Cousins top classes of 2012 at Jackson, Meadow Heights

Thursday, June 14, 2012
Jackson valedictorian Kaitlyn Bess, left, and her cousin, Meadow Heights valedictorian Lauren Bess. (Laura Simon)

This year's high school valedictorians at Jackson and Meadow Heights don't just share four years' worth of perfect report cards. They also share a last name. Kaitlyn Bess and Lauren Bess are first cousins. Both were recognized as academic leaders of their graduating classes when ceremonies were held in May. Their grandmother had to attend Kaitlyn's baccalaureate in Jackson, then Lauren's commencement in Patton, Mo., on the same day.

The girls admit they don't hang out in the same circles of friends but say the reason is mostly due to the distance they live apart. They enjoy being together at family functions, and their fathers, who are brothers, "are pretty good buds," Kaitlyn Bess said.

Both girls say their family is responsible for their academic success.

"Failure wasn't portrayed as an option, and by the time I did figure out it was possible for me to slack off and get by, it was too deeply ingrained in me to change," Kaitlyn Bess said.

But she agrees with her cousin that doing well in school was not pushed on them. Instead, the girls say they had good examples set at home and were encouraged.

"My parents weren't forceful," Lauren Bess said. "It was just that when I went to school it was expected that I do well, and I knew I could because they believed I could."

Lauren Bess said she watched her parents have the same attitude with her older brother, Derek, who just graduated with honors from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Kaitlyn Bess will attend Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., where she hasn't yet decided on a major.

"I'm interested in a wide variety of things," she said. "I have a whole list in my head. If I could just go to college forever, I'd have like five majors," she said.

Lauren Bess plans to enter the physical therapy program at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Both are planning that their dedication to academics to be a continuing trend for the Bess family.

eragan@semissourian.com

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