Class of 2021: Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Seniors’ College Choices

Mount Madonna School (MMS) is pleased to announce Kira Kaplan as the 2021 valedictorian and Sara Bautista as salutatorian. These students earned this distinction through hard work and focused effort, edging out their peers at the Central Coast school known for strong academics, environmental education, learning journeys, performing arts and scholar athletes. The 2021 high school graduation ceremony will be held in-person at the school’s upper campus, and attended by graduates and their families on Thursday, June 17 at 10:30am.

“I am proud of both Kira and Sara for earning this distinction,” commented Mount Madonna Director of Upper School Shannon Kelly. “They have worked hard throughout their time in high school, but more importantly, they are curious and engaged learners.”

Kaplan will attend Smith College this fall.

“I am very excited to attend Smith, an all-women’s school in Northampton, Massachusetts,” said Kaplan. “There are many things drawing me to this school, and one of the most important is its supportive environment. Our society has a tendency to diminish the qualities and intelligence of women, and is more focused on the cultivation of the white male; Smith presents an environment specifically dedicated to crafting rounded, well-educated women. The lack of male presence at Smith creates a more collaborative and comfortable environment of women supporting women.

Unlike at other schools where males might be given first priority for research, classes, opportunities, etc, at Smith you are the first priority,” Kaplan continued. “I was accepted into the STRIDE program, which guarantees paid research with a faculty member for my first two years – pretty incredible! Currently I’m looking at a pre-med track with a major in biology or math. Nothing is set in stone, and I’d like to dive deeper into my interests before I make any concrete decisions.”

“I feel like every Mount Madonna School faculty member inspires me,” commented Kaplan. “They each have their special quirks and unique personality that contributes to their teaching as a whole. I’ve been impacted by every single teacher I’ve had the privilege to be taught by, and would like to share some honorable mentions. SN Mailliard has an incredible and thoughtful mind and is truly an amazing Values teacher. I learned so much from him and was amazed at the depth of conversation we partook of in his class. His wisdom inspires me. Nicole Silva is incredibly passionate about science, and astounds me with her depth of knowledge and hard work towards her career. I get excited about biology just by being around her. Her energy inspires me.

“Haley Campbell is incredibly kind and caring towards her students,” continued Kaplan. “She takes the time to reach out and ensure that each and every one of us knows we are loved and valued. Her heart inspires me. Sampad Kachuck is a teacher among teachers. His style and flair for teaching is one of a kind and I find myself enraptured with whatever subject he’s teaching. His performance inspires me. Shannon Kelly is like a worker bee, constantly busy and constantly buzzing. She seems to know the answer to everything and is always helping us find solutions to our problems. Her dedication inspires me. Lastly, PK McDonald always brightens my day and makes me laugh. He is fascinated by the subjects he teaches and truly brings enjoyment and cheer to whichever classroom he enters. His attitude inspires me.”

Bautista, plans to attend Occidental College because of its location in Los Angeles and program offerings.

“I like that ‘Oxy’ has a larger art department then a lot of the other liberal arts schools I looked at,” said Bautista. “I also like the way the school culture is described and how I experienced it.

“All of my Mount Madonna teachers are really intelligent and caring,” she continued. “They have all put so much effort into adapting to this year’s COVID challenges. I admire them all.”

In addition to Kaplan and Bautista, Mount Madonna School’s Class of 2021 includes nine other students. The students are listed below with their college choices

Ami Bharghavan, St. Andrews University, United Kingdom; Corey Mensinger, University of California, Santa Cruz; Kahlan Tervalon, Seattle University; Octavio Moreno, University of California, Berkeley; Oliver Mensinger, Cabrillo College; Ronan Lee, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; Samuel Caudill, Lewis & Clark College; Sarah Vince, Otterbein University; and Savannah Cambell, Johnson & Wales University.

“Resiliency and flexibility are words ascribed globally to the graduates of 2021 who overcame obstacles, setbacks and persevered despite the pandemic and other challenges,” commented Mount Madonna Head of School Ann Goewert. “The MMS seniors are heartfelt. They proved to be leaders and role models for the school community by showing up each day with maturity, grace, and an eye for the future. Even though the traditional senior milestones had to look different, they embraced the opportunity and honored the traditions albeit in a new way.” 

The soon-to-be graduates took time recently to reflect on their college choice, planned studies, and MMS teachers who inspire them.

Amitabh “Ami” Bharghavan: “I chose St. Andrews University for many reasons. I really like how the Scottish college system works. I can focus on the subjects I’m interested and explore those subjects, but I don’t have to take general education classes in subjects I’m not interested in. While general education classes might be great for many students, I would prefer to focus on my area or interest and not have to take STEM classes. Also, the first two years in Scottish universities are for exploration, and the grades don’t count towards completing your degree. That takes a lot of pressure off, and hopefully will allow me to explore my interests. I’m drawn to the history at St. Andrews, the location in Scotland, and that it’s a medium to small size university.

“Teacher Dan Gurska really inspires me. I feel like he understands me, and I’m grateful for the many conversations we had over the last year. He helped me to connect to my spirituality, and he always made me feel seen and heard. After his classes, I would feel inspired and energized. I’m grateful that he would really listen to what I was saying, and I felt like he valued my opinions. I connected with Dan’s teaching, and it meant a lot to me that he would want to hear my thoughts on things, even after class.

“Sampad Kachuck and [former MMS teacher] Tiffany Wayne have also inspired me a lot. Tiffany taught me history for many years, and she was very dedicated to our class. I appreciated her work with the Model United Nations club, her help preparing us for the AP exams, and her patience and sense of humor. She valued and respected my input in class, even if it was a difference of opinion. Sampad has inspired me with his directing of the Ramayana! over so many years.”

Corey Mensinger: “I chose the University of California, Santa Cruz, because it’s close to home, so I know the environment pretty well and will be able to go home if I wish. This also allows me to keep doing the things I enjoy, such as karate. I haven’t decided what to major in, but one thing I want to do is become fluent in Spanish. I also would like to get better at singing and performance, and to try tutoring middle and high school students in math, including geometry, pre-calculus, statistics, and algebra.

“Teachers Sara Sobkoviak and Nicole Tervalon inspire me. They both have had a lot of influence, and they motivate me to keep improving so I can do the things that interest me later in life.”

Kahlan Tervalon: “The education offered at Seattle University is much of what I want my college education to be. My focus will be criminal science with a specialization in criminology. I like the location and the way the surrounding area feels. I also like how when you step on the campus it feels secluded. The variety and size of classes also had an impact on my decision.

“I’m not sure there is a specific Mount Madonna teacher who has inspired me, as all of them have impacted me. Every teacher, especially the ones who I have had the longest or for the most classes, have been most influential, and there isn’t one teacher who stands out above the rest.”

Octavio Moreno: “I will be studying forestry at the Rausser College of Natural Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. I chose this amazing program because of the location and opportunities it will open up for me in the future. I will also be able to volunteer as a firefighter later on in my college career!

“I am inspired by my statistics teacher, Dr. Nicole Tervalon. She is always there for others when they need help, and understands that people learn in different ways. Having her as a teacher has shown me that school is not just about memorizing things, but is complex and offers insights on we can better solve problems. I am inspired by her willingness to learn about others and to teach in a fun way. This shows me that school is much more of an experience than a chore.”

Oliver Mensinger: “I am looking forward to attending Cabrillo College this coming year. I am going to be very close to home, so I can ride my bike to school and I won’t have to drive as much. Cabrillo, I think, can help met get started on my future and get me on track. I can move forward from there and feel more confident and determined to do well later on. I also know some MMS alums that might be at Cabrillo, and this could be very exciting.

“One former MMS teacher who inspires me is Tiffany Wayne. She does a great job at teaching, she writes books, and is a very powerful woman. One current teacher who inspires me is Dan Gurska or “one of the Nicoles” (Nicole Silva and Nicole Tervalon). They all work really hard and do a great job at teaching. Dan is a super nice guy, Dr. Nicole is very helpful, and Silva pushes people very hard (in a good way) to do well.”

Ronan Lee: “I chose the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa because I feel ready for the completely new experience and environment that it has to offer me. I am planning to enroll in its highly rated nursing program.

“[Former Mount Madonna School teacher, athletic director and coach] Sidd McDonald is someone who really inspires me. From the time he was my coach in fifth grade, through eighth grade algebra, Sidd had a special way of reaching and inspiring me to put forth my best effort – whether it was in volleyball or in the classroom.”

Samuel Caudill: “I chose Lewis & Clark College because it’s a nice school, they gave me a good scholarship and I want to stay on the West Coast. Teacher Dan Gurska inspires me because he has a very busy schedule and still seems spry and happy.”

Sarah Vince: “Otterbein University is the best fit for me for multiple reasons, including the location – it’s about 20 minutes away from Columbus, Ohio; the classes and programs are geared towards accommodating the students intended fields of study as best they can; and the environment is much more open than many of the other schools I applied to.

“I am inspired by my mother, Jeevani Vince [Ramayana! co-producer]…because she is my mother!”

Savannah Cambell: “I choose Johnson & Wales University because I was recruited for volleyball and I liked their exercise science program. I want to experience something completely different and new, something that is out of my comfort zone and Johnson & Wales feels like the perfect place to do that.

“I am inspired by my mom [fifth grade teacher] Jessica Cambell, because she cares so much about her students and her coworkers and gives everything she does with 110%. She also always keeps fighting for the things she believes in. Nicole Silva also inspires me: she was a student-athlete and went into science in college. She is dedicated, caring, loving, and hardworking and I value that about her. She was a superstar in athletics and in the classroom.”

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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.