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The Lone Star's North Star

October 15, 2016

When this passion meets place, potential is amplified.

In an opera house in Texas, Janel Mercado sat riveted. A soprano was telling Gaetano Donizetti's story, The Elixir of Love. "I remember being enthralled– she was singing in a foreign language and dancing, so many art forms put together," says Janel. "I wanted to know how I could be a part of something like that. I wanted to be her."

Growing up in Alvin, Texas, a suburb of Houston, this was the first time she'd experienced the lushness of opera. She was forever changed.

Janel's epiphany reverberated 1,300 miles up I-35, from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of Lake Superior, where culture and climate were no match for the passion that drove her.

"I did not want to go."

Janel's family moved around quite a bit before settling in Alvin, but she still graduated in the top 4% of her class. Texas automatically accepts high-performing students to any of its public universities. Janel choose to study opera at Texas Tech where, when looking for direction, her professor pointed due north.

UMD opera instructor Alice Pierce was recommended for graduate school, and this is where Janel's passion paused. "I just knew Duluth was really far and really cold. I did not want to go." Janel explains that 50-degrees is cold in Texas, and she didn't know how she'd adapt to the North Shore's notorious weather.

So she dragged her feet a bit, halfway applied, then got distracted. UMD noticed and nudged her to complete the application. 

When she couldn't fly to Duluth for her audition, the Music Department allowed her to send her audition via video.

These personal touches were enough to counter the cross-country move. Janel, her mom, and her step-dad piled in the car and made the 23-hour trip to Duluth.

Holistic Approach

There are unexpected reverberations to major life changes. For Janel, these were felt in the dead of winter. For the first time in her life, depression made an entrance even though it wasn't cast in the show. "I got really sad because it was just so cold," she remembers.

Duluthians are familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder, common when the sun's rays and vitamin D are in short supply, but the experience was totally new to this Texan.

Fortunately, UMD Health Services offered the care needed to empower Janel through the dark months. "So not only did I find help and support in the Music Department, Health Services was also really great." 

D-town Warmth

This winter, Janel's main focus will be what happens after she receives her master's degree in vocal performance. On track to graduate in May, Janel's applying for apprenticeship programs at different opera houses.

Wherever her talent leads, Janel says a little bit of Duluth will go with her. "Duluth made me feel very welcome and warm... despite the weather. It's a great community."

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