Class of 2020: Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Seniors’ College Choices

Mount Madonna School (MMS) is pleased to announce AnMei Dasbach-Prisk as the 2020 valedictorian and Haley Kerr 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, learning journeys, performing arts and scholar athletes. The 2020 high school graduation ceremony will be prerecorded, and a watch party for friends and family will commence at 9:30am on Thursday, June 11.

“In a class full of strong students, AnMei and Haley stand out,” commented Mount Madonna Director of Upper School Shannon Kelly. “They are curious and engaged learners and have been stellar students throughout their high school careers.”

Dasbach-Prisk will attend Cabrillo College this fall.

“I am looking forward to attending Cabrillo because it will allow me more opportunities and flexibility with the next steps in my education,” commented Dasbach-Prisk. I am not totally sure what I want to do in the future, although in two years I expect to have a better idea! It’s important to me to pursue an education that I’m passionate about and that can lead to helping others.

“Each MMS teacher inspires me, in their own unique way,” she continued. “All of my teachers have impacted me, taught me important life lessons, and provided opportunities, advice and support to help me to become the person I am today. I am grateful for all of our faculty because they help to nurture the special school community that is Mount Madonna.

“Some of my favorite MMS moments were this past year, including going to South Africa and winning the state championship with my volleyball team! These are standout moments because these were times when I truly bonded with my fellow classmates and peers. I will forever be thankful for the lifelong friendships MMS has given me!”

Kerr, who plans to attend Santa Clara University (SCU), said she chose the school because of the feel of the campus and the strong options for pre-health degrees.

“It is also a plus that my sister’s an SCU student, too, and can help me transition into the school,” said Kerr. “While I haven’t picked a major yet, I am planning to pursue a pre-med track.

“I am very inspired by our science teacher, Nicole Silva Culbertson,” continued Kerr, “because she is so smart and makes people feel welcome, which I hope to someday do, regardless of what profession I ultimately choose. As I look back, one moment that was very inspirational for me during my time at Mount Madonna, was a conversation I had with Silva. I was very nervous to go on the yearly Catalina trip, so she had a conversation with me. She told me that she believed in me, and knew that I could do it. When I finally decided to go during my sophomore year, I ended up having a great time. Then, the summer following my junior year I was fortunate to go to South Africa with my class, and Silva was one of the chaperones on that trip. I remember her talking to me and reminding me about how far I had come from being nervous for a week-long trip to Catalina, and was now happily on an 18-day journey to South Africa. Hearing her tell me that she was proud of me and that she knew I could do it made me very happy, and I give her a lot of credit for inspiring me to face my fears.”

In addition to Dasbach-Prisk and Kerr, Mount Madonna School’s Class of 2020 includes sixteen other students. The class is listed below with their college choices:

Aaron Saavedra, University of California, San Diego; Braeden Will, Seton Hall University; Cecilia Rothman-Salado, University of California, Davis; Connor Murphy, De Anza College; Fiona Burgess, Boston University; Given Reyhani, Cabrillo College; Jahnakai Willis, Pace University; Jeremy Curland, undisclosed; Ksenia Medvedeva, University of California, Davis; Maverick Bettencourt, Cabrillo College; Noah Tervalon, Tufts University; Paola Jacobs, undisclosed; Rachel Burgess, University of San Francisco; Rowan Davenport-Smith, Cabrillo College; Tabitha Hardin-Zollo, Sarah Lawrence College; and Tessa Ortiz, Orange Coast College.

Several of the soon-to-be graduates took time recently to reflect on their college choice, planned studies, MMS teachers who inspire them and favorite school memories.:

Aaron Saavedra: “I will be attending the UC San Diego to study biology. I chose UCSD because of their outstanding reputation as one of the world’s leading public research universities. I am excited to be attending a university that is located so close to the ocean.  I am an avid scuba diver and am looking forward to exploring new dive spots.  I also am looking forward to growing carnivorous plants in the San Diego climate which is quite different from where I live.

“One MMS faculty member who inspires me is Tiffany Wayne. She is an incredible teacher who clearly loves and is passionate about what she does. She’s been a great friend to me and my classmates and has an excellent sense of humor. A favorite MMS experience has to be Ramayana!. Even though I have not been in the show since sixth grade, I was in it for nine years prior to that and it was always my favorite time of year! Throughout my high school years, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching my classmates perform in Ramayana!, this story is very meaningful and will always stay with me.”

Braeden Will: “My decision to go to Seton Hall came down to finances at the end of the day, and I was offered an incredible scholarship. It was between Seton Hall and American University, both schools with great programs for what I want to study – political science and international relations. Seton Hall has a great program, and its School of Diplomacy and International Relations has a collaborative alliance with the United Nations. I am really excited to be going to a school that is well known for its diplomatic connections and alumni. The program is excellent, but what I’m looking forward to the most is experiencing the East Coast. I love California but I’m ready to try something new.

“One of the MMS teachers who has inspired me the most is Tiffany Wayne. She helped me foster my interest and passion for politics and government. I am also inspired by Sampad Kachuck, who has taught me public speaking, and how to carry and be confident in myself. As I’ve been an MMS students since kindergarten, it’s difficult to choose a single moment that I am most fond of. Some of my favorite moments were hanging out with my friends at the big swing or on the camping and rafting trips. The best MMS trip would easily be South Africa.”

Cecilia Rothman-Salado: “I chose UC Davis because after stepping foot on the campus, I immediately fell in love. The campus is beautiful and is surrounded by trees which gives me a little taste of home. The campus feels clean, safe, and just gave me a total college town vibe which is exactly what I was looking for. I also like that it is not too far away, so I can still easily visit my family and the ocean (the two things that I will miss most). I went in as undeclared/life sciences with the intention of studying something related to biology.

“A Mount Madonna teacher that has inspired me (and still inspires me) is Sara Sobkoviak. Sara has been there for me countless amounts of times and has supported me through some of the hardest things. She is driven, talented, beautiful, and an amazing friend. She has this magical ability to be working on what seems like hundreds of things at once, and yet she still seems to get everything done. I love you so much Sara! My favorite Mount Madonna memory was going to the Wrigley institute on Catalina Island in 10th grade. That whole entire trip was a dream. The experience that sticks with me the most and that I constantly think about was going on the night snorkel and seeing the bioluminescence. It was seriously one of the most magical things that I have ever experienced!”

Connor Murphy: “I plan to attend a community college because it is cost efficient. I would like to works towards a master’s in journalism with a minor in videography, and that will take at least six years, so having the first two years at a much lower costs makes sense to me. The other major factor was the campus: what De Anza College lacks in Santa Cruz beaches, it makes up for in a world-class planetarium, large outdoor facilities and hiking trails. As well as a great staff and lots of extracurricular options that I can explore, including sports at a more relaxed level than many bigger universities.

“Most MMS teachers have made an impact on me whether I know it or not. I have special appreciation for Sarojani Rohan for preschool and kindergarten; Jessica Cambell for first through fifth grades; Sampad Kachuck for sixth through eighth grades; and Tiffany Wayne for high school.

“One of my favorite MMS memories was our sophomore trip to Catalina. We stopped off at a city near the college to do a tide pool experiment and it just so happened to be a Given’s birthday. While in the city I convinced Nicole Silva to let me go to a store with PK McDonald and buy cake-makings. However all the ingredients to make cake amounted to very little when we had no oven to cook it in! One of the girls’ rooms had an oven, fortunately, so after dinner me and Braeden headed to their room and met up with Ksenia and Ceci to bake the cake. Then we got the whole class together and gave Given the cake. Short story, long, I baked a cake on an island for a friend!”

Fiona Burgess: “Boston University (BU) is my dream school. I am drawn to the university’s outstanding international relations program. The Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies will give me the rigorous preparation I need for a career in public service, diplomacy, and international relations. I am so excited to live in my mother’s hometown of Boston. I am the first generation in my mother’s family to be born outside of Massachusetts in 400 years and I’m looking forward to living there. I love cities and BU’s urban campus is the perfect fit for me. I am eagerly anticipating concerts at the “Hatch Shell” (Edward F. Hatch Memorial Shell), picnics by the Charles River, and Red Sox games in Fenway Park. In addition, I hope to be able to participate in BU’s exchange program to the prestigious Paris Institute of Political Studies. I have already signed up for French classes!

“Without a doubt Tiffany Wayne is the teacher that has most inspired me. In my four years at MMS I have had the privilege of taking a multitude of courses with her including U.S. History, Women’s History, AP Government, and AP C Comparative Politics. I have seen her passion, knowledge, and commitment for the topics she teaches, as well as for her students. Tiffany Wayne has opened my eyes to the importance of government and politics and she created essential experiences such as Model United Nations, where I was able to develop my own knowledge and expertise.

“In the fall of 2019, our senior class had planned a trip to Mendocino. We were set to go, but one thing changed our plans: our girls volleyball team made it into the state championships! The scheduling conflict of the two events put an end to the Mendocino trip. Our disappointment over the cancellation of the Mendocino trip was short-lived and quickly replaced by our excitement and enthusiasm for our home team! Together with the majority of my class, I headed south for the big game! Mount Madonna’s community spirit was on proud display at that game. Despite being the smaller school we cheered louder and prouder. And as it turns out, our team also played better. The feeling as I watched my classmates win the game is one I won’t forget. It was moments such as this one that made my experience at Mount Madonna School so special.”

Jahnakai Willis: “I chose Pace because it has a very good business college and it’s in New York City. I loved the school’s vibe when I visited, so it seems like a perfect fit. I’m looking forward to meeting all my classmates and professors. At Mount Madonna, Tiffany Wayne inspires me because she is such a qualified teacher and is ‘woke’ – alert to injustice, particularly racism. A special memory is when our class was in South Africa visiting Botshabelo. Paola and I were dancing with a baby. This was my favorite moment because it was so heartwarming to see this happy little kid dancing, even though his family had been affected by HIV/AIDS.”.

Ksenia Medvedeva: “UC Davis has been a top choice of mine for a while, probably since middle school. I was drawn to their beautiful campus as well as the numerous research opportunities for students (they are ranked the #1 university for women in STEM). I’m hoping to study biology or something biology-related. I’ve talked to several students already, and the school environment seems really welcoming. Additionally, it’s a good distance from home, meaning that I’ll be able to learn how to be independent, but also have the opportunity to visit home.

“Nicole Silva has been my inspiration since eighth grade. Her passion and interest in the science world motivates me to learn more and be curious. She’s also incredibly supportive of my dreams and goals! Last year’s Ramayana! really brought into perspective for me how my time at Mount Madonna is almost over, and how much I’ve grown to cherish the people around me who have helped shape me into the person I am today. I have a vivid memory of standing on stage during the bows of the last show, looking around, and feeling incredibly thankful for the people I’ve met thanks to MMS, as well as the experiences I’ve had the honor of sharing with this community.”

Maverick Bettencourt: “I chose Cabrillo College because it was the best option for me, and hopefully I will make something out of it. The person who inspires me the most is Harjit Punj. He is always so nice and caring. I want to be more like him and look at the world as a ray of sunshine. My favorite MMS experience was South Africa. Going there and learning about their culture was the best thing in my life. I am so sad that I had to leave. Each day I try to remember what I learned and incorporate it into my life.”

Noah Tervalon: “I chose Tufts because I really wanted something in Boston. Boston draws me as I love the city itself, and I have two groups of extended family within six hours. I also love the fact that it is so close to New York, which is somewhere I experienced a while ago and fell in love with. I wanted somewhere where I would be able to have the experience of being in a bigger school while also focusing strongly on academics, and they have a volleyball team! I am currently applied as a biopsychology major.

“Among the faculty, Sara Sobkoviak inspires me. She is relatively new to Mount Madonna (compared to someone like me at 15 years), but every moment she has been here she has been an instrument of change. She has never given up when trying to complete a task, and she is filled with a sense of unwavering steadiness that draws people to her. She is a fearless, strict leader, but she is also someone who I am never afraid to talk to when times are hard, because she is the sweetest and most understanding person ever. I can’t say enough good things about Sara, but she brings a smile to my face every time I see her and inspires me to be a better person. I can’t say I have one favorite moment from MMS, however, I have loved every moment in the performing arts program. I love the community growth that happens and the ability to put your entire self into a project that accepts everything you throw at it.”

Rachel Burgess: “I am excited to live and study in San Francisco, and attend the University of San Francisco. The college is midsize, with just under 7,000 undergraduates. It has a strong program in biology and pre-health studies with lots of internship opportunities – especially at UCSF medical school. I love the community service orientation of the Jesuit education. Go Dons! I have also been admitted to the Amigos Americas program to do a gap year in Ecuador before going to college.

“Tiffany Wayne is a great teacher and I appreciate all the classes and experiences I have had with her. Even though I am going to study biology and not history and politics, I was inspired by Tiffany’s teaching and commitment to us students. She made so much possible, such as Model United Nations. As regards a favorite memory, it was on one of the first Fridays of our senior year, when me and my classmates all got up at the crack of dawn. It was 4:00am and my sister and I drove up to school with four dozen pumpkin spice muffins we baked using my grandfather’s recipe. The seniors gathered at the overlook and breakfasted as we watched the sunrise over the trees. We were all together, full of optimism, connected, and looking forward to a great senior year.”

Rowan Davenport-Smith: “I don’t yet know what I want to do in life, and am planning to attend Cabrillo College, and to use my time there to help me figure it out. I am most excited about going to college just for the new experience and making friends.

“A faculty member that inspires me is Tiffany Wayne. Tiffany has always treated us with respect and treated us as our age. Often I find that adults try to treat high schoolers as either children or adults when we are neither, but Tiffany has always seemed to understand that. She has always talked to us like we are equals, but never pushed us to behave in more mature ways or take responsibility for things we weren’t ready for. Tiffany has always understood that as teenagers we have the capacity to change the world, but that sometimes we just make mistakes.

“One of my favorite experiences with MMS was speaking with Dr Mamphela Ramphele in South Africa. Dr. Ramphele was super inspiring, and I remember walking out of that interview and feeling like I needed to go out and change the world! I felt like I should have been calling everyone I know to spread the wisdom that I had gained in our short time with her.”

Tabitha Hardin-Zollo: “I chose Sarah Lawrence College because of the intimate learning environment, the one-on-one teacher-student relationships and focus on equity and inclusion. The curriculum will allow me to do cross-discipline study and conduct independent research. I plan to study biology, pre-med and global policy. I am looking forward to living in a new environment and being so close to Manhattan, as well as meeting new people and learning for the sake of learning.

“Dr. Tiffany K. Wayne has been not only an amazing teacher, but also someone I can depend for advice academically and personally. She gives so much time to her students, and I hope to be as passionate about learning as she is. Other than the transformational trip to South Africa, winning the state volleyball championship this past fall was definitely a favorite MMS moment. It was not only a great way to end a season, and a high school career, but an incredible full circle moment that I was able to share with my best friends.”

Tessa Ortiz: “I chose Orange Coast College as it is close to my sister and some family friends, as well as its program and sports. I will be studying psychology. I’m looking forward to the new college dorms that [hopefully] should be open by fall. My favorite MMS memory was going to South Africa, and having that time to be on our own, with help, and become closer with my classmates. The senior sweat lodge is also something that will continue to inspire me to try new things.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.