The final decision on who would be the Washington Township High School class of 2020 valedictorian couldn’t have turned out better for twin brothers Colin and Tristan Ly.
The pair had been neck and neck at the top of their class for their entire tenure in high school, and the race to be valedictorian — a focus for others in the school community — became a source of discomfort for two brothers who didn’t care about competing against one another or their fellow classmates.
“People always made it a point to ask, ‘Who’s beating each other right now? Who’s first? Who’s second,’” Tristan said. “As school went on more and more, I realized how much I disliked the competitive aspect and how people always tried to push each other down and be competitive.”
In the end, Colin and Tristan didn’t need to worry about who would be first. After the twins finished within three-hundredths of a point of each other in grade point average, Principal Jonathan Strout informed them they would become part of history: Colin and Tristan were named co-valedictorians, the first time in more than 50 graduating classes of Washington Township history.
“The fact that they allowed us to not make it something of who’s on top, it not only alleviates pressure, but it also sets a standard that you should be doing it for you and not for the social standing of rank,” Colin said.
The twins greatly appreciated the school’s decision, given they never had much of a sibling rivalry to begin with. Colin said he tends to think the same way about a lot of issues as Tristan, while Tristan summed up his relationship with Colin in two words.
“We’re chill,” Tristan said with a laugh. “People always have a stereotype about twins or siblings that they’re always fighting. That’s just not how it is.”
Colin and Tristan shared a lot during their time at Washington Township, including taking the same subjects in all four years of high school. This year, they went a step further, sharing the exact schedule. When asked what their favorite classes were, both brothers talked extensively about calculus.
“(Calculus) just helped me understand why I was doing all of the things that I was doing,” said Colin, who added the subject’s use of logic and reasoning made it more enjoyable than previous math classes. “It gave me a bigger picture mindset.”
Outside of the classroom, the Ly brothers were a big part of Washington Township’s music program, performing in the school concert band, jazz band, marching band and honors ensemble. Tristan mainly played the saxophone, while Colin played a variety of instruments, including the jazz piano for jazz band and the clarinet for concert band.
“The music program has been one of the most important experiences of my life,” Tristan said. “It’s taught me a lot about hard work. When I set goals for myself to really want to improve and reach a higher level, I found the determination to really put in a ton of time. I found it really paying off when the time came for auditions for different groups.”
Colin and Tristan will also share the same college in the fall, as both brothers will attend the University of Pennsylvania. Tristan plans to study neuroscience. Colin has yet to declare a major, but he’s thinking of going into a pre-medical program or business.
“It was something we were both looking forward to,” Colin said about going to Penn together. “The fact that we were both able to achieve it, it felt like no one got shorted out. Everyone won. It felt really good.”
The brothers got to deliver their valedictory speech for Washington Township’s virtual graduation ceremony last Thursday, each taking a positive approach with their speeches. Colin referenced one of the many gifts seniors received from local residents and businesses this past spring, a keychain with the geographic coordinates for Washington Township on it.
“If we had not been in this place, in this time, these coordinates would not have made sense to us,” Colin noted. “I basically structured my speech around how the way we lived here has given meaning to the places we’ve been.”
Tristan’s speech examined the importance of finding one’s purpose and striving for happiness in life.
“I essentially said that living is finding a way to make yourself happy and then to make others around you happy,” Tristan explained. “My speech acts as a reminder for people to find the happiness within yourself in given moments or whatever stage of life you’re in. And always remember to keep working toward your goals so you can contribute to others around you and make them happy as well.”
Positivity is also how the brothers look back on their senior years. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic closing schools in March and postponing many events, Colin and Tristan said they are both grateful for the year they had and the support the senior class received from the community. Colin also liked how Washington Township has pinpointed possible dates for an in-person graduation and other senior events later in the summer.
“I don’t really feel that cheated out of a senior year honestly,” he said. “I still got to experience a lot of things in person. There’s still going to be time to speak with people and say your goodbyes.”
“I’m glad we can have that (virtual) ceremony at least and people were willing to put in a lot of time to organize that and work that out,” Tristan added.