HOHENFELS, Germany -- Any parent would be proud of having their child named valedictorian of their high school, but retired Lt. Col. Reginald Bourgeois and his wife, Stephanie, can be doubly proud because for the second year in a row, one of their children has claimed the highest honor at Hohenfels Middle/High School. This year's valedictorian was Caroline Bourgeois, while the honor went to her brother Rene in 2012.
"We're extremely proud … but not surprised," said Lt. Col. Bourgeois. "They can do anything they put their minds to."
They put their minds to a lot. Coming from the extremely competitive German Gymnasium system, a tough university prep program, Rene entered HMHS as a freshman with Caroline starting in the eighth grade. Both were active in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), Advanced Placement and distance learning courses, as well as various sports.
"(They are) not only scholars, but also fitness and outdoor buffs," said retired Maj. Dan Parker, JROTC senior Army instructor at HMHS. "(They) have been championship baseball and tennis players. Additionally, both were members of the air rifle team, which placed sixth nationally, traveling to the States in 2011 to compete."
Both served as Raider commander, organizing sporting events such as kayaking, skiing, archery and other outdoor activities associated with the program. Caroline said JROTC had a major influence on her development throughout high school.
"When I first got here, I was really shy and would not talk at all, and JROTC really helped because they made you stand up in front of people and lead," she said.
"She has done unusually well … coming from a totally foreign background and stepping into our school and saying, 'OK, this is how we do it,'" said Parker. "Both have been exemplary leaders, showing great concern and patience with their peers who are not so academically talented."
Lt. Col. Bourgeois said it was easy to see early on that all three of their children had the capability to succeed in any endeavor.
"The issue would be desire and discipline," he said. "What we discovered is that discipline begins way before high school."
Lt. Col. Bourgeois said that desire results from having goals and objectives beginning in elementary school. As early as sixth grade, they were quizzing their children on what they may like to do in the future.
"Not specific like 'I want to be a doctor,' but 'where are you having fun?' Success is fun, so roll with your successes," he said.
All the children wanted to be in a profession, so Lt. Col. Bourgeois said he didn't sugar coat the issue.
"They'll have to be in the top of their class. They knew that," he said. "As time went on they began to enjoy the competition and the rewards; positive reinforcement."
Caroline appreciated the challenge. At her graduation speech, June 7, she thanked her father for pushing her and making her believe in herself.
"(He) would always tell me 'if you feel like you're on your back, then kick with both feet,'" she said.
This perseverance served her well. Caroline received a four-year Army scholarship in biomedicine, and a four-year Air Force scholarship in engineering, physics or chemistry.
Her brother also received both Army and Air Force four-year scholarships, and is currently attending Utah State University, where he majors in aerospace engineering.
Caroline says her parents are both proud and happy.
"It's not easy to afford college for three children," she laughed.
Lt. Col. Bourgeois said their children have been taught to seek responsibility and to maximize their ability to help others.
"This is your duty as a good citizen of the greatest country on earth," he said.
It's clear that Caroline has taken this message to heart from the words she imparted to her fellow graduates at HMHS graduation, June 7.
"The difference between history's boldest accomplishments and its most staggering failures is often simply the diligence to believe that you and you alone can change the world," she said.