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Saint Mary’s valedictorians reflect on collegiate experience

, , , and | Friday, May 18, 2018

For the first time in Saint Mary’s history, the College will bestow the honor of valedictorian onto five graduating seniors: Darya Bondarenko, Makenzie Duncan, Melissa Henry, Kristie LeBeau and Kathleen Price.

Bondarenko, a molecular biology major, said that while 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.”

Integrative biology major Duncan also received the honor of valedictorian this year.

In pursuing a successful college career, Duncan encouraged students not to be too hard on themselves and to strike a balance in their lives.

“Give yourself credit,” Duncan said. “I think rewarding yourself is really important, making sure that you have a balance between your academic life and your personal life, so that one is not overpowering the other because both are important.”

Duncan said many of her fond memories of Saint Mary’s have been small moments, such as running into friends in the dining hall.

“It’s nice that I can have those small memories,” she said. “I don’t have big memories that make me say ‘This is my favorite part of Saint Mary’s.’ It’s the everyday things that are special to me.”

The third valedictorian, Henry, will graduate with majors in communicative sciences and disorders and psychology. She is also the recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Senior Award.

Henry said she did not realize she could be a potential candidate for valedictorian until her sophomore year.

“With freshman year, everyone comes in just trying to get through it,” she said. “I got all A’s those first two semesters and I didn’t think much of it. And then fall semester of my sophomore year, I sat down with my advisor who looked at my transcript and said that I could be valedictorian — and I said, yeah, right. But ever since she mentioned that, it was a possibility for me. I was going to try for it, but it wasn’t the be-all-end-all for me.”

Diligent attendance and reaching out to professors are the keys to becoming a successful student, Henry said.

“Up until this year, I have never missed a college class,” she said. “Some people call me crazy, but honestly, there were times when my grade was on the brink but it was the attendance, the participation that helped. As well, taking advantage of that professors has to offer you in terms of resources, assistance and guidance is really how I got to where I am.”   

Saint Mary’s encourages leadership and inspires confidence for all those who consider the College to be their home, Henry said.

“Saint Mary’s has given me the confidence to go for what I want,” she said. “The College has allowed me to realize my potential as a leader. I’ve had a lot of professors who have expressed their belief that I will be successful and that support will propel me forward, knowing that these amazing people feel that I have this great potential.”

Sociology major LeBeau said her discovery of the news was “a super weird accident,” finding out after emailing senior academic advisor Tracy White a question about her education, schooling and society minor at Notre Dame.

“She replied and said, ‘I want to talk to you about the valedictorian speech,’” LeBeau said. “And I emailed back saying, ‘Does this mean I am a valedictorian?’ And she said, ‘Yeah you are.’”

Allowing for there to be five valedictorians — all of whom will share the valedictory address — also represents the diversity of Saint Mary’s, LeBeau said.

“I really love that all of us represent a very diverse background of majors, too,” she said. “I know that some universities [and] larger colleges, they make people compete based on speeches in terms of who’s going to be valedictorian or who’s going to give the speech, but I think it’s really great that Saint Mary’s doesn’t make us compete and allows all of us to share that title.”

When asked to describe her experience at Saint Mary’s College in one word, valedictorian and elementary education major Kathleen Price chose “inspiring.”

She referenced the Sisters of the Holy Cross, her fellow students, her professors, the education department and the four other women with whom she shares the title of valedictorian.

“To have five of us is unbelievable,” Price said. “Congrats to the other four, and I know they’ve worked extremely hard to get where they’re at. That’s truly a testimony to this college and the endurance of the women here. I truly think it’s unbelievable.”

Price said she will always appreciate what Saint Mary’s has helped her learn about herself.

“I’ve learned so much about myself and about my faith and how I want to serve in the future,” Price said. “I think it’s helped me a lot in seeing what kind of direction I want to take in my life, which has been amazing. I’ve met some amazing, incredible people, people I never would’ve thought I’d meet in a million years. To sum it up, it’s a blessing.”

The full valedictorian features can be accessed online at https://ndsmcobserver.com/tag/saint-marys-valedictorians-2018/.

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About Gina Twardosz

Gina Twardosz is a senior English Writing and Communication Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. She's the co-editor of the Investigative Unit, a Saint Mary's social media liaison, and she occasionally writes for SMC News and Scene. Gina is a tried and true Midwesterner and yes, she does say "ope" often.

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