Valedictorian profile: Sharing the spotlight

·5 min read

May 28—Born in Germany, Eagle Point twins Emma and Cara Stanek hold dual citizenship in the United States and the country their mother came from before arriving in Oregon as an exchange student.

And when it comes to the Class of 2022 at Eagle Point High School, the two young women have dueling academic honors. Emma is this year's salutatorian while Cara is the valedictorian.

"I think it really is such a great opportunity that we can share this together as one and two — no matter who is first or second," Emma said.

Cara added, "I think that being able to share this with my sister is amazing, and I think the fact that we're one and two is a great accomplishment for us."

The two learned about their high class rankings last year, when they started applying for college. An electronic educational services system that EPHS students use showed Cara as first in her class and Emma as second.

"We thought it was a mistake at first," Cara said.

But it was no mistake. Emma and Cara discovered that, although they had taken the same number of advanced placement classes and made all As, they took different electives that impacted their grade point average. Cara took a pass/no pass work experience class that gave her a higher GPA than Emma, who took an advanced theater class that was graded.

The Eagle Point High School sisters acknowledged learning they would not both be valedictorians caused a brief rift between them.

"It's hard for either side," Cara said. "One feels bad that their sister feels bad and then one just feels bad about themselves and the position that they're in."

Emma admitted that holding the title of salutatorian was initially "a little bit hurtful when you've put in so much work."

Emma's and Cara's mother, Anja Rink, said the family "did struggle a bit" to celebrate Cara's achievement as valedictorian while "consoling Emma and her disappointment" of being named salutatorian.

"Unfortunately, we didn't understand that this additional class that Emma took would have such a big impact," Rink wrote.

The realization that only one of the sisters would achieve the top honor was compounded by the fact that both sisters believed they had been competing to be "the best" virtually their entire lives.

As young women about to step into adulthood, however, they've learned how to look past it and find the positives.

"I have definitely gotten over it and figured out how to just be happy for my sister and proud of both of us," Emma said.

Cara added, "I think we've come to terms with it and acknowledged we're both amazing in our own ways."

Emma's career goals

The EPHS salutatorian debated whether to stay in state and enroll at Oregon State University or go to the University of Arizona. Ultimately, she chose the latter.

"It is a bit of a risk. It's far from home, but I do think it's going to be the best journey to find my individuality and explore a new place," Emma said.

She called Cara "my other half" and said choosing the Tucson institution was difficult, but OSU didn't have her major — nursing — and the University of Arizona gave her a better scholarship. Emma will study to become a nurse in a neonatal unit or become a pediatric physician's assistant, two careers she has thought about from a very young age.

"I am certain I want a career path where I am directly helping others," Emma said. "As a neonatal nurse or pediatric physician's assistant, I would have the opportunity to help care for people who haven't even had a chance to start truly living their lives."

Emma's discussion about her career choice led Cara to laugh, saying it's one of the things that sets them apart from one another.

"I despise medical stuff — I can't deal with blood, puke or anything, so she's great for the medical field," Cara said.

Cara's career goals

The EPHS valedictorian received a full-ride scholarship to Oregon State University, where she hopes to obtain her bachelor's degree in education and English. That way, Cara said, she would be able to teach at all grade levels.

"I would like to inspire many students in the way that my teachers have inspired me," Cara wrote in her entry to the Mail Tribune's 2022 listing of valley valedictorians. "Teachers raise generations and are among the most influential people."

After what she hopes is "many years of teaching," Cara would like to move on to an administrative position in education.

"In administration I would take on many more responsibilities and further impact others," she wrote.

Growing up before growing apart

As they depart for college, Emma and Cara acknowledge they've been close their entire lives. In fact, they've spent only one week apart.

"It will be a great opportunity to find individuality and be known as ourselves, rather than as 'the twins,' because that is what our entire lives have been like as 'the twins — Emma and Cara,'" Cara said.

The comment led her to note that when the two go to universities in separate states, they'll only be known individually as Emma and Cara.

In finding her individuality, Emma believes she will be "forced to get out of my comfort zone."

"I do definitely lean on my sister sometimes, and we come as a pair, sometimes," she said. "It will be nice to be able to find how I want to express myself."

Even as they yearn to find themselves as individuals, Emma and Cara can't help but love one another.

"We do just understand each other perfectly," Cara said. "I just know she's always thinking the same thing as me in every situation. It's great to have someone who just gets you."

Cara and Emma's mother said she and her husband, Eagle Point City Councilman Mike Stanek, are "so incredibly proud" of their daughters.

"It is hard to put it into words, as no words seem to be able to capture how full of joy and pride our hearts are," Rink said.

Emma and Cara will speak to their graduating class at Eagle Point High School, 203 N. Platt Ave., at 7:30 p.m. June 10.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.