Triplets from Ohio, who were born prematurely, are looking toward a bright future after graduating as co-valedictorians and salutatorian of their high school class.
Eighteen-year-old siblings Gage, Sadie, and Caydin Barker were born at 34 weeks gestation on Sept. 30, 2004, at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. Currently, they live in Sebring, Ohio.
On May 21, Sadie and Caydin graduated from Sebring McKinley High School as co-valedictorians alongside two others, each with a 4.0 GPA, and Gage graduated as salutatorian with a 3.78 GPA.
"It was a day full of emotion and the ultimate pride," the mom of the siblings, Becky, 48, told The Epoch Times. "Sitting there listening to them give speeches and articulate their gratitude to the amazing teachers at that school was a proud moment. The honor stripes they wore on their gown, the medal around their neck ... just gave more proof of all the hard work they had put in during their school career."
The triplets' father and Becky's ex-husband and co-parent, 48-year-old engineer, Paul, lives in nearby Akron. "Graduation day was celebrated with all the family surrounding them," Becky said. "We hugged, laughed, and shed many tears on this day."
Becky was actually pregnant with quadruplets when she lost the fourth baby between 16 and 18 weeks. She said it was first-born Gage who prompted her early labor on July 14, 2004. She "knew from that moment" that he would "forever be the kid who would keep me on my toes."
She remained in the hospital until Oct. 3, three days after the triplets' birth.
"Those 83 days I spent in the hospital were some of the most challenging days I have ever had, but I wouldn't change a thing, because it gave me three of the most amazing children I could [have] ever hoped for," she said. "They have been our biggest blessing and our greatest reward."
Becky describes salutatorian Gage, who she welcomed first into the world, as a laid-back and funny teen who can "interject some humor with one-liners." Cool, calm, and collected Gage played baseball and football during his childhood. This boosted his confidence, and he was even "at the top of his game" in e-sports.
Gage plans to enroll at a local trade school to become an electrical lineman, and his mom believes he will make a wonderful husband and father one day owing to his saintly patience.
Second-born Sadie maintained higher than a 4.0 GPA throughout her school career. The hardworking class president and former yearbook editor was in the school band and choir.
Here she honed her skills in playing the flute and discovered her talent for singing. She was in "just about every school club that was offered." She played softball since she was 5, ran track, and earned one of the lead roles, Anna, in the school's production of Disney's "Frozen."
Sadie plans to attend the University of Cincinnati to major in chemical engineering and later attend law school to qualify as a patent attorney.
"Her goal and ambition in life is to make a solid living for herself," Becky said. "She is the most ambitious, goal-oriented, and one of the smartest people I have ever known."
Caydin, who was born last, has always been kindhearted and emotional as a person. He has also been humble about his achievements. He was the class and communications officer and maintained a 4.0 GPA, just like his sister. A baseball player since the age of 5, he also played golf and excelled in e-sports, but didn't enjoy football since "he didn't like the idea of hitting other players."
Caydin plans to attend the University of Cincinnati to major in electrical engineering and later achieve a master's degree in business. He has talked about becoming a commercial pilot, and Becky is convinced he will also make a wonderful husband and father one day.
The proud mom of three said her solid relationship with co-parent Paul has paved the way for their triplets' incredible success.
"The philosophy we have as parents should be the same as any parent," Becky told The Epoch Times. "We encouraged them to strive for greatness. We were present in their lives and encouraged open communication. When there was a problem, we wanted to talk about it, even if we always didn't agree with each other. We demanded respect and kindness."
The parents have always advised the siblings to work hard and be "phenomenal human beings," that they are. They believe that this will help them open many doors in their life.
Becky has also always encouraged them to go beyond their fears to achieve what they need to.
"Failure happens in life, you can feel it, but I need you to learn from it and get back up and try again," Becky said.
As her tenacious triplets leave home to navigate the world on their own, Becky is struggling with her empty nest and how to regain her identity outside motherhood. She said: "What I do know is I will be making lots of four-hour drives to Cincinnati, and sending lots of care packages to help them along their journey!"