Brunswick salutatorian Sara Coughlin (left) and valedictorian Margaret Chingos pose for their high school senior pictures in August 2021 after nearly a decade of friendship. Hannah Latham photo

Coincidence brought Margaret Chingos and Sara Coughlin together when they were second graders at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School — their classmates couldn’t tell them apart.

“People kept mixing us because we were both really tall and had brown hair,” Chingos remembers. “We were like, ‘Well, I guess we’ll be friends.’”

That friendship endured. Once elementary school reading buddies, Chingos and Coughlin will graduate Friday as the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of Brunswick High School’s senior class, a feat they credit to their decade-old bond.

“I feel like we inspire each other to do better,” Coughlin said. “We’re almost each other’s role models.”

“We think of this as a joint achievement,” Chingos agreed. “We’ve tried to be supportive of each other in every way, and because of that we’ve been able to achieve what we have.”

It’s easier to tell the pair apart now than it used to be, according to their parents and teachers.


Coughlin, an athlete, musician and dancer, is more emotional and people-oriented, more likely to start a classroom conversation that engages her fellow students.

Chingos, already an active member of several government bodies, including the school board, is more logical, more likely to listen and respond to other’s points in discussion.

These differences help the pair balance each other out, they say. But just as important is the shared trait that allowed them to rise to the top of Brunswick’s 186 graduating seniors: a relentless work ethic.

According to Chingos and Coughlin, competitiveness often emerges among top students at Brunswick, which uses a weighted GPA system to credit students who load up on challenging Advanced Placement classes. The ruthless admissions system at elite colleges and universities pressures high achieving students to keep tabs on their classmates, potential rivals for a spot at their dream schools.

Yet the duo decided early on that they would be allies in their push to the top of the class.

“In the beginning of their freshman year, I remember Margaret saying to me, ‘Sara and I are going to be number one and two in the class,’” said Sarah Chingos, Margaret’s mother. ‘It doesn’t matter which one is which, but we’re going to be. This is what we want.’”


Sara Coughlin and Margaret Chingos stand together in May 2013, when the young friends were finishing third grade at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School. Photo contributed by Sarah Chingos

From the midnight texts about homework assignments to the virtual classes during lockdown to the college rejections, Chingos and Coughlin have always been there to offer each other company and commiseration.

“I think both Sara and Margaret have generally been approaching the competition in the right spirit,” said Sara’s father Pat Coughlin. “It’s one of them supporting the other in achieving their individual goals.”

Tiny GPA margins separated several students at the top of the class, any one of whom could have snatched the title of valedictorian, Chingos said.

Yet according to English teacher Sammie Francis-Taylor, who watched the “incredible pair” bookend the friendship that began when they were second grade reading buddies, Chingos and Coughlin are fitting representatives for Brunswick.

“When I look at both Margaret and Sara, I’m filled with enormous hope for the future,” Francis-Taylor said. “I look at like their faces, and I feel like we are going to be in very good hands.”

At 7 p.m. Friday, Bowdoin College will host Brunswick’s graduation ceremony, during which Chingos and Coughlin will deliver the speeches they helped each other proofread.


Then, after a summer working together at the Salt Cod Cafe, their paths will finally diverge. Chingos will travel to Scotland to attend the University of St. Andrews School of Geography and Sustainable Development, while Coughlin will remain in Brunswick and study English or government at Bowdoin.

Though they’ll be separated by an ocean, they aren’t worried about the friendship that helped them achieve so much success at Brunswick.

“We’re definitely those people that could go for months without talking and still pick up exactly where we left off,” Chingos said.

“Throughout all those years, friends change, friend groups change,” Coughlin agreed. “But this has been the same since second grade.”

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