There are more than 800 students in this year’s graduating class at Peachtree Ridge High School, but the two highest-ranked academically come from the same family.
Valedictorian Alice Ao and salutatorian Bill Ao are sister and brother. And, as twins go, about as different personality-wise as a pair can be.
Alice is the go-getter, the Type A personality whose goal was to graduate at the top of her class. Bill is more laid back, the type who can keep his sister calm, he says. Their personalities balance each other, which the twins credit for their academic success.
“If I didn’t have her, I would not have been salutatorian,” Bill said. “If I get a bad grade, lose hope, she’d be there to support me. She helps me maintain my motivation.”
Said Alice: “Our whole family is very supportive. (Bill and I) are not competitive. My goal was always to be valedictorian, but my brother wasn’t like that. I’m so happy for him. I always feel like his success is my success.
“We always want each other to succeed.”
Thank goodness for that, their father said. As the twins grew up, he said he and his wife never had to worry about a sibling rivalry.
“If they were really competitive, we would be in trouble,” said Jiening Ao, who is an engineer. “We feel we are blessed.”
Alice is the oldest by two minutes. In typical Type A fashion she says “And that’s very important.” But the most important thing has always been for the two to be together.
That’s why Alice, who was recently named a Presidential Scholar, had to make a difficult decision when she was in eighth grade. She was chosen in a lottery to attend the prestigious Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology — the No. 1-ranked school in the state.
The trouble was Bill was not. It wasn’t based on grades, but random chance. But with her brother unable to attend, Alice decided to turn down the opportunity and go to Peachtree Ridge, where the twins were zoned to attend.
It worked out wonderfully for both.
“Looking back, going to Peachtree Ridge was a great thing to happen to me,” Alice said. “Everything happens for a reason. This is the best place for us.”
Graduation is bringing a major change for the twins, however. Though they’ve never been apart, the two have decided to attend different universities. Alice is going to Yale, while Bill is headed to Princeton.
“This (will be) the first time we’ve been apart,” Alice said of their college choices. “At the beginning (of looking at colleges), I thought we’d stay together. But we decided it would be best to go our separate ways.”
Bill said they have chosen schools that will bring out the best in them. He thinks Yale will help bring out Alice’s personal side while Princeton will challenge him to become more driven.
The similarity they will share in college is computer science. Alice, who is motivated to get more girls involved in coding (she even hosts work shops to promote it) will major in computer science and may minor in journalism. Bill also will pursue computer science, and may focus on financial engineering.
“It’s going to be tough (being apart), but I think it’s the right move for both of us,” he said.
Losing the final months of their senior year to the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough. Driven as she is, Alice said she’s always dreamed of graduation and addressing the crowd as valedictorian.
“It’s super disappointing,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to graduation for years now. It’s been bittersweet, especially for my parents.
“It does feel said that we are missing out on some of the big moments. But we’re trying to stay positive and focus on what is ahead of us.”
A bright future is what lies ahead. And while Yale is about a two-hour drive from Princeton, their familial bond will keep them even closer, Bill said.
“Having a twin is has been a great thing that has happened to me in my life,” he said.