Reaching valedictorian means there is no room to fail, or even make minor mistakes.

Madison Bertrand, 23, learned that lesson while at Monroe High School. The workload piled up and course difficulty just got harder as she went along, but when her senior year ended, she was one of less than a dozen students in her class of more than 400 who walked away with the honor.

This year, her little sister, Colbi, managed to pull it off too.

She walked at Saturday’s graduation having not received a single grade lower than an A throughout her high school career.

“I knew if she could do it, I wanted to do it too,” Colbi Bertrand said.

The younger sibling said she aimed for the title in part because she wants to follow Madison’s example. She knew her older sister would be there to guide and support her. She also felt the tug of competition.

The girls’ father, Vince, who is the City of Monroe’s stormwater coordinator, said he saw them approach their academics from opposite angles.

Madison would come home and study alone, often late into the night. Vince would sometimes run through flash cards with her until after midnight. She would also be up on her own until around 1 a.m.

Colbi, on the other hand, surrounded herself with study partners. She would coordinate with a group and head to a coffee shop in town. The younger sibling said she liked getting her work done earlier so she could relax, or go to the Monroe and Sky Valley Family YMCA for a workout once she finished.

Madison said she likes being able to go at her own pace. Colbi enjoys bouncing ideas off others and incorporating her social life into her studies, she said.

Despite their opposite tendencies, the sisters say they have grown incredibly close. They exercise, study and shop, or relax and watch movies together, Colbi said.

Madison graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Washington-Bothell. She has worked at Ben Franklin Crafts and Frame Shop in Monroe throughout college, and volunteers in the EvergreenHealth Monroe emergency room.

She is studying for the MCAT exam, and intends to go to medical school. Her back-up plans are to become a physician assistant or a nurse.

Schoolwork was always a priority, Madison said. She remembers skipping recess in kindergarten to stay on top of the load. She and Colbi said they got a few A-minuses in middle school, but by the end of freshmen year, both realized they had maintained perfect grades.

That is when becoming valedictorian started to seem more like a possibility. They also experienced moments where it looked like the chance was slipping away. For Madison, it was AP Biology, while Colbi’s struggled with AP History.

“As I was getting closer and closer to that goal, it was a more intense desire to continue that streak,” Madison said.

She and Colbi said they had a strong support system, especially encouragement from their teachers and parents, which played a role in their success.

Vince Bertrand said his daughters don’t often boast about their achievements, but, on top of maintaining their grades they volunteered, Madison was co-captain of the Monroe High School Dance Cats and Colbi was a Monroe Bearcats cheerleader, in addition to balancing their other priorities.

They have other commonalities, such as an interest in pursuing careers where they can impact others, Vince Bertrand said. Colbi is considering becoming an engineer. They both want to be able to help people. He remembers his reaction when he heard his daughters were named valedictorians.

“I was extremely proud,” he said. “That is quite an accomplishment.”

Vince said he believes the role of a parent is to give children the right foundation; they do the rest.  

Madison said her parents have always encouraged her and her sister to do their best, but supported whatever route they took in pursuing their individual interests. They provided stability at home, which helped her build on the internal drive she was born with.

“I think it is always a nature-versus-nurture argument,” she said.

Madison said she was excited for her sister when she heard Colbi had achieved valedictorian status this year. She remembers the feeling of that accomplishment.

“It was a good thing,” she said.