It started with a bet between lab partners, Alex Rucka and Emily McCormick, during their sophomore year.covaledictoriansHigh school sweethearts Alex Rucka and Emily McCormick finished at the top of the 2012 St. Thomas More High School, Milwaukee, graduating class as co-valedictorians with identical 4.55 cumulative GPA. Both will attend Marquette University in the fall. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)

“I was at a friend’s birthday party and I was texting (McCormick) about, probably some sort of homework, and I made a bet with her,” Rucka, a member of St. Veronica Parish, Milwaukee, said.

The bet was about the movie “TRON: Legacy” (2010).

“I didn’t think seeing the original (“TRON”) was necessary in order to enjoy the new one so I made her a bet that if she could find the old one and we would watch it and it enhanced my experience of the second one, that I would buy her a ticket to the new one,” Rucka said.

But they ran into a problem.

“We couldn’t find the old one because Blockbuster didn’t have it and (Rucka’s copy) was lost in his basement,” McCormick said.

Rucka forfeitted the bet.

“I remember looking for two hours but I couldn’t find it. So I ended up just taking her,” Rucka said about his first date with McCormick.

Eighteen months later, their romantic relationship is still going and each graduated Sunday from St. Thomas More High School with a 4.55 cumulative GPA as co-valedictorians for the class of 2012.

“We sort of thought it was the perfect ending,” Rucka said. “We both worked very hard and when we got the seventh semester report card and we got the same grade … we were freaking out because we thought one of us was going to win.”

Academics can be competitive, but not for this couple.

“We weren’t competitive or anything,” McCormick said. “We’re more helpful, trying to help each other out with our homework to make it less stressful.”

They leaned on each other to accomplish their academic goals with “study dates.”

“I’ll be like, ‘Hey, do you want to come over and study for that English test tomorrow?’ sort of thing. Then she’ll come over and I’ll make her dinner and we’ll sit down and study for it. It’s not a big deal,” Rucka said. “It was always us versus the homework.”

McCormick said they would take time out of their weekends and free time to study with each other.

“I knew I could go to him if I didn’t understand anything, that he would help me to the best of his ability,” she said. “I think our relationship is really easy.”

Kevin Dineen, their AP English teacher this past year, noticed the differences between their classmates and them.

“They’re both extremely intelligent and proactive students,” he said.

Dineen said they worked together during class and their relationship didn’t affect their schoolwork.

“They knew their boundaries very well and when it was time for class and doing work, they were very disciplined,” Dineen said. “They did not allow the high school puppy-love, if you will, to interfere with their class work. They worked together when there was group work, which did not bother me because they were always on task. First and foremost for them was getting the job done and getting the job done well.”

Along with excelling academically, each participated in sports. Rucka played soccer and tennis; McCormick played softball.

Like their classmates, McCormick and Rucka applied to several universities and even shared in rejection when they didn’t get into their top choice, Northwestern. But their second choice, Marquette, accepted both.

Rucka received a scholarship to the pre-law program, and McCormick also received a scholarship.

“It was independent,” Rucka said about choosing a college. “We respected each other’s decision.”

As co-valedictorians, the couple was selected to address their classmates. They decided to give one speech with each taking turns speaking.

McCormick, who took credit for the combined speech idea, called it a fitting conclusion to their high school years.

“I definitely think it’s the perfect ending,” she said. “Both being valedictorians. It was incredible that it even happened.”

McCormick and Rucka were freshmen when Mark Joerres became principal. He called them “genuine to the core,” and said, “They have an incredibly mature perspective on life academically, athletically, personally and socially.”

When Joerres, who knew they were dating, found out they shared the same GPA, he said the first word that came to his mind was “perfect.” But his interpretation was different than his students’view, who saw it as a great ending.

“Maybe it’s the perfect beginning,” Joerres said. “No one was ahead of the other and had to deal with that. I think it was perfect. Couldn’t have planned it if we tried.”