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Friendly Competition Provided Motivation for Belton High School's Top Graduates

BELTON, TX – Belton High School’s top graduating seniors have never run a marathon but say finishing their senior year and achieving the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the class of over 700 students may feel similar. 

Valedictorian Gautam Ghamande and salutatorian Mitchell Bonner were called to Principal Ben Smith’s office on Wednesday morning where they learned the good news.

“I never ran a marathon, but I imagine this is what you feel like when you finish,” Ghamande said. “You can’t just show up one day and do amazing. You have to show up every day and do your very best.” 

Ghamande and Bonner, who describe themselves as friends and “co-workers,” are especially glad they crossed the finish line together.

“We didn’t start out as friends. The animosity definitely turned into friendship,” said Bonner, explaining that they took a lot of the same AP classes and participated in similar extracurricular activities. “We both push each other to be better students. There was a point this year we both said we want to be No. 1 and 2, and we wanted to do it together.”

Ghamande, the son of Neelam Konnur and Shekhar Ghamande, served as president of Student 2 Student, treasurer for the Key Club and was junior class secretary. He also participated in the National Honor Society, Youth Advisory Commision, Prom Committee, varsity soccer and UIL Academics. In the fall, he was recognized as a National Merit Commended Scholar.

Bonner, the son of Drs. David and Nancy Bonner. Mitchell, is an Eagle Scout, a member of the varsity tennis team and vice president of the National Honor Society. He serves on the youth council at Foundation United Methodist Church and was recently awarded a scholarship from the National Merit Scholarship Program.

The mutual motivation they each provided helped them achieve their collective goal. 

“Iron sharpens iron,” Ghamande said. “Mitchell really pushed me to do well. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to about things. It was a unique connection. We’re pretty competitive and try to beat each other, but it’s a healthy competition. We can compete together and not be enemies.”

Principal Smith said Ghamande and Bonner’s story is inspirational. 

“This is the outcome we want from our kids’ experiences at Belton High School,” he said. 

“You’ve got two kids striving for the two top spots and it’s competitive. They demonstrated perseverance but also showed empathy and true compassion for each other. It makes me proud, very proud.”

The two will stay connected even as they enroll at rival universities next fall – Ghamande at the University of Texas to study biology with the goal of attending medical school and Bonner at Texas A&M University with a major in mechanical engineering. 

“We’ll still text and stuff,” Ghamande said. “It’s good to be able to have a relationship where we can go off to separate places and still know you have a friend you can count on.”

Both seniors agreed that their success isn’t theirs alone and named family, friends and educators who supported them along the way.

“I have a huge list of people to thank,” Ghamande said. “I’d start out with every single one of my teachers I've ever had from elementary up, even from pre-k. Without any one of them I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.” 

He also recognized his younger brother, Ashutosh.

“I’d be really drained and he would always do the chores and he wouldn’t say anything about it,” Ghamande said. “He understood I was under a lot of stress. He picked up my slack when I was a little bit off.”

Bonner, the youngest of five, said he might playfully frustrate his siblings who were all in the top 5 percent of their classes but never in the top spots.

“They all inspired me to push myself and showed me what I’m capable of,” he said. “They’re going to be really proud of me. I’d also thank our coaches who allowed us to sometimes put school before athletics when necessary.”

With AP exams behind them, speeches to write and their senior year winding down, Ghamande and Bonner are looking forward to graduation on June 10. 

“For a long time we knew we could do it,” Bonner said. “It’s relieving to know we finally got to this point.”

Ghamande added, “It’s very rewarding to get to put a label on how much hard work you’ve put in the last four years.”

May 27, 2021