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Graduates listen to the keynote address at YVC's 95th Commencement Ceremony

YVC makes an impact

Graduates headed to dream schools this fall

Among this year’s graduates were three Running Start students whose experiences at YVC helped prepare them to head to prestigious East Coast schools next year. Mariah Cornejo will continue her studies in political science in the fall at Harvard University, as will Whitman Peters, son of long-time English Instructor Dan Peters, who will study government. Student Jaden Gaudet will head to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to pursue a hybrid degree that combines the disciplines of electrical engineering and computer science.

For Cornejo, who is the first in her family to earn a college degree, attending such a prestigious school felt out of reach.

“I’ve always been a dreamer,” says Cornejo, “but an Ivy League school like Harvard always felt unreachable. Throughout my academic career, I remained optimistic and determined despite the odds. I’ve had my obstacles through this journey, from doubting myself to others doubting me. However, I kept dreaming, and it eventually became my reality.”

Mariah Cornejo
Mariah Cornejo

Equipped with a strong foundation, YVC’s Running Start program and the college played an important role in preparing her for the next level.

“Being a Running Start student helped me enhance my academic skills and readiness for a university like Harvard,” said Cornejo. “The intimate class setting and dedicated staff at YVC have not only helped me enhance my learning, but also equipped me with invaluable skills beyond my degree. As I prepare to graduate with my associate degree, I am grateful for the experiences I have had here at Yakima Valley College.” 

“Every moment of hard work and sacrifice has led me to this pivotal moment. Being the first in my family to attend a four-year university, especially as a Hispanic student, fills me with pride and gratitude.” — Mariah Cornejo ‘24 

Jaden Gaudet first learned about Running Start in middle school and kept the idea at the forefront of his mind for the future.

“The end of sophomore year rolled around and I applied just because I wanted to be able to challenge myself,” said Gaudet.

While his high school has some College in the High School offerings, Gaudet said he found Running Start to offer a more rigorous academic experience while also being more affordable.

“I think the biggest thing for me was just [Running Start] helped me develop really strong study skills, because in high school, I mean to be honest, I didn’t have much homework and it was just not as rigorous as I would have liked it to be,” said Gaudet.

Jaden Gaudet poses for a photo on MIT's campus in front of the Great Dome building in Killian Court.
Jaden Gaudet poses for a photo on MIT's campus in front of the Great Dome building in Killian Court.

While it took time to make the transition to the demands of college-level work, Gaudet said it was worth it.

“I’ve definitely gotten way better at science, math, reading, writing, all that stuff,” he said. “A lot better at time management, a lot better at studying for exams, which will, of course, definitely help me.”

“My interest in studying in the technology space started out with being influenced by my dad. I thought it was pretty cool solving all kinds of different problems working with automation systems and I just think it’s pretty cool to be able to design robot systems.” — Jaden Gaudet ‘24

Now Gaudet is excited to use these skills at MIT and beyond.

“I’d like to work somewhere in the technology software space, I’m not really sure where yet. I’d also like to be able to utilize my Chinese skills in one way or another. Maybe that means working abroad or just working with a U.S. company that does a lot of business with China or Taiwan,” said Gaudet.    

Whitman Peters learned about the benefits of Running Start at any early age and was happy to use the opportunity as a springboard towards his goal of studying law.

Whitman Peters
Whitman Peters

“I went into YVC’s Running Start program with the idea of studying at a selective university, but my main motivation was to challenge myself and get a great education,” said Peters. “I knew colleges would be looking for rigorous courses that my high school did not offer, so YVC was my best option.”

Confident in the program after watching his sister take a similar path and getting accepted to Georgetown University, her top choice school, Peters credits much of his success to his experiences at YVC.

“I was never the most dedicated student in middle school or early on in high school, but attending YVC forced me to take academics seriously,” said Peters. “Being in a more rigorous environment was fulfilling, as I had to fully apply myself in order to succeed. I also see Running Start and YVC as a great gateway to enrollment at a 4-year school, and I feel that my experience has prepared me well for an education at university.”

“In my first three quarters, I took fantastic courses from Eric Anderson, Ken Zontek and Tim Jeske. The content of their courses and engaging teaching style inspired my choice of major and career, giving me a passion for academia that I had not experienced before.” — Whitman Peters ‘24

Peters also had the chance to accompany his dad on a sabbatical trip to Norway during the 2021-22 academic year as part of the Fulbright Scholars Program — an experience that deepened his collegiate experience.

These students embody the opportunities available by starting their higher education experience at a community college, like YVC.

“While I am very proud of my son, I am equally proud of the education we give students at YVC — an education that has prepared them well for any opportunities they may have, including attending these colleges,” said Dan Peters, English instructor.  

Story by Stefanie Menard, AA-DTA ’05, communications consultant. Photos by Dustin Wunderlich, director of community relations and courtesy photos. 

Further Reading

95th Commencement Ceremony – Celebrating the Class of 2024

They come from different places, diverse backgrounds with their own unique obstacles and successes. But one thing remains the same, they have all persevered and found success at Yakima Valley College. The 2024 graduating class, which included graduates ranging in age from 18 to 50+, were celebrated alongside their families and friends during the 95th Commencement Ceremony held on June 14. Read more