They Just Kept Showing Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

She's had "major sore throats," head colds, coughs, headaches and dizziness: all legitimate ailments that most students wouldn't think twice about using as an excuse to stay home from school.

But not Jean Luu.

The 17-year-old senior at La Quinta High School in Westminster is graduating Tuesday with an all-too-rare honor: She's maintained a perfect-attendance record since kindergarten.

"It happens very rarely," said Fred Johnson, La Quinta's head counselor. "It's quite an accomplishment."

Jean, who begins Cal State Fullerton in the fall, wouldn't think of calling in sick.

"There's no point in missing school because you just have to catch up on the work the next day," she said.

La Habra High School senior James MacGregor, another student with a perfect 13-year attendance record, shares Jean's dedication.

When he received a concussion in a tae kwon do class in eighth grade and had to go to the hospital for observation, James insisted on going to school the next morning. And when his grandfather and grandmother died, he attended their funerals in the morning and went to school in the afternoon.

"School is important," he said. "There is really no reason for me staying home."

MacGregor, 18, who plans to take firefighting classes at Rio Hondo College in the fall, said he's never even been tempted to stay home from school. Neither has Jean.

"I never got like really majorly sick until my freshman year, when I found out I had hepatitis B," she said. "It was an extremely tough thing for me to come to school every day."

This year, when she had a flare-up, "I felt like I was ready to croak," Jean said. But she wasn't about to ruin a perfect attendance record in her senior year.

Until this year, she's taken winning perfect-attendance awards for granted. "I never really thought about it because it's not like a big thing," she said. "For me, it's just a thing that should happen--that you just should be there for things you need to be there for."

That includes serving as manager of the student store and playing on the tennis, softball and badminton teams. The only La Quinta senior to earn a letter in choir all four years, she was recently named the school's "Choir Member of the Year." She also received the National School Choral Award and a $1,000 scholarship from the Westminster Chorale.

Jean plans to major in music education at Cal State Fullerton and hopes to return to the school district as a music teacher.

As president of her school's vocal ensemble, she participated in the group's annual "kidnapping" of new members from their homes earlier this week, a slumber party that kept her up all night.

And while several members stayed home from school Monday morning to catch up on their sleep, Jean was there bright and early.

She said her friends "think I'm kind of crazy" for never missing a day of school. "Sometimes, they forget and ask me, 'Are you going to school tomorrow?--never mind.' "

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