Detra Mitchell remembers when she first found out last year that her daughter Kelsey was at the top of her class at Mallard Creek High.
They were sitting on a couch, and she handed her parents a document from the school.
“My husband and I looked at each other, and we were kind of in shock,” said Detra Mitchell.
Kelsey, a quadruplet who graduates Tuesday as the school’s salutatorian, isn’t the only family member at the top academic level of the 590-member graduating class.
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Sister Katelyn is Mallard Creek’s valedictorian. Her brother Grayson and sister Kennedy don’t fall far behind.
“Not that we didn’t know they were bright, but we were like, ‘Wow,’” said Detra Mitchell.
Yet, Kelsey says that despite her and her sister placing in the top two positions, it wasn’t a competition among the siblings to be No. 1.
“Having all the same classes, we were able to not only challenge each other but were able to compete against the entire school,” Kelsey said.
The Mitchell quadruplets, who live close to Mallard Creek High in north Charlotte, motivated one another.
Last year, Kelsey and Katelyn participated in Science Olympiad. They encouraged their sister Kennedy to join this year.
“I competed in regionals and placed top three in all my events,” Kennedy said.
Grayson was an all-conference wrestler this year and played in the marching band.
Detra Mitchell says she never forced her children into any activities. But, she said, if they were interested in something, she wanted to make sure they gave it a chance.
“I want them to live their life so that they can say, ‘I tried something and failed, but tried 100 percent,’ than to say they never tried at all and have them wondering what it would be like,” she said.
Laura Rutledge, who taught Kennedy, Kelsey and Katelyn in AP Statistics, said that they were all diligent students. Before the girls showed up for her first class, she already knew their reputation from other teachers.
“When everyone saw that I had the Mitchells on the roster, they were like, ‘Oh, they’re the best,’” Rutledge said. “They took school very seriously; they treated it like it was their job from 9 to 5.”
Katelyn, Kelsey, Grayson and Kennedy will take their parents’ wisdom with them next year when they attend college. For the first time, they will be at different schools.
Kelsey plans to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic University to study architecture. Katelyn is headed to Columbia University to study mechanical engineering with a focus on robotics. Kennedy will be at the Honors College at UNC-Chapel Hill studying biomedical engineering. And Grayson is going to Appalachian State to study computer science.
Katelyn says it was lessons their parents instilled in them that will contribute to their success.
“One of the things our parents first taught us when we were younger is that people can take your wealth, and people can take your pride, but they can’t take your knowledge and education,” said Katelyn Mitchell.
Detra Mitchell said she tried to teach her children lessons that she learned from her grandparents when she was growing up in rural West Virginia.
“The thing I tell them is success is not about monetary value or material things,” she said. “But it’s about being able to go through your life as a person and feel good about what you do.”
Keith A. Larsen: 704-358-5354
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Compiled by Steve Lyttle