So it's no surprise that these Tulare County valedictorians have something else in common: UC Merced.
Ruiz, 17, and Torres, 18, will be freshmen, math  majors and on-campus roommates at UC Merced this fall. Both are excited about the upcoming semester and the chance to attend the University of California's newest campus.
"I always wanted to go to a smaller school," Ruiz said. "And when I stepped onto the UC Merced campus, I really loved it."
Torres said she likes the rural and serene atmosphere of the campus.
"I think I will be able to concentrate better there," she said. "I want to give myself every chance to succeed."
Focus and comfort are important for two best friends about to leave home for the first time.
Both graduated in May from Granite Hills High School in Porterville, a few hours south of Merced.
Thanks to hard work and advanced placement classes, Ruiz and Torres carried grade-point averages over 4.0 and represented their class as two of the three valedictorians.
Torres said she and Ruiz became friends in middle school as they bonded over schoolwork, a love of math and career goals. Both will be the first in their families to earn four-year degrees — encouraged in part by their parents.
Torres said her parents left Mexico when she was a child. In the U.S., they hoped to build a better life for their children through hard work and education. Now she is following through on those dreams.
It was Ruiz who first chose UC Merced. She said she was drawn to the university's environment and size.
."It's so small that I can get noticed there," said Ruiz, who hopes someday to teach at the university level.
Torres considered several California State University campuses before making her final decision. Ultimately, she selected UC Merced for its youth and academic qualities.
"I wanted something new," she said. "I felt the campus was more capable of preparing a person for new technology."
Torres, who plans to teach high school math, also said she believes UC Merced will give her the best preparation for that and other career options.
Both say they're eager to get started at UC Merced and to share their college experience.
"I'm going to get to be my own person," Ruiz said.
Torres agreed, and added that she is "looking forward to the whole experience."