Class of 2018: Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Seniors’ College Choices

Mount Madonna School (MMS) is pleased to announce Indigo Kelly as the 2018 Valedictorian, and Zachary Wagner 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 2018 high school graduation ceremony will commence at 9:30am on Thursday, June 14 at the school’s upper campus.

Kelly, who lives in Santa Cruz, will attend the University of California, Davis (UCD) this fall. Said she chose UCD because of “their excellent pre-med program, and the many opportunities I will have there.

“I spent a month there during the summer before my junior year, and fell in love with the campus,” Kelly shared. “I already have connections with many of the professors. It has been one of my dream schools and I am so excited to be able to join their student body.

“There are many teachers that inspired me throughout my Mount Madonna career,” she continued. “My fifth grade teacher Sri Gyan McCaughan made me fall back in love with learning, and taught me how everything I loved could be transformed into something to inspire and help others. Performing arts has helped with my self-confidence, I came into sixth grade terrified of even being looked at, but now I have the confidence that I need to move forward in my life. Every single teacher has helped me grow as a person and let me explore different subjects in new and interesting ways, and for that I will forever be grateful.”

Wagner lives in Watsonville, and plans to attend Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

“I will be attending WPI on a merit scholarship of $80,000. My reasoning for choosing this school was their project- based curriculum and access to state-of-the-art programs such as my currently declared major of biomedical engineering. I intend to combine this major with programs in the robotics and neuroscience fields, in order to either go directly into medical school post-graduation, or to begin graduate work in cybernetics.

“Regardless of which path I choose,” he continued, “WPI provides me with the perfect environment to advance my passions in the fields of STEM, as well as providing many unique humanities opportunities both domestically and abroad. This transition into college will be the biggest shift in my life so far, and I am beyond eager to begin constructing the path to my destiny.

“As regards MMS teachers, Sidd McDonald and Sampad Kachuck both inspire me,” he shared. “Sidd taught me what it means to be on a team. His steadfast encouragement, humor, and coaching wisdom helped me to see the necessity of working with others, and how when we support unconditionally and appreciate each other’s diverse strengths, there is truly no way we can be defeated.

“Sampad was one of the greatest influences in transforming me from a terrified little boy into a man who is always seeking to have his voice heard. Through his teaching techniques in performing arts and mentorship in making me an articulate writer, he helped me in finding my voice and subsequently a vital piece of my identity. These two masters of their fields helped me to see through the veil of fear the human condition presents to us all, and provide much of the mentorship I will one day use to make the world a better place.”

“In addition to Kelly and Wagner, Mount Madonna School’s Class of 2018 includes 14 other students. The class is listed below with their college choices:

Aimee Kerr, Morgan Hill, Santa Clara University; Brigg Busenhart, Soquel, Cabrillo College; Carl Ward, Scotts Valley, California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo; Cyrus Kamkar, Aptos, Cabrillo College; Elias Moreno, Morgan Hill, Cabrillo College; Emily Villareal, Watsonville, University of California, Davis; Gracie Howley, Watsonville, Cuesta College; Jordan Willis, Aptos, San Diego State University; Lucas Caudill, La Selva Beach, Reed College; Phoebe Grant, Soquel, Academy of Dramatic Arts, Los Angeles; Ruby Bracher, Santa Cruz, University of California, Berkeley; Sienna Clifton, Morgan Hill, Cabrillo College; William Murphy, San Martin, California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo; and Zachary Clark, Corralitos, University of Hawaii, Manoa.

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

“I am going to be studying engineering at Santa Clara University (SCU). I chose SCU because of the campus and the people. I have visited and met a lot of people because my brother goes there and I really like everything I have seen so far. I am excited to attend SCU!” – Aimee Kerr

“One of my favorite MMS experiences was our trip to South Africa, and getting on the tour bus for the first time and seeing what the world is like outside of what we are used to. That journey was an experience that I will never forget, and honestly was the best trip of my life. We experienced a true sense of community, passion, and love throughout this journey, and it for sure opened up all of our eyes. As for MMS faculty, SN Mailliard seems to know how to bring out the best in others. He never judged me and just focused on my strengths. He allowed me to think and speak freely while having high expectations. He provided me with experiences that I’ll never forget, and showed a true example of leadership and compassion for others. After graduation I plan to attend Cabrillo and train hard for volleyball. Since I’m a year younger than most of my classmates, I am going to travel around the country for AVP beach volleyball tournaments, and play indoor volleyball and ultimately try to commit to a D1 school.”
Brigg Busenhart

“I picked Cal Poly because not only did the tour knock my socks off, but every single person I’ve talked to that has gone there loved it, and the idea of ‘learning by doing’ really grabbed me. I’d say I’m inspired by Sampad Kachuck’s dedication to his job. He’s been part of Ramayana! for 35 years, and a ton of winter plays, and despite the stress that must come with doing that many shows, he manages to pull off a great show every single time. I’m grateful to be a part of the historic 40th Ramayana!, and that he trusted me with a lead role.” – Carl Ward

“An MMS faculty member who inspired me is SN Mailliard. SN knows when his students are interested in something, and helps them find their path to further continue their passions. SN admires people who give back, and so do I. That is why I work with veterans, and SN has given me great advice on how to accomplish my goals in that department. SN knows that even though not all of his students will become interested in what he offers, that it is still important to at least give them the opportunity to. That is why he takes us on these amazing trips to South Africa and Washington DC. These are incidents in my life that I will always remember, and that will help me reach my goals. I believe the opportunities that SN gave to us has had a much bigger impact on me than his humble-self thinks, and to that I thank him.

“There are many experiences that were great at MMS, however the most impactful was probably our latest trip to D.C. I want to go into politics as a career, and this trip made that path seem much clearer. We had opportunities that no other high school students in the country could have, and I felt it was important to fully grasp those opportunities. Doing so paid off, and only enriched my interest in politics. I also really enjoyed our trip to Mendocino. This was a great way for our class to unwind and spend quality time together.

“I chose to go to Cabrillo for a few reasons. I felt it was important to stay closer to family, since my brother is only just turning fourteen, and my sister goes to school in London. It also seemed like a more logical decision financially, and opportunity wise. It is much cheaper, and I am only going for my general education. If I do the right classes, and receive the proper grades, I know I can get into whatever four-year college I choose. I also feel an obligation to stay more local for the first two years so I can continue my work with the veterans’ community. I have things I am currently doing in Santa Cruz that I feel are important. After looking at all of these factors, going to Cabrillo for the first two years seemed like the best option. After Cabrillo, I plan to major in political science, and then get my law degree.”
Cyrus Kamkar

“I chose to go to Cabrillo because I want to get a more thorough idea of what my passion is and what I will pursue when I transfer to a bigger college. One of my most memorable moments at MMS was a demon in Ramayana!.”  – Elias Moreno
“I chose U.C. Davis because it was a big school like I wanted, and the students there seemed really friendly and like they all knew each other. There seems to be lots of opportunities for students both educationally and recreationally, and the cows there were really cute! I’m going to study psychology, but I might switch to something more general. As for MMS faculty members, Nicole Silva inspires me because she’s a really cool person and a great teacher!” – Emily Villareal

 “Community college is a wise option for me. Although I had not heard of Cuesta College before April, I chose this school because there is a volleyball coach there interested in having me try out for the team, and I like the college’s location and program. I will major in kinesiology. PK McDonald is a great mix of friend, coach, and calculus wizard. He has my best interest in mind and will push me to be better even if I am somewhat reluctant. PK inspires me to be a better version of me and to be a team leader. I also really appreciate Haley Campbell. We have bonded over some shared experiences and I trust her. Haley inspires me to write and express myself through art. Erin Mitchell is awesome. She pushed me and my team really hard this varsity season and that is the reason we were able to be the second place D5 team in northern. I respect her a lot as a player and friend. Being able to hold the title of second in NorCal and all the success leading up to it last season was my ‘favorite MMS inspirational moment’.”
– Gracie Howley

“I chose to attend San Diego State because it supports the path I would like to pursue and it was available to me. I will begin as a journalism major in the fall, though this may change later in my college career. In attending SDSU, I am looking forward to making new friends and finding people who share the same beliefs and experiences as me. A teacher that inspires me to look towards this career path is Haley Campbell because she has always pushed me to be creative in new ways with my writing which has ultimately made my love for creative writing and inspired my growth as a writer.” – Jordan Willis

“I chose Reed because it seems like they’re very supportive of students exploring academic interests beyond their majors. Also, Portland seems like a really fun place to live. Currently, I plan to major in physics.” – Lucas Caudill

“I chose the American Academy of Dramatic Arts because, as simple as it is, I love to act. I am attracted to the school’s condensed schedule focusing only on theater and acting; and I cannot wait to move to Los Angeles! I have always admired and looked up to all my teachers, but if I had to pick one to talk about, I’d say Haley. Haley has always been so supportive and helpful towards me all throughout senior year, which was filled with stress and difficult decision making. I also admire her passion for learning, teaching, and writing. Her love for them is contagious.” – Phoebe Grant

“I chose UC Berkeley because it will push me to self-advocate and stay organized. Cal offers a lot of great opportunities, as long as I work hard and ask for them. The Bay Area has a fantastic art scene and, because the art program is relatively small, I will have the opportunity to work with professors in my area of interest on a closer level than usual for such a large university. There also are lots of strong courses to choose from for a double-major or minor. Thanks to the in-state tuition, I’ll be in less debt when I am a starving artist. I didn’t have her class this year, but one teacher I admire is Tiffany Wayne, because she is smart, open-minded, and listens to students. She has also been really generous with her coffee maker and printer.” – Ruby Bracher

 “I am choosing to study criminal justice, because I have always been interested in the way our justice system works, as well as studying and understanding the minds of people who commit crimes. A teacher that has always inspired me is Tiffany Wayne. This year I particularly appreciated taking her women’s history class. The amount of passion and knowledge she has for history and government is so impressive and demonstrates how important it is to love what you do, and that learning can be fun. The Mount Madonna memory that stands out the most to me is our learning journey to South Africa. It opened up my mind to a completely different culture and let me have an experience that I couldn’t get anywhere else. It was so hands-on and eye-opening! I’ll be forever grateful to MMS for making it possible for me to travel there with my 15 best friends! – Sienna Clifton

 “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t trying to entertain people. Whether it was unwanted classroom disruptions, or one of our plays, I was always trying alleviate boredom. I chose to study theater arts so that I could entertain people as a profession. I chose Cal Poly because I also wanted to leave my options open. I recognize that while performing is my passion at the moment, it could change. I love many of the teachers at this school, but if I had to thank one, it would be Sri Gyan McCaughan. He was the first teacher in memory who made me excited to learn. He emphasized critical thinking, not just memorization and recitation. He had a saying that took me awhile to really understand, but it changed my world view once I did, ‘Nature is self-similar across scale.’ Think about it for a while; it’s pretty crazy. Rest in peace Sri, you are missed.” – William Murphy

“Sidd McDonald really is a very inspiring teacher because I was really able to see how much he cares for his students. He didn’t just care about the grades they got, he cared about them actually learning the material so it would help them later on in life. My favorite MMS event is the annual high school rafting trips. One special memory is laying on all of the beached rafts on the river, with a ton of other people from all different grades, and just talking about anything that came to our minds.” – Zachary Clark


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.

Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Director of Marketing & Communications,







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