Meet Whitney Sandelin, Nicole Ferrero and the Carli twins - Jill and Samantha. They are what some at Lodi High School refer to as AP kids. Last week they graduated at the top of their class, with GPAs above 4.0. They are high achieving, ambitious and confident. Parents, teachers and classmates wonder how they did it all. Sports. Honors and advanced placement classes. Drama. Community service.
Being a kid
They are the new generation of overachieving girls who can do anything, even if that means ignoring the drama and insecurities of adolescence. Anything a boy can do - or anything their parents have done - they can do just as well, if not better. They are not the women from 10, 20, 40 years ago that sat in the back of the classroom and weren't encouraged to be the leading sports figures of their school. They are in front, ready to earn their keep. Sustained on a drive to get into their college of choice, these overachieving girls started as super children and refuse to be anything less as adult women. They have opportunity in front of them, even if they are told golf, medical school and the highest ranks are only for they boys.
They jammed day planners with post-it notes, white-out marks and scheduled times to watch TV.
At 5:30 a.m., their alarm clocks would blare. Shower. Make-up. Hair. Decisions had to be made: the Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie with the jeans or skirt?
They drove their Prius, Chevy Trailblazer and the '94 BMW to the Lodi High School parking lot just before 7:20 a.m. Nearly each of their six classes were AP or honors: calculus, physics, English, government, economics, statistics. Any thought involving slacking was counteracted by the reminder that they might be harming their college chances.
Stressful? Not yet
At 2:10, when most students are antsy from a day spent under fluorescent lighting and teachers' lectures, the AP girls are only halfway done.
"After school I would usually have play practice, then a piano lesson and a sport - usually golf or swimming," Sandelin said.
That's not including her participation in the Greater Lodi Youth Commission, California Scholarship Federation, Grace Church Youth Church and being a swim instructor.
Sam and Jill Carli - the twins who are naturally beautiful and equally down to earth - also filled their schedules with events for band, cross country, track, CSF, Science Olympiad, Nerds Club and Band Council.
Nicole Ferrero's evenings were spent at the Woodbridge Country Club. After her older sister went on to be a professional golfer, she too, found the course.
"Golf is not an option in that family," Lodi High School principal Bill Atterberry said of the three Ferrero sisters who are each known for their golf game.
But Nicole Ferrero says she doesn't want to go pro. She wants to trade in her pink and purple polo shirts and Oakley sunglasses for a business suit and her own corner office.
She, too, is in the top of her class, a member of CSF, junior women's club (for golf), girl's varsity golf, American Junior Golf Association, United States Golf Association, Block L and JV girl's basketball.
In high school, grades matter, GPA matters, everything matters.
These overachieving girls have a secret for success: a collection of the best teachers, the supportive (and very proud) parents and the vision of opportunity. They know to aim for higher than a 4.0 GPA. They know to be themselves and have fun. They even know success is about marketing - themselves.
Each of these overachieving girls is pretty, thin, athletic. They are smart, but not nerds (though they joke that they are). They can write, solve a math equation and order complicated Starbucks drinks.
When friends become the competition
Like all other students, life as a high school is about friends. And hang out time is not something to be sacrificed. One thing that makes it easy for overachieving students to build relationships is that they become friends with each other.
"My closest friends and I are in the top of the AP classes," Ferrero said.
Through school and sports, when can these super students find time to just be kids? Clinical psychologist Tim Miller says don't worry, most of the time, these girls can handle it all. They agree.
They watch movies like "The Holiday." They are addicted to prime time shows: "Lost" and "House." They get together and giggle about girl things, but the Carli twins will take on the boys at Mario Party, a videogame, any time.
Usually, it doesn't matter what they do. Just as long as they can be together.
"On Wednesday, we went to lunch and sat in my car for three hours. We just talked," said Sandelin, gushing over her friends as though they were a crush.
They are friends. But they are also each other's competition. Against each other, and against every other overachieving student in the country.
"There is a real competitiveness in the AP environment - almost to a negative point," Atterberry said. "The tension in the classes show the competitiveness."
The AP classes are rigorous. The students pay attention. They at least pretend to be interested, even if they aren't. AP teachers spend an entire year writing the curriculum, Atterberry said.
While they often seem overscheduled, these girls thrive on it. It's fun.
"My parents tell me, 'Oh my God, you're doing so much,'" Sandelin said.
To her, there's no other choice.
"As time goes on, people keep setting the bar higher," she said.
It's true. Colleges want more.
"A 3.5 GPA doesn't cut it anymore. Everyone is shooting for a 4.0," Atterberry said.
These girls want even higher than that. With so many AP classes, they are earning 4.2 and 4.3 GPAs.
Breaking the gender and generational divide
Sandelin, the smiling drama student who aspires to become a pediatrician, has tried to set the bar from the beginning. In advanced classes since elementary school, academic success has been hers.
"I've always kind of done it - succeeded," Sandelin said. "Once you start, you can't stop, I guess."
Atterberry, as well as Miller, don't necessarily think this overachieving attitude is bad. Miller says it depends on the student, some people are natural go-getters. While he does say that in some students' cases, a mental problem is involved; most of the time it is the student's preference to work hard.
"I'm not convinced it's a problem at all," Miller said. "It's important to remember some of the most prominent members of today's (society) have always had a very, very strong work ethic."
Call it work ethic. Call it a type of girl power. It's a little of both. The opportunities of 2007 are separating the daughters from their mothers. Overachieving girls won't limit themselves to the generational separation that involved boys doing the best work. In fact, Miller said the roles are now reversed.
"We now see overachieving happening more with women," he said.
Women can golf just as well as men. They can write just as good of an essay on "Gulliver's Travels." They can have the highest GPA's and beat the guys at videogames. It's part of the rising bar that Sandelin is reminded of.
At the Carli twins' house, Lodi High memorabilia and photos are stuck to the refrigerator. A lifetime of theirs and their brother's sports trophies sparkle on an entertainment center and fireplace mantle.
In the week since they've been out of school, they've discovered what it's like to sleep in late and to have an unplanned day.
Sitting around the kitchen table they talk about school and the future. They say sibling rivalry is impossible because they always do equally well.
"It's more like friendly competition," Jill said.
Dubbed extraordinary by their principal and known as the twins who do it all by their peers, they are still surprised people think of them as overachievers.
"It's hard to have people say that about you because we do what we do because it's fun," Sam Carli said.
"We get praised for the stuff we liked to do," Jill Carli added.
It's natural for overachieving girls to become the trophy children - the girls' parents brag about to other parents at the grocery store.
"It's funny," Jill Carli laughs. "You can tell they're showing us off."
Pressure from parents does sometimes become an issue, Miller said. But Ferrero, Sandelin and Jill and Sam Carli say their parent's support is encouraging, not overwhelming.
Sam admits sometimes school was stressful. Monday nights were the worst, she said, especially when cross country meets, band, homework and big projects would collide into one heap of stress.
It would be over the next day, though. They could breath. Friends could come over to play Mario Party.
'I wish I wouldn't have been so uptight about school'
Only days after a tear-filled high school graduation, the drama student who loves her friends already looks back on her high school career with a little perspective. She already has a regret, something she might do differently in college.
"I wish I wouldn't have been so uptight about school. I was so stressed out my sophomore and junior year," she said. "I should have just let stuff go."
Slacking wasn't her style, though. Worrying about her future would have been a bigger burden than doing the work.
"It depends on what you want to do with your life," she says after contemplating her choices. "College was motivation to try hard."
As they walk around Lodi in the days after high school, there is a sense of peace and excitement in being around these four girls. They are carefree, for now. Jill and Sam Carli look forward to doing a relay race around Lake Tahoe this week. Ferrero can now hone her golf game in daylight. Sandelin is just enjoying time with her friends.
They hope the awards, high GPAs and test scores pay off. They hope it all matters in what grownups tell them is "the real world."
So far, it has. They've been accepted to every school they applied to.
Ferrero didn't have to apply to University of Washington to be accepted. It was enough that the golf coach wanted her first. She will attend on a full-ride athletic scholarship to play golf and major in business. While most freshmen will wait to start business courses, Ferrero will join the top 15 percent of freshman and start business courses her first semester.
Her biggest fear: Not knowing anyone.
In the fall, Sandelin will start University of California, Berkeley. For now, she wants to be a pediatrician. But, she says that changes every other week.
Jill and Sam Carli will dorm together at UC Davis. Jill Carli wants to study physical therapy. Sam Carli is still not sure.
As for striving to be the best, they won't stop. They laugh when people ask if they are burnt out. They are ready to compete with the AP kids from other schools around the world. They are ready to be the nerds that hide beneath their long hair and trendy outfits.
"I'd rather be a smarty pants than anything else," Jill Carli said.