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Humble Valedictorian Bids Farewell

With his diploma in hand, Staples High School valedictorian Naveen Murali threw his arms around Principal John Dodig in a congratulatory embrace and left the stage. Behind him trailed hundreds of classmates. Before him beckoned the future.

Yesterday afternoon 405 Staples seniors received their diplomas while more than 3,000 friends and family snapped pictures and cheered. Murali's father, Ramswami, shot video of his son, as many other parents did of their graduates.

Murali delivered his speech with pride as a Staples graduate and humility for being no different from the rest of his class. He questioned why he should be the one to lecture them with extravagant proverbs and dictates on how to live their lives. "As your fellow peer, I see no reason why I am in any way fit to lecture you all on the valuable lessons of life, like some sort of messiah. After all, we are just 18 and have so much left to learn in the years to come," said the Harvard-bound graduate.

Though he stood as valedictorian, Murali chose not to hog the limelight, but spent almost a quarter of his speech praising the achievements of others in his class. "This is what I think defines the Class of 2010. We are a unique patchwork of athletes, musicians, actors, journalists, scientists and volunteers. Paul Chandler literally soared to new heights, becoming an All-American pole-vaulter. Alan Southworth brought music to our ears and tears to our eyes as an All-State singer and president of Choir. Lena Ziskin used college calculus and physics to predict the orbit of asteroids around the sun. Alex Nitkin made both local and national news, challenging the student body with controversial articles that would earn him the honor of Connecticut Student Journalist of the Year. Those on the soccer team led us to our first state championship in 16 years and a ranking of six in the nation. And academically we have more than 25 kids going to Ivy League schools next year. In this sense, success is not a phrase unknown to the Class of 2010," Murali said.

Ninety minutes after "Pomp and Circumstance" filled the auditorium, hats were in the air. Students, faculty and guests poured into the courtyard, where light refreshments were waiting. Hugs and congratulations abounded. For some, there was the slightly sad acknowledgment that different paths and colleges would soon take them away from one another.

"I'm just so happy and excited for what is to come," said Helene Neuhaus. Before accepting her diploma, the girls' swim team captain ripped open her graduation robe, revealing her Staples swimsuit underneath. Come the fall, she'll be competing for Central Connecticut State University. "I had to go out with a bang," Neuhaus said.

For Murali, the day after graduation will be filled with rest and relaxation, and probably a post-graduation party or two. Like so many of his classmates, he stood in the courtyard laughing and smiling and enjoying all the things that will soon be memories. Megan Prior darted in, calling him "the most fabulous person you will ever meet."

"I'm taking the summer easy," he said, spending a moment answering questions about the future. "It all gets started again soon enough."

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