Overcoming the expectations set by your older sibling can be tough.

For Therese Dane, that means creeping out of the shadow of a brother who was captain of the football team, finished in the top 10 percent of his high school class and competed on the wrestling team while studying medicine at Harvard University.

Judging by her performance during her time at Niagara Falls High School, Dane is up to the challenge.

Dane has excelled academically, her 116 weighted grade being enough to make her a co-salutatorian of this year’s graduating class. Having her brother’s success to reflect upon — Andrew had a story written about him in the Gazette three years ago — has kept her inspired, she said.

“I have something to live up to,” she said. “I’ve always been motivated.”

Sibling rivalry isn’t the only driving force for Dane. She and her brother had a rough home life growing up, with their father being jailed for setting off pipe bombs and their mother struggling with a crack-cocaine addiction. Their mother hopping from boyfriend to boyfriend and home to home while she used drugs, neither of the Dane children had much of a chance to settle in at school; one of those former suitors beat the two children after he was done beating their mom.

The two children were taken in by their aunt and uncle, Mickey and Ray Lonsdale, in 1997. It was through them that she gained an appreciation for education, Dane said.

“My aunt and my uncle ... have both given me the opportunity for success in my life,” she said. “My parents have driven me to be something more than what they’ve become.”

Obvious to Mark Laurrie, the chief academic officer at the high school, is that she will do so.

“She’s very understated, very quiet,” he said. “She just comes here with a smile on her face every day and works her butt off.”

What makes Dane smile the most is biology, a field she plans to study in college in pursuit of a career in research, finding cures to diseases. She’s been accepted to Buffalo State College and the University of Michigan, but her dream is to attend Cornell University; Dane is on the waiting list of the Ivy League school.

Biology is one of three Advanced Placement courses Dane took this past year and ranked as her favorite class. Her teacher, Bhawna Chowdhary, liked having Dane in class as much as she enjoyed being there.

“Therese came into my class with a keen desire to learn and understand biology. She has an inquisitive and thoughtful way of questioning and forming conclusions,” Chowdhary wrote in an e-mail. “She is a very well put together individual. She was always responsible, respectful, cooperative, thoughtful and sensitive.”

Her experiences in biology made Dane want to stay involved in science post-graduation.

“I know I’m going to make a contribution to the advancement of science, I just don’t know what yet,” she said. “We’re always going to need science. It’s always changing, and I want to be at the forefront of that change.”

The declaration of four salutatorians in this year’s class was done because the quartet of students finished with grade averages within a hundred-thousandth of a point of each other, Laurrie said. The other three students are Christopher Brown, Joseph Crane and Matt Mack.

With four salutatorians comes four speeches, so Laurrie’s advice on what to discuss was brief — “Don’t take too long,” Dane said.

About 410 students are expected to graduate Saturday, Laurrie said.

While still unsure of where the future will take her, Dane expects her time in the city to be near an end.

“I definitely want to go out and experience life outside Niagara Falls,” she said. “I’d still come back. I have family here ... but I definitely think bigger.”

Chowdhary, for one, thinks Dane can go anywhere she wants.

“It was refreshing, for a change, to see someone who worked to be the best of their ability despite obstacles and personal challenges,” she said of Dane. “To me, that is the mark of a unique, special and wonderful individual who deserves the best that life has to offer.”

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