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MMC Announces Class of 2024 Valedictorians

Five students are set to make history at MMC’s 2024 commencement ceremony on May 20 as the College’s largest group of co-valedictorians—with the youngest among them just 19 years old. 

MMC students selected to be valedictorians hold the highest GPA through the January semester of the year of commencement and are on track to earn at least 60 credits through the Spring semester. Melanie Espinal ’24, Margarita Jane Gamarnik ’24, Gianna Mancuso ’24, Haley Jane Massey ’24, and Claire Martine Thomure ’24 all qualified for the academic honor.

MMC has had multiple co-valedictorians before, with four in 2000 and two co-valedictorians as recently as 2021. This year’s record-breaking group represents a diverse set of majors in the liberal and performing arts and a range of home states, from Wisconsin to Virginia. Each, however, has made excellence a habit, regularly earning spots on the Dean’s List.

“Our 2024 valedictorians are exceptional in their own right and also exemplify the MMC community’s talent, drive, perseverance, and spirit,” said Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs/Dean of the Faculty Katie Langan. “We look forward to celebrating them and all our graduates at commencement.”

Learn more about our Class of 2024 valedictorians below!

 

Gianna Mancuso
Major: Politics and Human Rights
Hometown: Jackson, New Jersey

Not many can say they earned their bachelor’s degree as teenagers, but 19-year-old Mancuso will soon be among the rarefied few. While in high school, she simultaneously completed two years of community college and graduated in 2022 with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. That, with summer and J-term classes, put her on the fast track to a long-held personal goal: When she crosses the commencement stage in May, she’ll become the first in her family to graduate from college and do so at the head of her class.

It wasn’t an easy road, or one Mancuso often shared with others—even some of her professors didn’t know her age. But she’s proud to have traveled it. “Taking this path meant immediately throwing myself into higher-level coursework and adapting to the elevated expectations of professors, but I knew I would not fall behind if I applied myself and put in my full effort,” she said. “I will not sugarcoat it—I definitely did not have a traditional college experience. However, I am beyond happy to say that I earned my bachelor’s degree as a teenager. I feel incredibly proud to know everything I’ve done has paid off.”

Representation matters: As an MMC valedictorian, Mancuso is excited to give visibility to first-generation college students and show the world what they can achieve. “Getting to represent a group of people who often find themselves at a disadvantage is an opportunity I hold very close to my heart,” she said.

Next steps: After graduating, Mancuso will attend New Jersey’s Seton Hall Law School on a full tuition scholarship. She’ll work to obtain her Juris Doctor degree by 2027 and plans to become a family and divorce attorney.

 

Margarita Jane Gamarnik
Major: Musical Theatre (BFA)
Hometown: Reston, Virginia

Growing up in a household where musical ability was nurtured, Gamarnik learned to play the piano early. But she discovered her true passion for singing and acting in the second grade when her teenage neighbor recruited her to audition for the local high school’s production of Les Miserables. Gamarnik calls the show, where she played Young Cosette, her lightbulb moment—and she’s been shining bright since.

At MMC, where Gamarnik has starred in productions such as The Spongebob Musical and Flower Power: A One-Act Play, she has further honed her talent. “The classes within my major and arts electives have been transformative, and I am grateful for all the growth I’ve had as an actor,” she said. “I also love that I’ve had the opportunity to take so many interesting liberal arts courses.”

In her time at MMC, Gamarnik said she’s built relationships she treasures and learned a few life lessons: that her individuality is her superpower, but collaboration is everything; that leaning on others is a sign of strength, not weakness; and that kindness goes a long way. “I leave MMC feeling comfortable in my skin and with a level of self-assurance that little Margarita would be really excited about,” she said.

Her advice for first-years: “You can never go wrong with an open mind and a positive attitude,” she said. “You will enjoy your college experience so much more if you don’t limit yourself. Our community has your back, and this is the perfect time to push yourself in social, academic, and artistic arenas.”

Next steps: Gamarnik, who works part-time as a math and science tutor, plans to audition for theatre and TV/film projects that inspire her and other jobs that allow her to share her passion for the arts with people of all ages.

 

Melanie Espinal
Major: Film and Media Studies
Hometown: New York, New York

Espinal has long been a fan of the big and small screen and cognizant of their power. “Delving into different films and television shows and analyzing them—maybe even over-analyzing—has always been one of my favorite hobbies,” she said. “The media we consume is so impactful to our everyday lives, how we interpret the world, and our identities.”

At MMC, which she transferred to in her sophomore year, she found an opportunity to study film in a way that fit her interests, exploring the intricacies, significance, and impact of film auteurs’ creative choices. But, with the College’s focus on interdisciplinarity, she was also encouraged to stretch and explore new areas of study she might not have been open to.

“I’ve taken courses on subjects in the sciences and humanities that I was never interested in prior or too scared to try because I thought I wasn’t good at them,” she said. That, she added, led to a greater understanding of how seemingly disparate topics connect and work their way into an art form like film. It’s just one example of how being an MMC student has expanded her horizons. “At MMC, I have learned the value of trying new things,” she said. “There are so many opportunities and experiences available to you in unexpected places.”

Her advice for first-years: “I appreciate always feeling welcome and safe at MMC and having professors who truly care about me as a student and a human being,” she said. “My advice to first-year students is to get to know as many of your peers as possible and build connections with your professors, especially if you take multiple classes with them.”

Next steps: Espinal is exploring her options—and thanks to MMC knows there are plenty of them. “MMC has opened my eyes to many career avenues that I never thought possible or even considered,” she said. “I’ve decided that I want to help facilitate the creation of underrepresented stories in cinema, whether working in an administrative position at a production company or studio or for a film festival.”

 

Haley Jane Massey
Major: Musical Theatre (BFA)
Hometown: Nolensville, Tennessee

Though Massey’s parents have always pushed her to do her best, they never insisted she get perfect grades. Still, she set that goal for herself and reached it: When she graduates this May, she’ll have achieved an uninterrupted streak of straight As from her early years of schooling through college. “I’ve always made learning as much as I could while doing my best on assessments and projects my focus,” Massey said. “I feel very lucky to have had such an amazing education back home in Tennessee and here at MMC, and I never wanted to take that for granted.”

Massey’s MMC stage credits include the Mainstage production Lysistrata and Playwriting Project Scenic Route. She’s also appeared in the Polluted Light Theatre Company’s NYC production of Spring Awakening. Her classes and performances, she said, have taught her the importance of being her truest self. “No one can do, think, or live life quite like you can,” Massey said. “No one has the exact same experiences or story, and I hope to carry that insight with me throughout the rest of my life.”

MMC’s extracurricular clubs have also been a source of learning, helping her sharpen her strengths—including a knack for improv—and leadership skills. “Joining the student improv troupe Off The Dome and serving as its president has been the most amazing, hilarious, and rewarding experience,” she said. “It is so cool to be passionate about something you love to do and get to do it with people you love every week.”

Her advice for first-years: “College can be really stressful or really incredible, depending on your mindset,” she said. “If you take everything as an opportunity to learn and keep an open mind, you open yourself up to so many opportunities and incredible experiences.”

Next steps: Massey will work and perform improv at New York’s Broadway Comedy Club and plans to pursue a career in musical theatre, comedy, and acting.

 

Claire Martine Thomure
Major: Musical Theatre with a Music minor
Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Thomure remembers the first play her mom took her and her siblings to see: a production of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Wisconsin’s First Stage Children’s Theatre. The family became regulars at the troupe’s performances—and it wouldn’t be long before Thomure went from being a cheering audience member to finding her place in the cast. She joined First Stage’s professional company for high schoolers, discovered her voice as an artist, and grew inspired to keep pursuing Theatre in college.

Attending MMC brought her the training opportunities she wanted and more, allowing her to stretch in her studies of Acting and Music. “I really appreciate that Marymount allowed me to study Musical Theatre as well as acting for the camera and take music classes like songwriting,” she said.

Thomure leaves MMC with several production credits under her belt—including Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Lysistrata and She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms—as well as a deep respect for her professors, who she said supported her throughout her time at the College. “My favorite professors have encouraged me to express myself, pushed me to reach further, and guided me as I’ve honed my craft while at school,” she said.

Her advice for first-years: “Go see the city! Take in art at the Whitney Museum, experimental theatre at La MaMa, films at IFC Center, music at the Bowery Ballroom.” That and believe in yourself. “It’s kitschy, but it’s true! I have learned to accept, embrace, and celebrate myself over the course of my college career,” Thomure said.

Next steps: Thomure plans to audition for roles and look for opportunities to play her original songs live. And she’ll continue making the city that never sleeps her home. “I love the fast pace of living in the city, and I consider both New York and Milwaukee my home,” she said. “I feel so lucky to live in a place with so much going on.”

Published: May 02, 2024