For Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology's valedictorian Jason Mitchell and salutatorian Alex Mann, it was the intimate atmosphere of the school and the dedication of the staff that attracted them and later ensured their success.
"We're like a family here. You can't get that anywhere else," said Mitchell.
With just 44 seniors in the graduating class, Mann said, "Everybody knows everybody, especially by senior year," he said.
Mitchell and Mann, who have known each other since attending Barksdale Elementary and Davis Middle together, will soon be leaving this second family to launch into the wider world of college.
Jason Mitchell, Valedictorian
Mitchell first heard about the Magnet school during eighth grade at Davis Middle and knew he wanted the additional opportunities it offered.
The subjects he most enjoyed during his years at RMSST were chemistry and math, he said, mainly because of the teachers who taught those subjects.
"The teachers were just awesome. I learned so much from them," he said.
Mitchell was part of the competitive Math Team and participated in a program to help freshmen adjust to the Magnet school, something that helped him through his early years.
He will be attending University of Georgia where he will study biochemical engineering. He received the $2,000 a year Baldwin Scholarship from the school.
The race for the top spot was neck and neck among four seniors this year. When Mitchell heard the official standings Friday afternoon, the senior's first thought was, "My mother would be so happy."
Mitchell is the son of Stephanie Siren and Robert Mitchell. His younger sister Bambi attends Davis Middle and his younger brother Corey attends Salem High.
Alex Mann, Salutatorian
For Mann, finding friends and a family-like structure made all the difference coming into high school.
"I want to thank everyone at the Magnet school, mainly. I wouldn't be here without all these teachers' support. I struggled so much in freshman year. They really helped me out," he said.
One piece of advice he remembered was from Ms. Beech, who told him to "go with your gut" in continuing to work hard and graduate from the Magnet school. "Don't ever let yourself down," she told him. "Just keep going, even when you're struggling and having a tough time."
In this final semester, the scores were close for the top four students in the senior class. Mann said he had gotten a B in one class, physics, and was happy at being named salutatorian.
"I'm really glad for Jason and I'm glad to get No. 2 too," he said. "It took a lot of hard work."
Mann was also involved in the Science Team, Math Team and cross country. Last year, he placed third in the world last May at INEPO, the International Environmental Project Olympiad, for his project, "Piezoelectric Nanogenerators."
The Rockdale native will head west for college to the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he intends to study math and chemistry. He received the Arizona Excellence scholarship of $16,000 for all four years. He said he looked forward to having a warm climate all year long.
He is the son of Helen and Todd Mann and has a younger sister, Gracie, who attends Peachtree Academy.