By Caroline K. Reff
“I’LL JUST TRY. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN.”
That’s what Danielle Yerdon told herself when she applied to the prestigious and highly competitive Yale University. The 2016 valedictorian of Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School originally thought she’d attend college nearby, possibly in Rochester, but she couldn’t stop thinking about the Ivy League. A top student, she wanted to study biology and also continue to pursue her life-long love of dance. Yale was a great fit, and, although she knew the school only accepted about 5 percent of its applicants, she decided it couldn’t hurt to apply.
“Waiting was nerve wracking,” she said, but when the decision letter finally arrived, she waited for her parents, Brian and Susan, to come home, so that they could open it together. “You never know” suddenly turned into “Welcome to Yale!”
Yerdon has never been one to back down from a challenge. In addition to her rigorous classes at Grimes, she was a member of the Student Council and Peer Ministry, played the flute in the band, and participated in many community service projects both in school and with the youth group at St. Daniel’s Parish in Lyncourt. Her greatest commitment, however, was dance, something she started at age 4. She continued to dance even when she was diagnosed with a severe case of scoliosis in middle school. Her condition meant that for two years she had to wear a back brace for 22 hours a day.
“I got to take the brace off for dance class for two hours a day,” she said. “Dancing helped me keep my sanity. It taught me perseverance. I can’t imagine not being able to dance every day.”
Now a thriving freshman at the New Haven, Connecticut, campus, Yerdon credits her parents, teachers and the individualized attention she received at Grimes for helping to push her toward her dreams. She intends to keep dancing at Yale and also study biology with a special interest in prosthetics and orthotics.
“It’s amazing what kind of technology is happening in these areas,” she said. “I’ve always loved science, and my dance experience has given me a greater understanding of movement, so it’s a great combination.”
“It’s incredible here,” she added. “I’ve met people from every corner of the globe, and I hope to make a difference.”
Once again, this determined young women intends to try — because you never know what will happen.
All of the diocesan high school 2016 valedictorians are now pursuing their dreams as college freshman. Here’s what they had to say about how they got there:
BISHOP LUDDEN JR./SR. HIGH SCHOOL:
Walker is now a freshman at Stony Brook University majoring in biomedical engineering. He hopes to eventually pursue cancer research. “My Catholic education helped me prepare for college by teaching me hard work, understanding, cooperation and, most importantly, keeping true to my faith,” said Walker. “College is a time when many students are tested in their faith; however, I feel Bishop Ludden has provided me with a strong foundation in Christ that I can rely upon. It is a very reassuring feeling for me, especially since I’m six hours away from home. The Bishop Ludden community is praying for me, and that gives me the motivation to do the very best that I can in college.”
NOTRE DAME JR./SR. HIGH SCHOOL:
Schmalz now attends Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he is majoring in computer systems engineering. He plans to pursue a career as a computer/software engineer. “Catholic education has instilled in me many values that have become cornerstones to my character. Perhaps the most important is discipline” said Schmalz. “My time at Notre Dame and in the NJROTC has taught me selflessness, which is a priceless trait needed to be an effective leader. Thanks to Notre Dame and the Notre Dame NJROTC Unit, I now have the tools necessary to be successful and create a better future.
SETON CATHOLIC CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL:
Haykal is a biology major at Binghamton University with plans to one day be a pediatrician. “I had 13 years of wonderful Catholic education, and I am thankful that I not only learned and built long-lasting relationships with my teachers and classmates but also to have shared a spiritual journey with them,” she said. “The small class sizes gave me the opportunity to reach and attain my goals, as well as prepare myself for college and for the future. (Catholic school) really showed me how I can make a difference in the world and helped me develop into the person that I am today.”
Caroline K. Reff is a freelance writer in Syracuse, New York, and a special projects consultant for the Catholic Schools Office.