One of our valedictorians epitomizes the potential our younger students have as they emerge from high school. The other embodies what is possible when you have a dream and a work ethic. Together these two exceptional graduates represent what Mount Royal University convocation is all about — possibility.
The old saying about the tough getting going doesn’t begin to describe Mount Royal University valedictorian Debra Raoufian.
As a working mother, Raoufian excelled in the Child and Youth Care Counsellor Diploma program, while caring for her son who has special needs.
She also overcame a learning disability of her own.
“Mount Royal gave me the opportunity to fulfil a dream I never thought would be a reality — my dream of getting an education,” says 40 year-old Raoufian.
It was through Mount Royal’s Accessibility Services that Raoufian was diagnosed with severe attention deficit disorder (ADD), a learning disability, that had plagued her into her late 30s.
Enlightened by her diagnosis, Raoufian earned Dean’s Honour Roll status and a scholarship for excellence through the Child and Youth Care Association of Alberta.
Raoufian’s aptitude for helping struggling children developed 12 years ago when her son, Omid, was born premature and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy. This experience set Raoufian on a path of service.
She began volunteering with the Calgary Health Region as the parent voice on numerous committees and delivered presentations to medical personnel and students on the value of family-centred care. Raoufian even gave input on the design of the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
At Mount Royal, Raoufian continued to be drawn to students who were struggling, earning the moniker “Mama Deb” for mentoring and encouraging her classmates.
Marlene Kingsmith, program coordinator, Child and Youth Care Counsellor Diploma program, says Raoufian was such an inspiration to her classmates that she was also named valedictorian of her class.
“Debra is all about hope: hope for herself and hope for kids with special needs,” says Kingsmith. “She is going to be a very strong advocate for the rights of children — I could see her as the Minster of Children and Youth Services one day.”
Raoufian plans to pursue the Bachelor of Applied Child Studies at Mount Royal and would ultimately like to become a high school counsellor working with youth struggling with mental and emotional issues.
“I still can’t believe it,” says a teary-eyed Raoufian on receiving the valedictorian honour. “At first I didn’t even know how to pronounce the word properly because I never thought I would ever need to say it.
“I hope this will give my son hope that he can do it too. His mom has a learning disability and I did it.”
— Jondrea De Ruyter, June 26, 2010
Sometimes success is all about attitude.
Mount Royal University student James Vultaggio believes attitude helped him become valedictorian.
The 25-year-old admits due to pressing timetables, he has not done the extra-curricular volunteer work that some of his fellow students have. But he believes he has made a difference in the classroom.
“I was always ready to get involved and debate or help another student who didn’t understand material,” says Vultaggio.
Cora Pettipas, the assistant professor who nominated Vultaggio as valedictorian, agrees.
“He was a perfect student,” says Pettipas. “He was always willing to share his ideas and work hard. His attitude was so positive about school, life and work.
“You always have leaders in a class and they can be positive or negative. If you have a positive leader in a class it is a lot more fun and productive.”
Vultaggio — a Bachelor of Applied Financial Services graduate — didn’t come to Mount Royal as a positive role model.
“I came in as a young teenager who didn’t care too much about following rules or learning. I came here because my parents told me I had to.
“At first I was enjoying more of my life then studying. But the interaction with the teachers in a close classroom setting changed that.
“They were able to show me how this stuff related to real life and how to make it interesting and then I enjoyed the material. It’s not difficult to get an ‘A’ when you enjoy the material.”
His about-face has paid off.
Vultaggio has gone on to earn several professional designations, including passing a real estate license and the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) exam, something Pettipas says only 40% people who take the exam achieve.
Vultaggio, who still has to complete the work experience portion of the CFP, says: “Mount Royal has changed me from not wanting to learn, to wanting to learn.”
Now working as a full-time financial analyst (as a result of a strong Directed Field Studies internship), Vultaggio says an MBA may even be on the horizon.
When asked what advice he would share with a first-year student coming to Mount Royal with his original attitude, he laughs.
“He’s not going to listen to me, but I would tell him to listen to the teachers … they know what they are talking about.”
— Anika Van Wyk, June 26, 2010