All high school valedictorians deserve our acclaim and congratulations. Many have been high achievers ever since kindergarten, so it's not a surprise when they add that honor to their list of accomplishments.
Then there are those less expected valedictorians like Sacramento's Raymond Chan.
As The Bee's Melody Gutierrez tells his story, Chan was a middling pupil through middle school. At Genevieve Didion, his grade-point average hovered around a 2.5 and he spent more time playing video games than doing homework.
His outlook on school and life changed when his father, Chi Sun, died in 2009 after a three-year struggle with cancer. He saw his mother, Cindy, channel her grief into volunteering with the homeless, and joined her in handing out food to the hungry every Sunday.
Chan realized that despite what he had lost, he was still fortunate.
He focused on what he had and buckled down in school. He got his first straight-A report card in ninth grade. At Kennedy High, he took the hardest math and science classes he could, graduated with a 4.6 GPA and was accepted by nearly every prestigious college where he applied, including Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
In the fall, he's headed to Stanford with a bushel of scholarships to pay his way.
Chan's teachers are glowing in their praise. "In high school, you have kids who are really smart, or kids who work really hard. He is both," says Jonathan Andrews, his advanced placement world history instructor.
In his valedictory speech last month, Chan imparted a message that is wise beyond his 17 years: "It's your attitude, not your circumstances in life, that limits you."
In these uncertain times, there's a lesson in his story for all of us. A positive frame of mind, combined with some real effort, can lead to great, unexpected things.