Elizabeth Long, 18, was giddy with excitement standing at the entrance to the Grape Bowl on Thursday night. She had a speech to give, awards to receive, and four years of college work staring her in the face. But that wasn't her main concern.
"Right now, I'm just hoping my bobby pins hold," she said, pressing her white cap tightly to her red-gold curls.
The girl who earned a 4.619 grade-point average and valedictorian status toyed nervously with the end of her gold honor cord as she waited to line up with the rest of her class.
Straight As were Long's main goal when she entered high school. But on the way to that end, she found herself on the path to valedictorian.
The inspiration for her speech came to Long in the shower. Many people had advised her to begin with a quote, but she preferred to give her own message.
"It's about being your own person, even if that goes against all advice," she said.
In the fall, Long will study civil engineering at University of California, Berkeley. Then she'll shoot for a master's degree in architecture before starting on that career.
She wouldn't have done it if science teacher Todd DeGrandmont hadn't encouraged her.
"He thought I'd be good at it, and pushed me to try," she said. "He cares about teaching, and it shows."
As for this summer, Long doesn't have any plans.
"I'm just going to wing it, and see what life brings," she said.
Long attended Reese Elementary School and Elkhorn School. Her parents are Dave and Linda Long. Her sister Catherine Long, 15, just completed her freshman year at Lodi High.
Long is a member of the California Scholarship Federation and competed in Science Olympiad. Last year, her Rube Goldberg project earned third place at a regional competition.
Long said her dad was absolutely instrumental in getting through school.
"He bailed me out so many times," she said.
Long likes to run and competed on both the track and cross-country teams.
One day, she hopes to travel to Spain to brush up on her Spanish language skills, or Paris to visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
She has had some exposure to international travel. The summer before high school found Long in the Ukraine on a mission trip with her church, painting houses and helping to harvest hay.
"It turns out language isn't as much of a barrier as you might think. Once you get in there and try to talk, you can usually communicate," said Long.
The moments before the ceremony were ticking away, and Long was lost in thought.
"I'm just really proud of all of us. I think we have a shot to really do something in this world," she said. "If you put in the time and you put in the work, you can make it happen."