LaPrensa Article

The youngest child of Mexican immigrants has achieved the ultimate academic success story—named valedictorian of her 2024 graduating class at Waite High School, despite growing up in a Spanish-speaking household.

Melanie “Mini” Espinoza achieved a 4.6 GPA while taking mostly honors and advanced placement courses. The bilingual senior will walk across the stage as Waite High School’s top student during commencement exercises Wednesday, May 29, 6 p.m., at the school’s fieldhouse.

“I feel pretty good, but it still really doesn’t feel real because I really didn’t have a goal of becoming valedictorian and it just kind of happened,” explained Ms. Espinoza. “But I’m really thankful I got that title. I want to say it came naturally to me. I just did what I was supposed to do. I did want to challenge myself by taking higher classes, AP, honors and college classes.”

In the process, she is breaking an educational cycle in her immediate family as a first-generation college student this fall at Grace College, a private institution of higher learning in Indiana. Ms. Espinoza’s parents, Juana and Jorge Garcia, came to the U.S. from Mexico as teenagers. Her father started his career as a migrant farmworker.

“They were a big influence on me. They always told me school was really important because they never really had the chance to have the chance that I had,” said Ms. Espinoza. “So they always reminded me of how important it was and break that generation of not going to school.”

“I’m very sad to see her go,” said her father through an interpreter. “But I’m happy as well because I get to see her achieve her dreams.”

“I’m sad but happy my daughter is achieving something,” echoed her mom.

Ms. Espinoza will challenge herself in college, too, majoring in neurobiology with the goal of becoming a neurosurgeon. She knows well the challenge ahead, facing medical school, which means ten more years of schooling before entering her chosen profession.

What influenced her decision was watching her dad suffer major head trauma when he fell through a front porch door and hit his head on a corner piece of concrete. She helped care for him as a nine-year-old, seeing firsthand the recovery from a traumatic brain injury.

“It just inspired me a lot to go into neurology,” she explained. “Right now I can see myself helping out a lot in the Hispanic community. When my dad was in the hospital, there was no Hispanics there at all. It was hard for my mom to understand since she doesn’t know English.

I want to be able to make a change in that and help other Hispanic families and explain what it is because a lot can get lost in the translation.”

“I’m very happy that she’s going into a career related to something I had to go through,” said her dad Jorge.

Ms. Espinoza is known as “Mini” to family and friends. She obtained the nickname from her three older siblings as a little girl because of her love for Minnie Mouse. But there’s nothing mini about the success she has achieved as a high school student.

Ms. Espinoza counts National Honor Society, volleyball, and Lourdes University’s Upward Bound program among several extracurricular activities. She also likes to volunteer a lot at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, where she teaches a communion and confirmation class for younger kids, sings in the choir, and participates in a dance group.

She even worked for a year at Walmart during her busy school schedule, which she credits for helping her prepare for a medical career.

“I’m glad I chose Walmart because it taught me a lot of things about people and being patient,” recalled Ms. Espinoza. “I feel that’s really important for the career I’m going into—being patient and learning about other people’s experiences. Because you never know what’s going on.”

While her experience as a cashier will one day influence her bedside manner, a Latina teacher at L. Hollingsworth School impacted her success as someone who looked like her and she could emulate as a good example.

“She was always around the Latinos and Hispanics translating and that, but one thing that really stuck with me was she always reminded those students of how important it was to move forward in life because she knows the experiences our families have been through,” said Ms. Espinoza. “She just wanted the best for all the Hispanic students.”

Ms. Espinoza still has contact with her former middle school teacher, who even attended a recent academic awards ceremony.