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Four siblings take turns being valedictorian at their high school

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From left are parents Pam and Darshan, both Milwaukee Public Schools teachers, and their four children who were all valedictorians at Riverside University High School in Milwaukee: Raj in 2014, Gurtej in 2017, Rupi in 2011 and Sirtaj this year. From left are parents Pam and Darshan, both Milwaukee Public Schools teachers, and their four children who were all valedictorians at Riverside University High School in Milwaukee: Raj in 2014, Gurtej in 2017, Rupi in 2011 and Sirtaj this year.

When I asked the Grewal family the formula for their academic success, second youngest Gurtej jumped in with an answer.

"We have secret smoothies that we drink."

If only it was that easy and delicious.

All four children in this family were valedictorian at Milwaukee's Riverside University High School — daughter Rupi in 2011, daughter Raj in 2014, son Gurtej in 2017 and son Sirtaj this year.

They were straight-A students right through high school, as in not a single B or, gasp, C on a report card the whole four years.

"I told them that you shouldn't be getting any B's because what stops you from getting an A in any class," said their father, Darshan Grewal, who has been teaching math at Riverside for 20 years.

You get a sense of the high expectations in this family. Think about Sirtaj, who had to follow in the high-achieving footsteps of his sisters and brother.

"They kind of set the bar high, so the pressure mostly comes from the family to succeed. It wasn't that bad because I'm used to it," he said.

Sirtaj, 17, graduated with his classmates Wednesday at the UWM Panther Arena. And like his siblings before him, he delivered the valedictorian address.

He didn't seem nervous about that when I talked to him just before the ceremony. His message was to pick a career that will make you happy and eager to go to work each day.

"I also tell them that if they do feel at any point that life is too hard and there are too many obstacles, they just have to remember who they are. You are you. You are yourself, and each and every one of us is destined for greatness. Don't forget that and you'll be fine."

Rupi and Raj don't remember what they said in their speeches. Gurtej quoted a James Bond movie line, originally from "Ulysses" — "To strive, to seek, to find, but not to yield."

Milwaukee Public Schools media manager Andy Nelson said it's hard to say for sure if any other local family has produced this many top students. "Chances are it's unprecedented," he said, though I suspect I'll hear from these other families if he's wrong about that.

Darshan and Pam Grewal married in India and immigrated together to the United States in 1992. Their children all were born here.

Were mom and dad super students like their kids?

"He was pretty good. I was OK," said Pam, who also works for MPS. After 17 years teaching science at Madison High School, she now provides home instruction for students who are ill.

She and her husband have been a formidable team when it comes to keeping track of their children's homework and upcoming tests. As teachers, they know the importance of parental involvement in the academic life of a daughter or son.

There is little television watching in their south side Milwaukee home, and then it's just public TV. Even as young adults, their children do not waste time on social media as so many of us do.

"They pretty much understood their responsibilities toward their duties. We didn't have to push them too much. They are great kids," Pam said.

Besides excelling in mostly advanced classes, all four have been involved in sports, extracurricular activities and community service. Sirtaj was vice president of student council and National Honor Society.

He will attend UW-Madison in fall to major either in engineering or psychology. Gurtej, 18, attends UW-La Crosse and is studying exercise and sports science. Raj, 21, graduated Saturday from UW-Madison and plans to attend grad school to study environmental management. And Rupi, 24, a 2014 UW-Madison grad, is at the Medical College of Wisconsin preparing to be a doctor, possibly a psychiatrist.

By the way, let's give a shoutout to James Fenimore Cooper School where they all attended grades K-8, getting them ready for their stellar high school achievement. People spend a lot of time running down MPS, but this family is a testament to what is possible.

"We are proud, but I am also humbled," Darshan said. "It's a blessing. That's what I believe."

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