2017 Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Seniors’ College Choices

Mount Madonna School (MMS) is pleased to announce Tara Ching as the 2017 Valedictorian and Caroline Smith as Salutatorian. These students earned this distinction through hard work and focused effort, edging out their peers at the small Central Coast school known for strong academics, environmental education, performing arts and scholar athletes. The 2017 high school graduation ceremony will commence at 9:30am on Thursday, June 15 at the school’s upper campus.

Ching, who lives in Santa Cruz, will attend the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) this fall. She is entering the Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts (ICAM) program, and says she believes it will be a good fit for her interests in game design and animation.

“I chose UCSD because it’s just far enough away from home, it’s a big school, and I really liked the campus and the environment when I visited,” said Ching.

“All of the teachers at Mount Madonna this year and last year have been really strong, supportive and helpful,” she shared, “and I don’t think I could choose just one who inspired me. Haley [Campbell], Nicole [Silva Culbertson], Tiff [Wayne], and Jenne [Miranda Rodrigues] are probably the ones who’ve stood out the most to me. They are each incredible role models and I look up to them as well as every one of my teachers.

“What I appreciate most about MMS has been the trips and the connection to my teachers,” she continued. “Every trip has been fun and I doubt I’ll forget any of them, especially India and D.C. Cross country and Track last year were really fun as well and I am looking forward to seeing the program develop in the future.”

Smith lives in Corralitos, and plans to attend Smith College.

“Choosing a college was extremely difficult for me, mostly because I didn’t know what type of school I wanted,” Smith shared. “I ended up deciding on Smith College after thinking about what I wanted to do in the future and realizing that I had no idea – maybe a lawyer or a doctor or a politician, I really don’t know. For me, these next four years will be a time to figure out what I’m interested in at a school where I can thrive. After this realization, my decision was easy, it was Smith.”

“As regards MMS teachers, Nicole Silva [Culbertson] inspires me every day,” said Smith. “Her passion for teaching science and her genuine interest in her students makes me look forward to her class every single day. It is easy to see that she cares so much about us and truly wants to see us succeed, whether that be in school, in sports, or just life in general. I am so glad I got to have Nicole as a teacher for the past two years because she has really motivated me to do my best and strive for what I’m passionate about.

“Of my many strong MMS memories, our trip to Washington, D.C. really stands out for me. Everyone we interviewed there, from Congress people to founders of organizations, had really different backgrounds. Some started in the military, some as lawyers, and one as a civil rights activist. Hearing people talk about their paths to their current career (which they all seemed extremely passionate about) took a lot of pressure off about having to make the right decisions and know exactly what you want to do once you start your junior year of high school. Now, as an almost high school graduate, I feel really relaxed about my future and know that even though I’m not sure what I will be doing, I know that it will be something I’m passionate about.”

In addition to Ching and Smith, Mount Madonna School’s Class of 2017 includes nine other students. The class is listed below with their college choices:

Aki’o Nanamura, Cabrillo College; Amelia Busenhart, University of California, Santa Barbara; Caroline Smith, Smith College; Devyn Powers, Cabrillo College; Isaac Harris, Vassar College; Isabella Bettencourt, University of California, Irvine; Izabella Thomas, Cabrillo College; Nathan Vince, University of California, Davis; Param Walker, University of North Dakota; Savannah Willoughby, Eckerd College; Tara Ching, University of California, San Diego.

The about-to-be graduates took time recently to reflect on their college choice and planned studies:

“I chose to go to Cabrillo College because it will allow me to get my general education done and give me more time to explore my interests in a town I’m familiar with. Since Cabrillo doesn’t have a film course, I’ll be taking a few theater classes to expand my onstage knowledge. One of my favorite MMS memories was going to Mendocino with my class senior year. It was just a fun and simple time with no stress and no pressure. Haley [Campbell] is a teacher who inspires me, because she manages to be friendly and down-to-earth but also professional and teacher-like at the same time.” – Aki’o Nanamura

“I have decided to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara, because of the beautiful location and great academics. With wanting to live in California and as close to the beach as possible my options were limited, yet I feel I have found the perfect school for me. I am currently admitted as a dance major, however plan to double major in marine biology. A certain faculty member that inspires me is Sidd McDonald. Sidd has been an extremely motivational and positive character in my life. He reminds me to believe in myself and to never set limits. I will forever be thankful for the lessons Sidd has taught me.”
Amelia Busenhart

“I picked Cabrillo College because I want to have a more relaxed college experience for my first two years. After that I plan to transfer and study psychology.” – Devin Powers

“Many of the faculty at MMS inspire me. However, one that stands out to me is Tiffany Wayne. She holds a Ph.D. and heads the entire history department, which is an impressive role within the school. Tiffany also has produced some of the most enjoyable and challenging tests I have ever taken. As for inspiring MMS events, I enjoy the Ramayana!. It happens year after year, and it is always fun to keep the roles an ever-changing process. At Vassar College I plan to study economics and business. When looking for a college, I considered class sizes, name recognition, and location. Vassar is in the Hudson River Valley, and within close proximity to New York City.” – Isaac Harris

 “I chose the University of California, Irvine, because I spent a summer there with the COSMOS (California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science) Program and I loved the campus. The location is amazing and it so close to the beach! I will be studying chemical engineering and am so excited to be an ‘Anteater’! I am inspired by Tiffany [Wayne] because she started her educational path going in a very different direction, but ended up finding something she’s very passionate about. Our junior year trip to D.C. greatly affected my outlook on life. Taking that time to listen to people who have been in so many diverse situations opened my thinking and gave me the chance to look at people as individuals rather than members of a group.” – Isabella Bettencourt

“I applied and was accepted to the Cabrillo College Honors Transfer Program. I wanted to attend a college where I could finish my general education, and live in such a beautiful town as Santa Cruz. I’m choosing to study biology and, after Cabrillo College, I would like to study to become a nurse practitioner. A faculty member that inspires me is Nicole Silva Culbertson. Her passion and knowledge of science makes me excited for my future in medicine!” – Izabella Thomas

 “I chose UC Davis because it is in California and had the strongest political science program of the schools I was accepted to. Among the Mount Madonna staff and faculty who inspire me is my mom, because of her dedicated work ethic, love and compassion.” – Nathan Vince

“I chose to attend the University of North Dakota (UND); it was the only college I applied to. During my college search I was looking for a school where I could study commercial aviation. Cost was a major factor, as some aviation schools are incredibly expensive. I chose UND because they are respected for having one of the best aviation programs in the world, as well as being affordable. I will graduate with all the knowledge required to get a job with an airline. [The late] Sri Gyan [McCaughan] inspired me and my love of technology. He was the first person to ever tell me that electronics are useful for school and other projects, and not just a waste of time. My favorite MMS memory would have to be the Ramayana!. It inspires me to watch more than a thousand people come together for this huge community project.”
– Param Walker

 “Eckerd College is my choice because of its marine biology program and its relatively small college community. It is in a beautiful location and in a good city, St. Petersburg, Florida. One of my favorite things about Eckerd is its abroad program. About 60% of their students study abroad at least once. I talked to a guy who went abroad five times!  Nicole Silva [Culbertson] has inspired me in many ways. She encourages each of us to do our best and to live smart and responsible lives. I don’t know if I can pick a single school moment or event that inspires me, because the majority of my time at MMS has been wonderful.” – Savannah Willoughby


Photos by Sara Rae Photo

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.

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