Class of 2023: Valedictorians, Salutatorian and Seniors’ College Decisions

Mount Madonna School (MMS) is pleased to announce Cecily Kelly, Mariah Cohen and Samuel Kaplan as the 2023 co-valedictorians and Zoey Ocampo-Sobkoviak as salutatorian. Cohen, Kaplan and Kelly, who started attending MMS as preschools students, and Ocampo-Sobkoviak in fifth grade, 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 2023 high school graduation ceremony will be held at the school’s upper campus on Thursday, June 15 at 10:30am.

“The graduating class is comprised of academically strong and creative students,” commented Head of School Ann Goewert. “I am proud of Cecily Kelly, Mariah Cohen, Sam Kaplan and Zoey Ocampo-Sobkoviak for their hard work and personal accomplishments.”

Cohen will attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and plans to major in biology or marine biology.

“I chose UCLA for a number of reasons: it is a top public university in the nation, and getting the opportunity to study there is amazing,” said Cohen. “I also considered location when making my college decision. Adjusting to a city like Los Angeles will take some time, but I think it will be good for me to get to experience life somewhere so different from Santa Cruz, where I’ve lived my whole life. I chose UCLA ultimately because I know I will be challenged there, but it is such a wonderful opportunity for me to grow both as a student and as a person.

“At MMS, Nicole Silva Culbertson inspires me to stick to my values and stand up for what I believe in.” commented Cohen. “She is very expressive of her opinions, and I love her for it. John Welch has been pushing me to explore science and what I can do in STEM through his physics classes, and I’m so appreciative of him. Any time I want to quit or don’t trust myself to do something in class, John is right there to pick me up and push me forward. I will always keep him in mind whenever I’m doubting myself, and I’m really glad to have him as a teacher.

“Something I will take away from MMS is getting along with people that you may not necessarily gravitate toward; our small school is a virtue in this way,” she continued. “When you’re in a class size of ten people, you learn to be friends with the other nine. We know how to support each other and work through our issues because we are around each other so much. I’ve learned from being a Mount Madonna student to work with people who are different from me and be friends with people who I wouldn’t necessarily go up and talk to on my own.”

Kaplan will attend Purchase College, State University of New York (SUNY Purchase).

“I will be studying dance in college and my decision was very difficult,” said Kaplan. “I eventually chose SUNY Purchase because it is one of the top dance programs in the country and I thought the vision of the dance program aligned with what I want to do.


“Teacher John Welch continues to inspire me,” continued Kaplan. “His physics class has taught me to view science, and the world differently. I always asked myself questions about the world, but after taking John’s class I also ask myself how (through what method) I could answer my own questions about the world.

“I think that MMS has made me a much more outgoing person than I would have been had I gone to a different school,” he added. “Through performing arts and the small community that Mount Madonna cultivates, I got a lot better at interacting with, speaking with and debating with people.”

Kelly will attend the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

“I chose UCSB because it has great educational opportunities, and I love the campus and how close it is to the beach,” said Kelly. “I am currently undeclared in the College of Letters and Sciences but plan on majoring in psychological and brain sciences.

“As an MMS student, the connections I’ve made with my peers and teachers are especially meaningful,” she continued. “I am inspired by Head of School Ann Goewert; she is always the first person at school, and the last to leave and does so much for the school community.”

Ocampo-Sobkoviak will attend Tulane University to study ecology and environmental biology this fall.

“I am choosing to attend Tulane University because it has an excellent interdisciplinary biology program and plenty of opportunities for me to do field work or study abroad” said Ocampo-Sobkoviak. “Tulane undergraduates also have access to all of their five colleges, which means I can more easily double-major in theatre or Latino studies. I love Tulane’s campus, the city of New Orleans, and all of the choices of student clubs and athletics for me to be a part of. The emphasis the university puts on service learning will help me pursue social and environmental activism in the local community.

“At MMS, all of the teachers and staff who I interact with on a daily basis that show up with intention and a strong work ethic inspire me. I know that it can be difficult to work with a bunch of kids, so I think they deserve all the flowers. One of the most meaningful things I have experienced as an MMS student is the space I have been given to cultivate my world views and think critically. While who I am today is also influenced by experiences outside of MMS, I think MMS has helped me feel confident in my ability to think for myself and not be influenced too much by what others think of me.”

In addition to these students, Mount Madonna School’s Class of 2023 includes four other students. The students are listed below with their college choices.

Bella Cambell, University of California, San Diego; Jacob Sirk-Traugh, California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo; Sandy Astone, Clarkson University; and Sky Weir, undecided.

Mount Madonna’s Head of School shared well wishes for the Class of 2023:

“Mount Madonna School’s graduating class of 2023 is committed to academic and personal excellence,” said Goewert. “I am proud of these passionate and young scholars. They will attend some of the finest universities and conservatories of dance. May the senior class continue to develop their capacity to think independently and advocate for change.”

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

Bella Cambell: “I am choosing to attend the University of California, San Diego, because of its marine biology and volleyball programs. Among the MMS faculty, I am inspired by Nicole Silva Culbertson because she is really passionate and strong. As an MMS student, something I’ve found meaningful is the school community, because it has become like a second family, supporting me but also pushing me at the same time. I love how you really get to know the people around you, including the teachers; that’s what really makes it family-like. Wherever I go I want to find a community like MMS, that supports and also pushes me.”

Jacob Sirk-Traugh: “I will be studying computer engineering, and I chose California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo for its excellent engineering program, beautiful campus and location and strong brand name.

“MMS faculty members John Welch and Sam Lee inspire me because they are both so passionate and interested in their subjects, and because they support my extracurricular interest in their subjects. Also, I love how they seem to learn with us sometimes.

“As an MMS student, our senior class India trip was really meaningful and led me to an interesting reflection on my personal opportunity; Not just the house I live in, the car I drive, the food, the education, but where and who I am. No matter what, someone will care about me. No matter how low I go, because of who I am, America will provide me with a level of hope and opportunity that isn’t present elsewhere in the world. If I am homeless, drug addicted, suicidal, hungry, whatever it is, at least I can do something. I have a newfound appreciation for where I live.”

Sandy Astone: “I am choosing to attend Clarkson University because of its good engineering program. At MMS, Sam Lee and John Welch, my math and physics teachers, inspire me. One aspect of the MMS culture that is especially meaningful is how welcoming and generally nice everyone is. As a community everything feels so much better when everyone  knows each other pretty well and can all have fun.”

Sky Weir: While I haven’t yet decided on which school I will attend, I plan to major in business administration and minor in entrepreneurship. Studying business will provide me with a solid foundation of knowledge and skills for any career path. Additionally, I am interested in entrepreneurship and want to gain a deeper understanding of how to create and run many successful ventures.

“The MMS humanity classes have inspired me in many ways. They provided me with intellectual stimulation, personal growth and a deeper understanding of the human experience. I appreciated the diversity of ideas and perspectives presented and was challenged to think deeply about my core beliefs and values. The connections I’ve made as an MMS student will stay with me into the next stage of my life.”


Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes 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.

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