When Millbrook High School senior Benie Bolohan took the stage to deliver her valedictorian address earlier this month, her older brother, Ioan, knew a thing or two about the hard work it took to get there.
That’s because three years ago, he also graduated as valedictorian from Millbrook.
“Anything he can do, I can do better,” said Benie, 18, last week with a laugh and friendly nudge of her elbow toward Ioan, 21.
As young children, the pair loved to see who could recite all of the states the fastest or reel off the name of every country in Europe.
But their competition was always good-natured, they said, and built on a shared love of learning. Both excelled academically and supported one another’s efforts as scholars, athletes and club leaders.
“He definitely was an inspiration for me,” said Benie. For his part, Ioan said he is amazed by what his sister has accomplished, rattling off a list of fundraisers she has helped organize and clubs she has led.
Debbie Robinson, a Millbrook marketing teacher coached both Ioan and Benie through DECA, a business club. She said they both stood out for their commitment to learning.
“They want to know more about things they don’t know. They want to learn more. They want to do better,” she said.
Benie and Ioan said they both value knowledge for the chance to help their community, whether in their school, their city or the whole world.
“It’s not just about the academic side,” Ioan said. “It’s about making a contribution.”
Ioan, who is entering his final year at UNC Chapel Hill, is studying business and political science and hopes to work in politics or start his own business someday.
Benie, who will attend Washington and Lee University this fall, plans to study international business and wants to work with nonprofits. She likes the idea of making sure an organization is running smoothly, so that it can do the most good possible.
The siblings credit their mother and father, Burcak and Ioan Bolohan, for their belief that making a difference matters. Their parents always urged them to find a balance in their lives that would allow them to consider the world around them.
Burcak said she wanted the children to grow up with the message that learning about other people and places was deeply valuable. She wanted them to find ways to put their knowledge to use, not to just memorize facts and figures.
She’s proud to have watched them take the lesson to heart, while remaining supportive of one another and their family and friends.
“You always have to have luck in your life. But what they could control, they did. They worked hard,” she said.
During the past year, her husband has been sick with cancer, and she’s watched as her children have stepped in to help the family.
They’ve taken on additional responsibilities at their family’s franchise hair salon business, whether it’s helping with the accounting books or changing light bulbs.
“They’ve really been supporting him through all of this,” Burcak said.
Benie and Ioan said they’ve known since they were young the importance of family, friends and neighbors. That support system, they say, is what helped them achieve their success and inspires them to keep going on.
Whether it’s school, work or family, they’re both committed to achieving the goals they envision for themselves.
“Your best is something that you can do,” Ioan said.