By Paul Tennant
---- — NORTH ANDOVER — Valedictorian Keval Gala challenged his fellow North Andover High School graduates to strive for both success and humility as they move into the grownup stage of their lives.
As an example of success combined with humility, he cited an athlete who’s not hugely popular in these parts – but is nevertheless a winner on the court and a considerable humanitarian.
“As we’re now four games into the NBA finals, I’ll say this: Just as superstar LeBron James never forgot his family or his hometown of Akron, Ohio, we too must practice humility in life after high school.”
Gala, who is headed to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh to study engineering, expressed humility regarding his own accomplishment of earning the highest grade point average in his class.
Some of his friends, he said, suggested that he “go up to the podium, pause for dramatic effect and say, ‘I win.’ That’s it. End of speech.” That remark drew laughter from graduates, teachers, parents and friends seated in the high school gymnasium.
Yet that advice actually gave him an idea of how to approach his valedictory address.
“I want to start off tonight by doing the opposite of that. This may surprise you, but I wish to begin by saying that my own accomplishment was really nothing special. I consider myself extremely fortunate, what with all the help I received,” he said.
Success, he said, “does not look the same for everyone.” The best synonym for success, he suggested, is happiness.
Gala paid a heartfelt tribute to his mother, Chandrika Shah, at the end of his address. Speaking in Hindi, he said, “I love you more than life itself.”
Not surprisingly, Shah later told The Eagle-Tribune that she felt like she was “on top of the world.”
“It’s nice to be recognized as Keval’s mom,” she said.
Victoria Sullivan, the salutatorian, said graduates’ fear of the future is actually a positive thing.
“I find fear to be a crucial ingredient to success,” Sullivan said. “Fear breeds courage, as Aristotle said, ‘You will never do anything in this world without courage.’ ... So my advice is to accept your fears, because the courage that it takes to conquer those fears is what will unlock the doors to greatness.”
Class president Ian Burns welcomed graduates and their abundant cheering sections with an upbeat message, in which he talked about “spending a day at North Andover High School” and the “secret life lessons that will help us later on.”
At NAHS, he noted, the question, “What day is it?” does not mean Monday or Tuesday or whatever, but rather, is it Day 2 or Day 4? A common question, he said, is, “What time does this period end?”
Burns, who will major in biology at Assumption College in the fall, said after the ceremony, “I’ve loved every minute of it,” when asked about his four years at NAHS. Besides being the class president, Burns ran cross country and did the high jump in track.
He’s also an Eagle Scout and directed the building of bog bridges at Osgood Hill for his community service project. He noted some young people look upon Scouting as being for “weird kids” but he got a lot out of it, he said.
“It’s not what they think it is,” he said.
Taylor Lee, a member of the National Honor Society, will attend Curry College, where she will study nursing. Her academic performance earned her a full scholarship, so her parents won’t have to shoulder the huge tuition payments.
“I am really proud,” said her father, Patrice Lee.
“It’s wonderful,” her mother, Ramona Lee, said.
Principal Carla Scuzzarella paid a special tribute at the beginning of the ceremony to seven young men who will be serving in the armed forces: Angus Aheron, Erik Hollenbeck, Dustin Lundy, Cooper McLeod, Robert Peterson, Zachary Pimentel and John Surette.
Hollenbeck, president of the National Honor Society, will leave June 30 to enroll at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. He received several acceptances from colleges but the one from the Coast Guard Academy “was the most important to me,” he said.
After graduating from the academy and receiving his commission as an ensign, he will be required to serve in the Coast Guard for five years. He may end up serving longer, he said.
McLeod is headed for Oregon State University on an ROTC scholarship while Peterson will attend the State University of New York Maritime College. Aheron, Lundy, Pimentel and Surette will join the enlisted ranks of the armed forces.