They never let their foot off the pedal.
They never allowed the lure of good times or the pressure of peers to detract from their goal.
They never gave themselves an ill-timed break. They never took a vacation in the middle of assignment.
Neither the infatuation of a new relationship nor the heartache of a failed love deterred them. The frustration of a unreasonable teacher didn't detract them; the nerve-racking quest for perfection didn't derail them.
We salute valedictorians and salutatorians for their intelligence, but I'm not sure we herald their strength.
It's easy to say the vast majority of high school students lacked the smarts to land at the head of the class, but unyielding discipline may be as much an X factor as academic prowess.
Beach sunsets may have bested biology, Moe's Mondays may have mattered more than mathematics — for the weak-minded. But the driven few you will find on commemorative pages in Hillsborough regional sections this Friday, embraced a steely determination, even though they didn't have to display such resolve.
Honestly, they could have done just enough to make the National Honor Society, scored well on the aptitude tests and impressed the college admission officials with extracurricular activities and community service.
They could have suffered a hiccup in ninth grade or endured a stumble in 11th grade and still been deserving of accolades.
But in an era where grade-point averages look more like a bad pitcher's ERA, these students climbed higher than anyone else at their schools.
Sure, cynics may argue that some of the winners inflated their averages with easy online offerings and cake-walking college courses, but one has to overlook all the obstacles of adolescence to achieve such a jaded view. Think back to the temptations of your teenage years and then exponentially adjust them for the 21st century.
Drugs and alcohol are seemingly more accessible, sexual encounters are more common, and a cavalcade of teens are losing themselves in the world of role-playing video games for days at a time.
The simple but intoxicating freedom of just driving a car remains enticing for anyone with a newly minted license. While these students successfully aimed at being the best, back in the day I aimed at having enough money to get a peanut-buster parfait from Dairy Queen every Sunday.
And don't forget, the rebellious nature of young adulthood still can prompt a student to simply stop caring. Turn up the music, tune out the advice.
And people want to quibble over decimals?
Oh no. Stand and salute these young men and women for not only surviving but thriving at the highest level.
And hopefully, all the valedictorians and salutatorians recognize they've earned both audible applause and unspoken admiration. Trust me, there may be students making wisecracks or whispering snide remarks, but deep down in their souls lie a mix of envy and esteem.
I'm still awed by the valedictorian and salutatorian from my graduating class, and I'm happy to report they're both doing great.
So to all the county's valedictorians and salutatorians I say bask in the glow, enjoy the spotlight and deliver words of wisdom to your classmates at commencement. Not only have you managed to craft a stratospheric GPA, you've also run society's gantlet and lived to tell about it.
That's all I'm saying.