The Wave

Life After High School

Find out what Stephen Vale, Fermin Mendoza, and Myra Ortega, past MIA valedictorians, are up to.

Mary Vale and Katie Portu

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Over the past six years, Marco Island Academy, the first high school on Marco Island, has had three graduating classes: the Class of 2014, 2015, and 2016. The population of this school in 2011, this first year MIA opened, was about 48 students, and now, that number has increased to about 267 students. Even though that number is a huge leap in six years, it is still a tiny sum of students for being a public high school.

With the small amount of students attending the Academy and the close relationships between each other, everyone is wondering where these previous graduates are and what they are doing. But, we are not just talking about random graduates, we are talking about the valedictorians.

Let’s start from the beginning with Myra Ortega in the class of 2014.

K.P.: How old are you?

M.O.: “I am 20 years old.”

K.P.: Are you attending a college or university, if so, what are you majoring and/or minoring in?

M.O.: “Yes, I’m finishing my last semester at Florida Southwestern State College to receive my Associates Degree, then transferring to FGCU to continue pursuing Marketing.”

K.P.: Why did you choose to study marketing?

M.O.: “I chose marketing because I have always been interested in business. As a sophomore in high school I knew that I liked numbers, I enjoy talking and from there on I knew that business was the way to go. I hope that one day I will work with a company overseas.”

K.P.: Who inspired you to go down the path of marketing?

M.O.: “My mom has always liked numbers and when she was in school she was always the top of her class. As a young girl we worked together in learning addition, subtraction, and just about anything that had to do with math. She has been a HUGE supporter in my life and still is to this day. It is because of her ambitious personality and her hunger to succeed in life that I became the person who I am today.”

K.P.: How did your mom inspire you so much?

M.O.: “My mom has always been my biggest role model in life. She sets her standards and goals so high, reaches them and then finds another goal to reach. It’s a mentality that my brother and I have always followed. She expects nothing less from her children. She says, ‘If I didn’t do it then you’d think it’s okay to be average and my kids are not average. They’re born for greatness.’ In 5th grade, I received a good amount of academic awards and it was the first time my mom attended any school function. As I stood up on stage I noticed the tears of pride coming down her face, and with the small amount of English that she knew she said, ‘That’s my daughter,’ to the people around her. I knew right there it was all worth it. In 5th grade! After the ceremony, she came up to me and with the same tears told me, ‘You are worth so much. You can do anything you set your mind on.’ She then ended with, ‘Why fit in when you were born to stand out.’ That is the phrase I live by, the reason why I keep pushing no matter the obstacles in life. I think everyone should think that way. We are all so unique in our own ways. We can be anything we want. All it takes is the desire to succeed and to continue your education. Education is genuinely the key to success.”

K.P.: Where do you hope to go with your knowledge?

M.O.: “I would like to take my knowledge overseas to be able to learn about different cultures and their ideas. I would like to find ways to market to their economy in ways that interest them.”

K.P.: Will you be moving on campus at FGCU?

M.O.: “I will not. I will be living at home to save money.”

K.P.: Do you have a job, if so, does it relate to your studies?

M.O.: “I am working at Marco Veterinary Hospital. It doesn’t have to do with my career, but I enjoy working with animals, and who knows, maybe in the future I’ll consider making this my career. Anything is possible.”

K.P.: Have you already, or do you plan on moving away from the small town of Marco Island?

M.O.: “I live in Naples, and eventually plan on moving. I think that better opportunities with my career choice will arise if I move up North, but that is still years to come.”

K.P.: Where do you plan to move up North?

M.O.: “I think that New York would be the best option for me. The business opportunities would be better up there and I would make many connections.”


The following year, Fermin Mendoza was named valedictorian of the Class of 2015.

M.V.: What is your current age?

F.M.: “19.”

M.V.: Are you currently attending a college or university, if so, what are you majoring in and/or minoring in?

F.M.: “Yes. At the moment, I am double majoring in Neuroscience and Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University.”

M.V.: Where is your university located?

F.M.: “Baltimore, Maryland.”

M.V.: Are you living in a dorm while attending the university, if so, how do you like it?

F.M.: “Yes. It’s an apartment-style dorm, very spacious. It’s a great place to sleep, but other than that, I don’t spend much time in it.”

M.V.: How many years have you been attending the university, and how much longer do you plan on attending the university for?

F.M.: “I just completed my freshman year. I plan on attending until I get my degrees. Hopefully I can finish one or two semesters sooner than the usual four years for an undergraduate education.”

M.V.: Do you plan on going to graduate school?

F.M.: “Medical School. Yay!”

M.V.: Have you already moved, or do you plan on moving away from Marco Island, if so, why?

F.M.: “I guess that I have moved away from Marco Island and only visit during holidays. I “moved” because I spend more time in Baltimore than Marco Island now.”


Last year was the class of 2016 with valedictorian Stephen Vale.

M.V.: What is your current age?

S.V.: “I am currently 18 years old.”

M.V.: Are you currently attending a college or university, if so, what are you majoring and/or minoring in?

S.V.: “Yes, I am currently attending the University of Florida, and majoring in Psychology and plan on minoring in Spanish.”

M.V.: Why did you choose to major in Psychology and possibly minor in Spanish?

S.V.: “I’ve always wanted to help people, but, with the bullying that I witnessed through my life, I decided that I want to become a child psychologist, so majoring in Psychology is a must. Minoring in Spanish would allow me to help the Spanish-speaking population of Southwest Florida, particularly the children of migrant workers in Immokalee who grow up in a labor-focused and poverty-stricken community.”

M.V.: How far away is the University of Florida from Marco Island?

S.V.: “The University of Florida is about five hours away from Marco Island.”

M.V.: Are you or have you be homesick since you’ve been away, if so, how are you coping with it?

S.V.: “I have been homesick lately, but it’s becoming less and less everyday. To cope with it, I try to stay busy around campus, and with over one-thousand clubs, it’s not tough.”

M.V.: I take it you are living in a dorm at UF, how has it been?

S.V.: “Dorm life is tough, especially if you have to share a dorm with two other students, like I do. It’s tough to get privacy since everything in the residence hall has to be shared, including the bathroom.”

M.V.: Do you have a job, if so, does it relate to your studies?

S.V.: “No, I don’t have a job; I plan on focusing fully on my studies while in college.”


These valedictorians have clearly made some growth in their lives since last seen at their graduation. These interviews prove that Marco Island Academy is filled with students, or manta rays, that, although, are similar, swim to the beat of their own drum in this big ocean known as “Life”.

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Life After High School