SMYRNA — Marie and Rachel Youngcourt were the face of dedication as they walked to the podium at Smyrna High School last week to accept their diplomas.
The identical twins had to overcome long odds, as Marie was honored as the class of 2021’s valedictorian, while Rachel finished second to her sister, as the class salutatorian.
Not only did the Youngcourt sisters have to adapt to different ways of learning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — like all other students — they also had to deal with the loss of their father, Marc Youngcourt, in January.
It was a difficult challenge that neither of them could have foreseen.
Teresa Youngcourt, the twins’ mother, choked up when thinking back to all they’ve had to endure.
“In addition to the pandemic, they persevered through a major personal tragedy this year,” she said. “Their father, my ex-husband, fell at home in October 2020 and suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia.
“For three months, he underwent several surgeries on his spine, among other things. In January, he entered hospice care, and he passed away about a week later on Jan. 22, 2021.”
Since Marc lived in Pennsville, New Jersey, and due to coronavirus travel restrictions, it was difficult for the girls to visit following his injury.
Not even that — or a pandemic — could stop the Youngcourts from joining Caesar Rodney High School’s duo of Smith (valedictorian) and Paxton (salutatorian) Easton in an extraordinary year of local twins finishing first and second in their classes.
Ms. Youngcourt graduated from Caesar Rodney in 1980, so she keeps up with the doings of her alma mater. She thought it was amazing that two sets of twins — including her daughters — accomplished the top-of-the-class feat less than 25 miles away from each other.
“One, two, I mean it’s pretty amazing that Caesar Rodney had the same thing. It’s hard to believe the odds,” Marie Youngcourt said. “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. We’ve been first and second throughout high school, so I’ve just been trying to stay at the top, but it’s definitely pretty cool, definitely something that we’ll be able to tell our kids and to hopefully inspire them to love academics as much as we did.”
Rachel added, “It’s a surprising accomplishment to know that there were two sets of twins at two different schools who were able to finish first and second in their classes.”
It wasn’t easy for the Youngcourts, who have been ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at the end of each school year beginning as freshmen.
“The last few years have been really tough,” Marie said. “With the COVID pandemic, the loss of our father … it was really hard. The last year has been probably the hardest year of my life. Not to get too sappy with my dad, he was in the hospital for a long time even before he passed, so that whole time from October to January was really difficult.”
Rachel agreed, saying they got a lot of help to pull through the challenge.
“This year was definitely tough,” she said. “We had a lot of amazing teachers, though, that were really understanding with us, and I think it’s definitely like the impact that we faced in January made it even more special for us to finish at the top, because we know how bad things could be.”
Rachel and Marie wore mortarboards at their graduation that were decorated by their older sister, Emily, a student at the University of Delaware. The halo on Rachel’s cap and the wings on Marie’s were tributes to their father.
During their younger years, the sisters played softball for Little League and Smyrna Middle School, where baseball-loving Marc served as their coach. Later on, Marie played basketball at Smyrna, while Rachel played volleyball. Though they were competitive on their respective courts, they helped each other as much as they could when it came to their schoolwork.
“I think when we were younger, a lot of it was about trying to beat each other or being the better ones,” Marie said. “But through high school, I think it became kind of just being proud of each other and wanting each other to succeed as much as possible. We want each other (to) do well.”
Rachel is the eldest Youngcourt twin by six minutes, so she won that race.
“We were both on athletic teams, so we’ve been competitive for our whole lives,” said Rachel. “But I think, overall, we just want each other to do well. So we’re supportive in the end, and we’re definitely both happy that we finished one and two.”
Marie and Rachel started kindergarten at Mount Pleasant Elementary in the Brandywine School District. They moved to the Smyrna district following their parents’ divorce in October 2008.
Both Youngcourt twins served as class officers, Marie as a historian and Rachel as the class treasurer, for the last two years.
Now, in just a couple short months, the Youngcourt sisters will be separated for the first time, as they head off to different colleges.
Marie will be attending Northwestern University to study biology, while Rachel will be attending the University of New Hampshire and majoring in business. They, along with Emily, will be first-generation college students.
“I think it will definitely be nerve-wracking at first, but I think it will be good for us to be separated. You know, we’ve been kind of like one identity through Smyrna, since it’s such a small town, and everyone just calls us, ‘the twins,’ so I think it’ll be good,” Rachel said.
“So we’ll have our own lives in college, but we’ll be able to FaceTime each other when we need each other,” she added. “We’ll always remain close.”
Their mother might also get a little lonely when they take off for college.
“Well, my oldest (Emily) is at University of Delaware, so she will be close enough that I can pick her up,” Ms. Youngcourt said. “But, yeah, when they leave, my house is going to be very, very quiet and sad — just me and the cat.”