There's an old saying that cream always rises to the top.
It's a dairy term but also true of five students at Ceres High School who are finishing up their high school careers as "cream of the crop" of the 349-member class.
Eva Borden has claimed the honor of being Class of 2017 valedictorian with a grade point average of 4.357; while four students - Ethan Carter, Karla Schmidt, Nick Parnoutsoukian and Mainghor Tang - all share salutatorian honors for achieving the exact high GPA of 4.333. All were able to grasp such an achievement only by excelling at Advanced Placement (AP) classes without burning out their brain cells.
"It's amazing," said Ceres High School Principal Linda Stubbs. "It's awesome, isn't it? These are the top ‘two' because four of them have the exact same GPA."
Eva, of course, will deliver the valedictorian speech on Friday evening while the salutatorian speech will be given by Schmidt.
Borden plans to stress to her audience the importance of "enjoying where we are and what we have" and casting off worry.
Schmidt admits that since her freshman year she wanted to be one of the speakers at graduation in June 2017.
"It's been a dream basically for me," said Schmidt. "In junior high I had good grades so I was like, ‘I'm going to continue on that pathway.' So when I got in the junior year I also took four AP classes. From then I just started focusing a lot of my studies and my classes in order to try to be on the top."
A difficult English class made life as a junior very difficult.
Karla is off to U.C. Santa Barbara. She wanted to major in biology with her sights on going into the medical field. Her interest was sparked when she took an anatomy class as a junior.
"I really like the human body and I want to help others so I decided to go into the medical field because they help people," said Schmidt. "I used to want to be a surgeon but then I realized I'm too emotional for that so I can't do that. I'm trying to be a doctor or a nurse."
She cultivated a heart help children when she worked with the ASES after-school program at La Rosa Elementary School. Karla also fought against her shyness when working the phone banks for the Jeff Denham for Congress campaign.
Eva Borden said she will attend Santa Clara University. She struggled with where to land after leaving Ceres and on her second visit to the campus she "just knew that this is where I was going to fit in and excel and they have a really good program."
Eva wants to major in Child Studies. Santa Clara integrates child development and education - important aspects since she wants to become a teacher. She sees herself coming back after college and seeking employment with Ceres Unified School District. Ceres High School has become a family tradition with her grandparents having graduated there as well as her mother and aunt and uncle.
Eva not only managed a heavy class schedule, but was employed as a dance teacher for three- and four-year-olds at Footnotes Dance Studio. She was in Leadership all four years and served as Class of 2017 president for three years. Eva also served as an ambassador, and was a member of CSF and Math Club.
"Being an ambassador was important to me," said Eva, "because I was a freshman who needed an ambassador so I thought it was so cool I could be an ambassador to them."
She added that she often volunteers to help kids, saying "I love kids."
Eva comes from good stock. Her parents, Jeff and Tina Borden, own businesses - mom runs Supermom's Frozen Yogurt in Ceres - and two siblings before her (George and Dia) set her on a good pathway.
"Being valedictorian was always a goal of mine but I didn't ever really have the confidence that I was going to get it. So obviously I pushed myself a lot. I took five AP classes my junior year and four this year and I worked just really hard to get this spot. I put my school work but I wanted to enjoy all the things I was involved with in high school."
AP classes, Borden said, are challenging and require dedication and motivation.
"You have to push yourself to do the work and to work hard to make sure your work is quality work," said Eva.
Calculus was work, she said, but bearing down required her to shelve procrastination.
"I wasn't really aiming to be valedictorian or have the highest GPA," said Carter. His mother suggested he start taking AP classes because they are more challenging and so, as a junior, he signed up for four of them. "I thought I would be able to handle it and if I was able to then I definitely should. I didn't want to accept going lower than I could just because it was easier."
The son of Larry Carter and Lori Bell, Ethan has been accepted to attend U.C. Berkeley where he will major in mathematics. But at this point he admits that he has "no clue" what he wants to do with his life. He likes math because he was always good at it and he has "fun" doing it.
Carter enjoyed participating in track and field as a CHS sophomore, junior and senior. In track he learned the value of teamwork and cooperation while appreciating the camaraderie and support. He also joined the Math Club.
With his long hair and facial hair, Ethan admits he looks more the part of a skater than a scholar. That may make him fit into the Berkeley scene well.
Nick Parnoutsoukian had a lot to live up to given how his brother Jack was salutatorian in 2010 and his sister Sonia was valedictorian in 2013.
"We all just enjoy learning," said Nick when asked what motivated the children of John and Lillian Parnoutsoukian. The family owns an auto shop in downtown Ceres. "All of us are just passionate about education in general. Our parents always motivated us to try to learn. We kind of just absorbed that. It's kind of weird to say but I enjoy coming to school and learning - even if it's difficult."
Nick, who took four AP classes as a junior and four as a senior, wants to become an engineer, leaning toward aerospace or mechanical engineering.
"I wish I took more AP classes. It's kind of a weird thing."
His immediate plans are to attend Modesto Junior College and then transfer to a four-year university.
Nick enjoyed being involved in Math Club where he engaged in a cardboard boat building competition.
Mainghor Tang came to the United States with his parents, Meanheng Tang and Lin Chhong from Cambodia when he was 10.
"I was shooting for the top 10," said Tang, "but what motivated me was just watching how hard my parents worked to put me where I am so I wanted to show the same work ethic to succeed. They weren't as blessed with education because they didn't have the same opportunities there. I do so that's what I'm trying to achieve."
When he arrived in 2009 he had to brush up on the weak English skills he had. Because he could not find another Cambodian on campus, he was forced to interact with solely English speaker. In a year he picked up English fluently.
Not only did he struggle to learn English, the culture shock was something he had to grow accustomed to.
"Cambodia is much more respectful when they speak to adults."
Mainghor has been accepted into U.C. Davis where he plans to major in computer science and engineering.
Carter said he was definitely miss his experience at Ceres High, mostly the students and faculty. While many of his teachers were favorites, he took away much from Toni Rouse, his freshman English teacher and coach of the Academic Decathlon team, of which he was a member all four years.
"Spending so much time with her, she's been so encouraging and helpful to the whole team, helping them to have the confidence to try their best," said Ethan. "She taught me to try even if I don't think I can succeed, to always give my best."
Schmidt, too, said she will miss the teachers and staff, particularly math teacher Abel Maestas. She was a student in three of his classes, including AP Stats and AP Calculus.
"I wanted to be in his class twice this year so I took him twice," said Karla, daughter of Otto Schmidt and Celina Gomez.
Karla also learned much from Ben Middleton, who runs a rigorous English course.
"I'm going to miss being a Bulldog," confessed Borden. "I think I've had a really good experience over the last four years and just the environment that this school has. The Admin and staff members are so supportive and the teachers put you first in almost every situation and they're always looking out for your best interest and success. I'm definitely going to miss being with my friends every day. All of my friends are going to different colleges so it's going to be a shock when we all move away and not seeing each other every day and doing the same classes."
Mr. Anthony Gerads was one of her favorite teachers.
"I was in his biology class freshman year and then junior year I was in the AP Bio class and this year I'm his T.A. Room 30 has been my home on this campus. It's just a home for a lot of people and it's brought me a lot of friendships in high school and even a bond with him. He's helped me a lot through my high school experience."
Parnoutsoukian agrees that CHS is a wonderful school.
"The teachers are dedicated to making sure we learn and the students - at least the ones I was around - were always dedicated to following what the teacher said and actually respecting in class," said Nick.
He especially appreciated being in the classrooms of English teacher Ben Middleton despite the class being "extremely difficult." Were there times when Nick hated him? "Yes," he laughed. "When I entered his class I thought I was mediocre at my English skills. I realized I didn't know anything. Through the class, even though it's very difficult and it's an extreme amount of work, he pushes you hard and he expects near perfection. At the end of the year I realized how much I improved and it really helped me learn my place."
Parnoutsoukian also profoundly appreciated teacher Maestas. His devotion to math increased through the interactions he had with the teacher.
"I'll definitely miss the staff and my peers," said Tang. "I agree with them - the environment here is great. Moving out to Davis is going to be completely different."
He will probably have less time to enjoy his artistic endeavors. This year his AP Art class led to his entering art competitions, with colored pencils being his choice of medium.
Mainghor also listed Maestas and Middleton as favorites but enjoyed Robin Williams' AP U.S. History class.
"It taught me a lot about American history and that's how I fell in love with history in general."