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Foundation for the Future


Last year, Patriot High student Masaki Mendoza approached his guidance counselor, Luis Murillo, with a unique plan: In addition to taking exams for his five AP courses, he wanted to take three exams for courses he was not enrolled in, meaning he would need to self-prepare for the tests.

Luis Murillo“I was a little concerned, but I knew he could do it,” said Mr. Murillo. “He assured me, and I believed in him.”

Months later, despite a packed schedule of academics and extracurriculars as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, Masaki passed all eight of his AP exams. For social studies teacher Shawna Dochnahl, this came as no surprise.

“I haven’t had a student like him in my career,” she said. “He is such a great kid.”

Masaki was Mrs. Dochnahl’s student for two years. She first met him during a visit to Jurupa Middle School to promote her AP Human Geography class. She distinctly remembers Masaki, an 8th grader at the time, repeatedly raising his hand to ask questions.

Masaki ended up enrolling in Mrs. Dochnahl’s course as a freshman, making Human Geography his first AP course. The class was an even make-up of freshman and senior students, but according to Mrs. Dochnahl, Masaki was not intimidated by the seniors. If anything, they were a little intimidated by him. Despite this, Mrs. Dochnahl never witnessed Masaki abuse his intelligence. Group work was a large component of the course, and Masaki always positioned himself as a team player.

Because history is not often a popular subject in school, Masaki’s work ethic and investment in learning motivated Mrs. Dochnahl as a teacher. “It gave me hope to see a kid really invested in what’s going on in the world and his community.”

Masaki MendozaLikewise, Masaki considers Mrs. Dochnahl to be one of his greatest motivators. “Whenever I was feeling down, she swooped in and picked me right up,” he shared. Mrs. Dochnahl’s unwavering encouragement contributed to Masaki’s highly accelerated path through high school. 

Though only sixteen-years-old, Masaki is considered a senior and has the credits to graduate a year early. Currently, his average AP exam score is 4.4 out of 5. Though Masaki’s classes take priority, he has participated in various extracurriculars including Cross Country, Debate & Speech, and Link Crew. He is also enrolled in courses at RCC to further improve his academic standing. His top choice for college is UC Berkeley, where he hopes to major in economics and mathematics. After completing his education, he wants to serve as a US Diplomat.

Yet Masaki’s vast achievements do not make him immune to struggle. Like many of his peers, his motivation took a downward turn after the COVID-19 pandemic began. At one point, he even considered taking the California High School Proficiency Exam and enrolling in community college, as he no longer saw a point to pursuing his senior year.

Though the plan felt solid in his mind, Masaki’s parents quickly discouraged the idea, while his counselor and teachers reminded him that his academic pursuits remain worthwhile despite the unique and challenging circumstances. As a result of the support and his own reflection, Masaki believes he has found an answer to the “why” behind his continued work ethic. 

Masaki looking to the right“I work hard for my education so that I can set a base for myself,” he wrote in a Medium article published over the summer. “A building is nothing without its foundation, and so I want to work hard now so that my future self is not scrambling.”

For Masaki, education is the most powerful tool at his disposal, fueling his thoughts and actions. Everyone close to him knows this outlook will take him far.

“I think no matter what he does in life he’s going to be successful,” said Mr. Murillo. “He’s going to achieve great things.”

“He’s been my star child. I saw stars in his eyes when he was two years old,” said his mother. “I’m so proud of him.”