For most of their lives, George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa seniors Natalie Jones and Yashmine Hernandez have been top students.

Now Jones has been named valedictorian and Hernandez, salutatorian. NTO’s commencement is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center.

Jones, 18, plans to attend the University of Texas Permian Basin to study general education and become a teacher.

Hernandez plans to attend the University of Houston to major in psychology and business with the goal of becoming a therapist.

Jones, who is in the Future Teachers program through ECISD’s Career and Technical Education program, could potentially be an elementary or physical education teacher, or possibly a high school coach teaching history or English.

Her mother, Molly Jones, has been an educator for about 20 years and is currently a counselor at Ross Elementary School.

“… School has always been very easy for me, so I got my transcript one day freshman year and I … expected to be like number three or something because that’s what I was in middle school. And I got it and I’m like, oh, look at that. I’m No. 1. … There were a few moments where it was on and off, but it was never really something that was hard for me. It just kind of happened, I guess, a happy little accident,” Jones said.

The idea of graduation for Jones is terrifying and exciting at the same time.

“Because it means I’m going to be in the world and I’m not ready for that. But it’s also exciting because it’s such a freeing moment where I can go off and I can learn to do things on my own and I can be … who I want to be and I can set a life for myself and for my future,” Jones said.

She has two younger sisters.

Hernandez, 18, said she thinks being salutatorian is “pretty cool.”

“… I’ve done good in school my whole life, partially because my mom has always made me. But I think it feels nice to have that, to just say that … so many years of school did something for me,” she said.

Hernandez said being salutatorian might not be significant after high school, but it’s meaningful right now.

“… It’s something for my family because most of them haven’t gone to college,” Hernandez said.

She added that it’s a big deal for her family to see her reach this milestone, especially her younger cousins.

“… They see that we can do it. And it’ll be harder, but we can do it,” Hernandez said.

She has an older brother and a younger sister. This past year, they had three younger cousins move in, so now Hernandez said she has four younger siblings.

“I am definitely an example for them. My brother didn’t go to college, but he’s been doing good after high school. But for my younger siblings, like my two younger sisters, one of them is going to come to high school next year and then the other one will be in eighth grade so I think it helped them a lot to see it’s not that hard to go through it. They’ll be okay and my mom has always said, ‘look at what your sister’s doing,’” Hernandez said.

She added that she is ready to graduate.

“I’ve enjoyed my four years of high school, for the most part, but I’m ready to figure out what’s happening next …,” she said.