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Saint Mary’s valedictorian Darya Bondarenko discusses academic journey

| Monday, April 23, 2018

Editor’s note: This is the first of a five-part series profiling the valedictorians of Saint Mary‘s class of 2018.

For the first time in history, Saint Mary’s has five valedictorians. Molecular biology major Darya Bondarenko is one of the five students honored with the valedictorian title this year — an honor which represents the mind of Saint Mary’s, according to the commencement website.

Bondarenko found out she was named valedictorian in an email from senior academic advisor Tracy White, who asked that she come meet the other valedictorians and discuss the commencement speech.

Bondarenko said she was pleasantly surprised by the number of valedictorians.

“I think I was the second person [at the meeting], and as more people started filing in, it was surprising,” she said. “It‘s also kind of exciting. It‘s really fun that we have so many students who have accomplished such a high honor.”

Each of the valedictorians will deliver a speech about one of the core values at Saint Mary’s. Bondarenko will speak about justice, which she said is a challenging topic to discuss in a both candid and positive manner.

“I want the speech to be a positive experience, but with the topic that I have, that’s sometimes difficult, especially with the current climate,” she said. “So many people have so many diverse opinions of what justice is. It’s a personal experience, and I think that’s also really difficult. You have to on some level open up on what’s happened to you and how you reacted to it. Sometimes that’s difficult.”

Despite these challenges, Bondarenko said she enjoyed the speech writing process.

“When I started writing the speech, it started becoming more personal and more of a statement,” she said.

Although she does not enjoy speaking in front of large crowds, Bondarenko said her initial nervousness about the speech changed into excitement as she prepared.

“I was more nervous than excited initially, I’m a little more excited now,” she said. “I hope people enjoy it,” 

Bondarenko said her family moved from Ukraine to the United States in 2003, and has lived in Mississippi and North Carolina.

Immediately after she found out about the honor, Bondarenko told her family but she waited to tell her friends until it was publicly announced.

“It’s an exciting thing. My family was excited,” Bondarenko said. “[When my friends found out], I got a lot of congratulations. I think they were maybe even a little more excited than I was.”

Bondarenko said is currently assessing post-graduation plans.

“Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from some medical schools,” she said. “Eventually I want to go to medical school, but I’m also looking for backup job. It’s mostly research jobs that I would want to work at for a year or so.”

Bondarenko said she was only slightly surprised to receive the valedictorian honor, but still felt proud nonetheless.

“I had a 4.0 [G.P.A.], so I kind of expected I would be somewhere high up,” she said “I knew I’d graduate with some kind of honors, but I did not know if that’d be valedictorian or not because I don’t know how they categorize that or if anything else contributes to it. I wasn’t  necessarily that surprised, but it was a very pleasant experience.”

Bondarenko said that though she has a high G.P.A., grades are not everything to her and the grades came naturally for her because of the passion she had for her courses.

“I don’t think grades were the most difficult part of college for me,” she said. “It was about finding what I’m passionate about, and once you find that, the grades kind of go away and you stop thinking about that. [Grades were] never my goal. It was not something I was actively working towards.”

She said her experience at Saint Mary’s helped her find that passion, and she appreciates the personal relationship she has with the school.

“The reason I picked [Saint Mary’s] was because it has a personal relationship to its students … That’s something that really did meet my expectations, having that personal relationship with my professors and peers,” she said. “It’s kind of great. I know almost all the students and I know almost all my professors and their story a little bit. I don’t have a lecture hall between me and my professors.”

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