Palmview Mariachi student accepted to 7 Ivy League schools

Xavier Piña, a senior at Palmview High School, was accepted to seven Ivy League universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Mission native, pictured with his parents Sergio and Norma Piña, will be the first in his family to attend college.

Palmview High School senior Xavier Piña says joining his school’s mariachi band has opened many doors for him. Playing the violin and belting out gritos alongside his bandmates made him more confident and pushed him to break out of his shell.

Xavier Piña, a senior at Palmview High School, pictured alongside with classmates. He wrote about being part of his school’s mariachi program in his college applications.

The Mission native, however, never thought mariachi would open the doors of seven Ivy League schools, making him the first in his family to go to college.

On April 6, otherwise known as Ivy Day, when eight of the top tier universities in the country sent out their admission decisions. Piña found out in the middle of mariachi rehearsal he got accepted to seven of them, in addition to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When he received emails from the university that day, Piña excused himself from practice and sat in the hallway alone to prepare for any outcome. Then it was good news after good news, after good news. He started screaming on his own, then his classmates joined the celebration.

He believes his essay about what mariachi has meant to him made his application stand out. The essay prompt asked him to write about an interest or talent his application would be incomplete without, and for Piña, the answer was easy.

“Mariachi has just done so much for me, and I couldn’t help but write about it,” the 18-year-old said.

Piña also said steady commitment to doing his best in classes and extracurriculars, such as competing in his school’s UIL math team, is what helped him achieve the rare feat of getting accepted to all but one Ivy League school.

He has had his eye on the prestigious schools since he was a seventh grader at Irene M. Garcia Middle School, and had to overlook the fear of rejection to apply for all eight universities and more.

Xavier Piña singing during a performance with his school’s mariachi group. The 18-year-old wrote about being part of his school’s mariachi program in his college applications.

“At first I was really scared to apply because I didn’t want to be rejected, but then I said I had nothing to lose so I submitted all my applications,” Piña said. “I really wanted the chance, and I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance if I didn’t apply, so I applied everywhere.”

Piña’s geometry teacher, Daniel Garza, who attended Harvard University, encouraged him to apply for a summer program his sophomore year at his alma mater, serving as the foundation of his interest in biomedical sciences.

At the program, he took an electricity magnetism course that taught him about how physics plays a critical role in healthcare. Piña hopes to become a neurosurgeon someday.

He added that his parents have served as his main source of motivation throughout high school, especially seeing how hard they worked to help him succeed. His mother works for a company that provides employment services for people with disabilities, and his dad works at Whataburger.

“I am just really grateful for all the support I have received from everyone,” he said. “And I think that with this opportunity, I just want to help other people, especially in the Valley.”

Piña has narrowed his decision to attend Harvard or MIT to study neuroscience and biomedical engineering, and is conceriding minoring in music.

His mariachi director, Myra Garcia, said she is incredibly proud of Piña and is delighted to know that he used his passion for music to present himself in his college applications.

“I think it is an amazing thing that he did because he is so good at what he does and it is a big passion of his, mariachi,” said Garcia, who has led the mariachi program at Palmview High School for 11 years.

Xavier Piña singing during a performance with his school’s mariachi group. The 18-year-old wrote about being part of his school’s mariachi program in his college applications.

“I know how much it means to him and how much passion he puts into his playing everyday. He is very, very attached to his music.”

Garcia says she has also witnessed how mariachi has helped Piña gain confidence. She recalls when she first met him as a freshman, too shy to talk. Whenever she would ask him a question, he would only offer a nod.

Now, Piña is a group leader among his bandmates.

“He has grown so much in four years, and I am just so proud of him,” she said. “He has done so well. I have even seen him grow so much this year, despite the pandemic. Xavier is going to do some excellent things in the future and I can not wait to see what he does to help humanity.”