Jenna Neumaier: Valedictorian. Steven Neumaier: Salutatorian.
Graduating first and second in a class of 503 is never an easy task, but for this dynamic brother and sister combination at Lancaster High School, it is the culmination of four years of challenging academics and a dedicated focus on achieving their personal best, even though they are twins.
But make no mistake about it – these two are not your typical nerds, hidden away in an ivory tower of intellectual exclusion; they are all-around students and typical teenagers – in fact, looking at their high school resumes makes you wonder, how do they do it?
Between them they have taken 17 Advanced Placement classes, receiving credit for all of them. Leadership titles and honors surround their accomplishments, from Jenna’s role as vice president of the National Honor Society and varsity softball captain, as well as a national Distinguished Student Leader, to Steven’s first-place ranking in New York State in the 1,000 meters event, which has earned him a place on the Cornell University track team. Add in community service, multiple National Honor Societies and a social life, and you find yourself in awe.
Overachievers, yes, times two. They may be twins, but in some ways they are nothing alike, except when it comes to achievement. “Jenna works harder than me,” laughs Steven. “She’s more competitive about the grades.” A self-described “lazy perfectionist,” Steven comes across as more laid back, always with a smile on his face. Jenna has the same smile, but has a sparkling intensity that speaks to her determination. “I am more competitive,” Jenna admits. “I wanted to be valedictorian; it was kind of a personal challenge for me. I like to do the best I can in everything I do; I guess I am a true perfectionist.”
Adds Steve, “We knew we were in the top 10, but it didn’t really matter to me where I ended up. To be honest, being second in my class didn’t mean that much in and of itself, but it meant a lot that Jenna and I were first and second, that we had achieved those honors together. I assumed I would be third or fourth, so it was nice that we ended up so close.”
Jenna and Steve have different styles when it comes to learning and balancing academics and activities. They are in perfect agreement when it comes to acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses – Steve is perhaps more economical and efficient when it comes to time management; Jenna prefers to take her time. According to Steve, “I don’t plan my time the way Jenna does; we work differently and think differently. I get things done quickly, but I actually think she works harder than me.”
“I am more meticulous; if I have the time, I prefer to do things very carefully and thoroughly; I really do spend the maximum amount of time at everything,” admits Jenna. “I spend time every day going over my homework and writing essays – I don’t really study that much for exams because I’ve been studying all year.”
“It’s funny, in track, I was always the last one to finish workouts even though I wasn’t the slowest one on the team,” she laughs. “That’s just the way I do things; it is what helps me to improve. Somehow, Steve makes it all look so effortless – I think I get more stressed out.”
Steve is quick to add, however, “I do get stressed out; sometimes I feel like I overextended myself in high school – Running is a great stress reliever. It lets me relax and get away from the other pressures.”
There is a spirit of friendly competition between them that Jenna laughs about. “Steve was born seven minutes before me– I like to blame him for that– and I still try to always get the front seat in the car.”
They describe their relationship as “a really close brother and sister” who did everything together when they were younger; they know each other’s silly inside jokes and say they grew up as best friends. Now they will head down different paths after graduation. Jenna will attend Syracuse University in the Honors College, where she will study biochemistry and neuroscience, and Steven will attend Cornell University, where he will study environmental engineering.
“We wanted to go to different colleges,” says Steve. “In high school we found our own interests; we have never been the kind of twins who were exactly the same. I got really involved in track, and Jenna had softball and leadership. But it will be weird next year not being together.”
Adds Jenna, “I think our relationship through the years has helped us to become more creative people and have balance in our lives. As twins, we really do have a special closeness. I will really miss Steve next year, but it will be less competitive in terms of grades. I want him to do well and to be happy. I love going to his track meets; I think I care more about how he does than he does; I get really nervous for him!”
As graduation approaches and graduation speeches loom on the horizon, Jenna and Steve definitely look forward to the future, but have different opinions on their speeches, which will remain secret until graduation.
“I wish I didn’t have to give a speech,” admits Steve. “It’s not something I’m comfortable with – giving advice is the usual focus of graduation speeches – but that’s not me. So I’ll try to make it a little light, tell some jokes, and then introduce Jenna.”
Jenna, on the other hand, is excited about giving her speech, saying, “I used to be scared of giving speeches, but I took Public Speaking, and I also got used to speaking in my Leadership classes. I had to speak at eighth-grade Information Night and on other occasions – I got more confident, but I will definitely practice my speech a lot before graduation!”
While graduating first and second in their class is certainly an accomplishment both will remember, Jenna and Steve know it’s only the beginning.
“I used to think being first was most important,” muses Jenna. “But I came to realize that external recognition is not as meaningful as the kind that comes from inside. I know for myself that I did something that was difficult.”
And so does Steve, even if he came in a close second.
Amy Rumizen is a local freelance writer.