The 17-year-old twins have 4.6 grade-point averages and are tied for first in their graduating class at Adolfo Camarillo High School.
The brothers will graduate from Camarillo High on June 8 with distinguished honors. They will also help deliver a group commencement speech with other students during the ceremony.
The Camarillo residents and sons of Irene and James Ong said they motivate each other to do their best.
“(Justin is) my biggest competition,” Jonathan said.
Justin was quick to top his brother.
“We both get A’s, but I get higher A’s,” Justin said.
Justin and Jonathan—identical twins—said their friends can tell them apart, but most people call the duo “The Ongs.”
The brothers are so competitive they were disappointed with their academic decathlon team’s second-place finish in February.
“We were always second,” Justin said. “We thought we were going to win and we lost by 20 points, which is one question, to Newbury Park (High School).”
The twins are familiar with setbacks and challenges.
They spoke only Cantonese— what their parents spoke at home—when they started kindergarten at Camarillo Heights Elementary School.
“We didn’t know many words, and a teacher would pull us out of class in first and second grade to help us with conversation and plug the words in,” Justin said.
The twins took English as a Second Language courses at a young age but didn’t feel comfortable speaking English until they were in fifth grade.
Though the twins had struggled to master the English language, they excelled in math.
A teacher suggested they take advanced math courses, and in fifth grade the twins took a prealgebra night course at Ventura College. The brothers remember their first day at college when they were 10 years old.
“Everyone thought the teacher was our mom and she was taking her kids to class,” Jonathan said.
By sixth grade, at Las Colinas Middle School, the twins were taking geometry at Camarillo High and had begun studying together and competing for grades.
“We tried to help each other learn more so that the other (twin) could catch up and still be (in the) competition,” Jonathan said.
Though competitive, the twins are quick to compliment each other.
“(Jonathan) can draw and I can’t,” Justin said. “ I’m more analytical and a lot less creative when it comes to thinking of solutions.”
Not to be outdone, Jonathan spoke highly of his brother.
“( Justin) tries harder,” Jonathan said. “My brother is very focused and guided.”
Kyla Puklus, who supervises the academic decathlon club at Camarillo High, said she’s heard people call the boys “one person,” but she thinks they have very different personalities.
“They’re both very friendly but Justin seems a little more contemplative and Jonathan is more cheerful,” Puklus said. “They’re hardworking and confi dent, but still humble.”
Jonathan said he and his brother learned a strong worth ethic from their parents.
“They are our inspiration because they didn’t speak English and for them to be successful enough to support us, it taught us anything is possible if you work hard,” Jonathan said.
Irene and James Ong moved to the U.S. during their teenage years as Chinese refugees from Vietnam.
James learned English and went to the University of California, Santa Barbara and works as an electrical engineer for the Naval Base Ventura County. Irene was an accountant and is now a stay-at-home mom who cares for the boys and their 10-year-old sister, Christine.
“(Our parents) faced a lot more hardship than we did,” Justin said. “We know that, so we try to hold ourselves to their standard.”
The Ong twins enjoy the same foods and have the same group of friends. They study together and bounce ideas off each other.
“A lot of my life leans on Justin, but I’m not sure how much of it,” Jonathan said.
They plan to stick together as they head off to college in the fall.
The brothers will be roommates when they attend UCLA in the fall to study engineering. Justin will study chemical engineering, and Jonathan will focus on electrical engineering, like his father.
Jonathan wants to design digital hardware. Justin said he hopes to work on a cure for cancer.
“I think I can graduate in three and a half years,” Justin said. “Then I want to go to grad school.”
The boys spent their summers in school taking college courses. They will enter UCLA with about 90 credits.
Justin will participate in a summer biochemistry research program at California State University Channel Islands, while Jonathan looks forward to taking it easy before school starts again in the fall.
But both brothers recognize that, come the first day of their freshman year, the competition for grades will begin anew.