like many first-generation students, Mendez never expected to
attend a major private university. Growing up on Staten Island, he
lived with his mother and older sister in a struggling area of
Mariners Harbor. After his parents divorced, his mother took on
numerous low-paying jobs to support the family. Mendez — at the
time only a young boy — was often berated at home by a male friend
of his mother. If that wasn’t enough to crack him, he was also
bullied in school and in his local neighborhood.
Lacking supervision, guidance and a father figure, Mendez was
determined to fit in and earn a sense of belonging. He turned to
those who did not have his best interests in mind.
When Mendez was only 13, his teenage sister gave birth to his
nephew. It was during this period that Mendez realized he needed to
make a change in his life. When he looked into the infant’s eyes,
Mendez saw himself and knew that he did not want his nephew to
follow the same dead-end road he was traveling. He found himself
filling the role of father figure for his nephew. The birth of this
newborn became a miracle in more ways than one.
Mendez began therapy to cope with his stressful environment.
Through counseling, he discovered music as an outlet for releasing
negative emotions and began writing songs . By the time he entered
Port Richmond High School, Mendez was ready to disengage from his
negative past. He enrolled in the Honors Gateway Program for
minority students. There he met David Soliman, freshman biology
teacher, and Edwing Madina, honors coordinator. Both men served as
mentors, providing guidance and structure that Mendez so
In 2010, Mendez graduated from high school and was accepted by St.
John’s. He couldn’t wait to begin the next stage of his life in a
healthy, nurturing environment that would help him grow and mature
as a person. St. John’s was his dream college.
As a communication arts major, Mendez has taken advantage of many
opportunities available on campus. He entered St. John’s as a
member of the Honors Program, demonstrating his continued
dedication to academic excellence.
Dr. Rachel Hollander, Director of the Honors Program and
Assistant Professor of English, said she always knew that there was
something special about Mendez. “Miguel has impressed me from the
first time we ever spoke on the phone. He is a highly motivated
student who knows what he wants and, even more importantly, knows
how to find people who can help him achieve his loftiest
An active member of the campus community, Mendez has served many
clubs and organizations, including: the fraternity, Kappa Sigma as
Vice President; the StormFront newspaper, as staff writer; and a
resident assistant for the Office of Residence Life. In addition,
he performs at open-mic events and participates in Midnight Runs
with Campus Ministry.
Mendez said that choosing St. John’s University has proved to be
one of the best experiences of his life. As he accrues personal,
educational and professional achievements, Mendez has a positive
outlook for his future. He aspires to work for an advertising firm
as a graphic designer or social media professional.
His college experience at St. John’s has been so positive that he
would like give back, sharing his talents with the University’s
marketing efforts. When asked who inspired him, Mendez still
credits his nephew. His mantra and hope for his sister’s son can be
found in his song lyrics: “Success is a dream, but dreams
define our reality.”