Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes, but Spring Early College Academy senior Mihael Mendo learned early in his educational journey that there is such a thing as being too prepared.
“I remember when I was little, I would watch lots of PBS Kids shows where all the kids went to school and they had lots of fun,” Mendo recalled, “and I wanted to be like those kids!”
Inspired by the children on his favorite shows, Mendo was keen to start school as early as possible, but was deemed too advanced to qualify for the optional pre-K program available to him and his family at the time. Looking for ways to encourage Mendo’s interest in learning and give him a head start, his mother enrolled him in the Houston Suzuki Academy, where Mendo embarked on the piano studies that would become one of the most important parts of his life.
“It stuck with me,” Mendo said. “I’ve practiced piano almost every day of my life since I started it.”
As a senior now working toward three degrees – his high school diploma, associate degree through Lone Star College-North Harris, and a third from the American College of Musicians – Mendo has had to manage his schedule carefully to keep up his piano studies. But he wouldn’t trade the challenges or the time he spends at the keyboard for anything.
“Piano’s been therapeutic,” he said. “It’s been something where I can channel all my emotions into an activity that’s productive and that helps me take my mind off of whatever’s going on.”
While learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, he discovered a new way to use his playing to spread the joy of music and encourage others. Mendo began filming short video messages to send to his teachers and campus administrators, playing upbeat songs for them and telling them how much they were appreciated.
The video messages were a hit with faculty, and Spring Early College Academy Principal Kristine Guidry said they helped keep morale up among teachers during a difficult time.
Whether interacting with classmates or teachers, sharing his love of music with others through his piano playing, or serving as one of the school’s Alpha Ambassadors and talking with younger students about attending Early College Academy – Guidry remarked on Mendo’s ability to be at ease in a variety of settings.
“He has a natural capability to just engage, to really think through and be very intentional about a lot of the interactions that he has,” Guidry said. “He’s very cognizant of understanding where others are in the conversation.”
When Mendo heard that Dr. Lupita Hinojosa had been named Spring ISD’s new superintendent – and the first Hispanic female superintendent in the district’s history – he decided to continue the tradition he had started, emailing Hinojosa a short video in which he played her a piece on the piano and wished her success in her new role.
“Mihael was the first student that sent me an email to congratulate me,” Hinojosa told attendees at Spring ISD’s 2023 State of the District event in February, which Mendo attended and performed at, as a special guest of the superintendent. “It was amazing! I was sitting there at my computer, the tears just running, just to hear this young man with his amazing talent.”
For Mendo, encouraging others comes naturally, and he was especially excited to send the video greeting to Hinojosa in celebration of her making history in Spring ISD.
“It really impacted me, because it was important for me to see a Hispanic leader,” Mendo said. “A lot of our students are Hispanic, and so I think seeing that representation really moved me, and it made me want to welcome her. And so that’s what I did. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve been doing this for the people at my school, I can do it for the superintendent!’”
After proudly watching his son perform at the State of the District event, Jose Mendo credited his son’s teachers – at Link Elementary, Twin Creeks Middle School, and Spring Early College Academy – for providing a solid education. He also credited his wife, Esther, for all of the effort she had put into supporting Mihael throughout his Suzuki piano studies and his schooling in Spring ISD.
“I’m the provider, and she’s the enforcer,” Jose Mendo said, as both parents laughed. “We’re very happy with the way he’s turned out to be. Now we’re just waiting for his new challenges as he goes on to even bigger and better things.”
Mendo is set to celebrate not one, not two, but three graduations in the upcoming months – one from Spring Early College Academy, one from Lone Star College, and one from the American College of Musicians, where Mendo is on track to receive a separate high school diploma through a comprehensive program sponsored by the National Guild of Piano Teachers.
The soon-to-be graduate is still deciding on his ultimate college major – his interests currently range from anthropology and psychology to medicine, business and marketing, and even commercial aviation. But one thing he knows for sure is that music will always be a part of his life.
“To play piano, you have to be all in it,” Mendo reflected. “You have to really focus and think about what you’re doing, how the rhythm’s supposed to go, and what are the dynamics for that meter.
“And at the end, if you do it right,” he added, smiling, “then you get something beautiful.”