This blog post is part of our celebration of charter school graduates across the country and their achievements. Join us in celebrating our #CharterGrads!
As graduation day approaches, I find myself caught in a period of reflection. Reminiscing on four years of friendships, academic challenges, artistic experiences, and personal growth. At any other point of my high school career, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you just how much I wasn’t enjoying my life. But, now I look back on those years as having presented me with foundational opportunities to build my accomplishments and propel me into undeniable development. After years of insecurity, self-doubt, struggling with mental illness, and continuous burn-out, I stand here valedictorian of my class, a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, a proud former member of The Voice’s Blake Shelton’s team, and more confident than I’ve ever been.
Service to my community was a significant part of my high school experience and will continue to maintain such importance in my college career. I volunteered performing for my town, at local government functions and benefit concerts, for roughly six years. Additionally, I sang lead for a worship outreach band, bringing the joy of music anywhere we could from veterans’ shelters to children’s hospitals and volunteered at a performing arts academy after school for three years. My involvement in my school community ranged from a choir member to holding various leadership positions in clubs. I founded the first Women’s Empowerment Club and Gay-Straight Alliance at my school.I hope upon graduating, my legacy will be that of a pioneer—someone who not only recognized problems but worked to implement change.
After graduation, I will live as a college student in the beautiful city of Boston. I plan on pursuing the Harvard/Berklee Dual Degree Program where I will be enrolled in both schools, simultaneously working on my Bachelor of Music degree with a focus in songwriting from Berklee College of Music and a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College. Through this program, I will be able to merge my intellectual and artistic passions, hopefully reinforcing the interdisciplinary lens I already wear to view life. I was presented with many opportunities to satisfy my academic curiosity at my charter school, Mater Academy Lakes High School, as I participated in dual enrollment programs at Miami Dade College and Doral College. I was urged to take numerous AP courses ranging from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to more humanities-based courses.
However, in all four years of my high school career, I felt boxed in. I faced an enormous pressure to fit one definition of myself as I had labels coming from all angles telling me who I needed to be. I was told not to “waste my intelligence” studying music, to focus on practicality, to reconsider my dreams. I constantly felt like every choice I made was to satisfy others’ perceptions of me. I was torn between my identity as an artist and as a student. But, over these past couple of years, I have realized that I do not have to split myself. I define my own identity, and I do not need to sacrifice any part of it to make other people comfortable or proud. This is the lesson I want to preach to current graduates and future graduates alike. Don’t let anyone ever make you feel one-dimensional—what makes you human is your multi-dimensional. You are allowed to explore, redefine, and create yourself. You can make mistakes, succeed, and everything in between. And if anyone ever tries to put you in a box, just punch right through it because after all, it’s just made of cardboard.
Mercedes Ferreira-Dias was selected into the 2019 U.S. Presidential Scholars program for the Arts. She also competed on season 15 of The Voice. Mercedes will graduate from Mater Lakes Academy and will enroll in Berklee College of Music’s dual bachelor's/master's program with Harvard University in the fall.
To hear more about Mercedes' singing career, listen to a recent interview she did with host Ryan Kairalla of the Charter School Superstars podcast presented by Academica Media.
Mater Lakes Academy was recognized in 2019 with a College Success Award from GreatSchools. The award celebrates high schools with a successful track record of going beyond simply graduating students to helping them enroll in college and succeed once they get there.
[Click-to-Tweet] Mercedes Ferreira-Dias, graduate of @MaterLakes charter school in Florida and #TheVoice contestant, is pursuing a dual bachelor's/master's program at @BerkleeCollege and @Harvard this fall! #CollegeSuccessAward #CharterGrads