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Emma Sympson giggles when she thinks about her younger sister, Bailey, delivering Friday’s valedictorian speech at their graduation from David G. Farragut High School in Rota, Spain.

"Bailey is super athletic and super competitive at everything she does," said Emma. "She works really, really hard, and, well, I don’t try quite as hard. I’m so proud of her."

For not trying "quite as hard," Emma is ranked No.2 of Rota’s 26 graduating seniors.

Separated by two years, the Sympson sisters often are mistaken for twins. Since the first grade, they’ve been inseparable; same grade, same classrooms.

Emma, at 18 the oldest of the six Sympson siblings, was home-schooled at an early age. Bailey "sat there listening, and picked it up," she said. When it came time for Emma to start the first grade in the small town of Bards, Ky., where the family farmed tobacco and corn, Bailey wasn’t going to be left at home.

"Mom put us in the same grade," Bailey said. And a competitive spirit flourished.

"She’s my best friend and she makes me work harder," Emma said. "If she weren’t around, I don’t think I’d work as hard."

As if addressing her peers from the lectern Friday won’t be stressful enough, Bailey knows her father, Lt. William Sympson, currently deployed to Iraq, will be able to watch the graduation ceremony live via a satellite feed.

"I’m looking forward to graduation, the valedictorian speech, and knowing my dad will be able to watch it from a feed is very important to me," Bailey said. "He has been so supportive."

Bailey hopes to pass on one key message to her fellow graduates: "I don’t want to be boring and cliché, but what I want the seniors to realize is that it’s important to know that whatever they do with their lives, that they can make a difference."

Their similarities mirror their differences, they said separately.. Both are competitive, honor family values, volunteer, study hard.

Emma is more into books while Bailey more into sports. Emma is shorter and blond. Her sister the brunette.

"Bailey is serious. I’m crazy and out there. I’m random and hyper and she’s calm, and I talk all the time and she doesn’t ever," Emma said. "And I live vicariously through her sports. I can’t hit a ball to save my life."

Even after 12 years together in school, they’re not ready to cut the sisterly cord: Both will attend the liberal arts Ave Maria University in Florida this fall.

Emma wants to study either literature or theology. Bailey hopes to pursue a career as a photojournalist, but the school doesn’t offer that as a major. She’s open to suggestions.

"We’ve shared a room all of our lives," Emma continued. "And sharing a room in college would be easier than sharing a room with a stranger."


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