DANVILLE -- Of all of his academic achievements throughout his K-12 education, Thomas Worley will tell you there's one of which he is most proud: his perfect attendance.

No, it's not his 4.4 G.P.A., or National Merit Scholarship, the Presidential Center Service award, nor the fact that he was secretary of his high school chemistry club or competed in the Science Bowl for two years.

The Monte Vista High School graduating senior has never missed a day of school due to illness, family vacations or any other unexcused reason in his 13 years behind a desk -- though to be fair, he does have a few tardies, as confirmed by his school district.

"If you're not there, you're missing stuff," said Worley, 17. "You've got to be in it to win it."

He knows perfect attendance is an often underappreciated virtue -- often used to connote a school career with little else to distinguish itself. He still remembers being on an Ivy League college tour when the guide made a joke about how applicants shouldn't write their college essay on subjects like "their perfect attendance."

"I was kind of offended," he admits.

Worley plans to major in computer engineering and management science at UC San Diego, in the fall.

Perfect attendance has been tough sometimes -- and a lot of hard work, Worley said. The worst part? The "monotony" at times. But the key was telling himself to "just get through the hour."


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Every so often, he's daydreamed about being one of those kids on the other side -- especially in 2010, when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series and some classmates skipped school to see history in the making.

But then he would imagine -- not the hot dogs he could be having at the ballpark -- but his "empty desk" in the classroom -- and a ruined attendance record.

Perfect attendance is not something that is tracked at the state level, "but it's a very tiny percentage of students who can accomplish this exceptional feat," said Pam Slater, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

Worley's remarkable resolve, a strong immune system and some luck has helped him swiftly fight off routine colds and thwart major illness each year, he said. But there have been a couple close calls: a bout of pneumonia he had in ninth grade -- luckily, he took sick during spring break -- and another time, when a delayed flight at the tail end of a family trip would have caused him to miss a class day, but his mother successfully begged a ticketing agent to find them an alternative flight¿.

And with just about 10 days left of school before graduation, he knows the pressure is on. But at least he's in the home stretch -- and can almost taste victory.

And it'll be the culmination of a goal he's held as long as he can remember.

As a preschooler, he used to get ear infections all the time, say his parents, David and Jane Worley. So when he got through kindergarten illness-free and was even given a certificate for it -- it really lit a fire under him.

That year, the 5-year-old declared to his parents (and the world): "I'm never going to miss school."

"I don't remember it," he said. "But I guess I just kept my word."

Contact Joyce Tsai at 925-847-2123. Follow her at Twitter.com/joycetsainews.