Staples High hands out 405 diplomas to the Class of 2010

For Michael White's family, the partying Wednesday began two hours before heading to Staples High School for graduation.

"We were watching the World Cup at my house," said White, dressed in cap and gown, under the baking sun, waiting for his turn to proceed into the ceremony where he and 404 other members of the Class of 2010 received diplomas.

His cousins were visiting from Florida, he said, and his grandmother was in town for the event as well. Surrounding the television set that morning, they all watched as the U.S. soccer team scored a last-minute goal against Algeria, clinching a key victory in the World Cup.

"The whole family just started screaming," said White, who plans to play soccer at the University of Delaware, which he will attend this fall. "Then I had to shower, eat and get ready real quick. It was a great start to the day."

With that, he disappeared into the sea of blue robes making their way up the steamy stairwell toward the Staples field house. Evidently, others had watched the soccer game.

"U.S.A! U.S.A!" they brayed.

Nearing the field house, the traditional strain of "Pomp and Circumstance" drifted into the hallway, which brought forth a second chant.

"Two by two! Two by two!" a teacher cried.

After four years of obeying teachers, members of Staples Class of 2010 heeded the call one more time as they headed to collect their diplomas Wednesday afternoon. The graduates were celebrated for their feats in the classroom, in art studios, in music halls and on athletic fields.

"Every one of you has your own story," Principal John Dodig said in his remarks. "And you're now all products of Staples High School. That's the gift that will keep on giving."

In his valedictory address, Nureen Murali echoed those sentiments, calling the class a "unique patchwork" of talents. He saluted classmates who excelled in astronomy, in pole-vaulting, in journalism and in choir. Then he urged the graduates to find their real passion in life and to pursue it with "unfettered drive."

"Success," he said, quoting the renowned businessman Arnold Glaslow, "isn't a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire."

Superintendant Elliott Landon ushered the graduates into what he described as a complex world "of strife and uncertainty." It would be unrealistic, he said, to expect the graduates to solve every problem they encounter. But he asked them to retain their optimism so that they might someday solve whatever problems they tackle.

"There are no limits to what can be done or what you can achieve," Landon said. He then made a special request, asking the graduates to commit to helping make the American public education system the best it can be. He asked the graduates to always strive to make every resource available to every child in every school district they encounter.

Then came the diplomas.

In waves of about 20, the graduates formed single-file lines, ascended a slight ramp to the stage, handed a leaflet bearing their names to an announcer, listened for their names to be called -- and for the accompanying applause, boosted by scattered air horns -- received their diplomas from Board of Education member James Marpe, shook hands with Dodig and Landon, and finally looped back to their seats.

Meanwhile, a dozen or so guests crouched behind a droopy rope in front of the stage, pointing and snapping their cameras. A few wielded foot-long lenses. One man held up his cell phone. Yvette Henry steadied her digital camera, waiting for her daughter Joselyn.

When a friend of her son was announced, she cried, "Ya, Santiago!" When Joselyn was announced, she let out a whoop.

The field house was stifling under the day's humid but sunny skies, but the Emergency Medical Services reported there were no medical problems and that nobody fainted.

Sitting front and center, the robed graduates experimented with several methods for keeping cool. For most of the ceremony, Sitara Mahtani and Abbie Beckoff fanned themselves with their yellow leaflets. These proved too flimsy, they said afterward. So they switched to fanning with their diploma cases, which performed slightly better, according to Mahtani.

They only found a real solution as the ceremony closed, after they'd flung their caps at the ceiling. "Those caps make awesome fans," Mahtani noted. "Now I know what to do with mine for the rest of my life."

Mahtani described the feeling of graduating as "surreal" and "mind-boggling."

"We waited our whole life for this," agreed Beckoff, who will attend Eastern Connecticut State University this fall.

"It's a relief," Beckoff went on. "But now we're at the bottom of the food chain again."

Referencing the valedictory address, Mahtani said she's still searching for her own passion. She called honors U.S. History from sophomore year the most challenging course she took at Staples, but said she's in no hurry to select a major when she arrives at Vassar College in the fall.

Wednesday's ceremony culminated with a PTA-sponsored picnic in Staples' main courtyard. The area quickly came to resemble Times Square, with graduates and their guests zigzagging about, chatting on cell phones, grabbing cookies and lemonade, posing for pictures. Herding families proved a particular challenge.

Tonya Gonsalves achieved some success at this, having spotted her daughter, BriAna Pendergrass, early on, if only for a moment. As a result, Gonsalves stood beside a tree, with her daughter's cap, diploma and two bouquets of flowers in hand. She also clutched the ribbons to four balloons that she'd purchased earlier in the day in New Haven, where she works as a pre-school teacher.

One of the balloons featured Winnie the Pooh in graduation garb, hoisting his cap in the air. The cartoon bear flapped around, bouncing into the other balloons and twisting with the afternoon breeze.

Gonsalves said selecting the balloons had been easy. "Pooh-Bear is her favorite," she said, referring to her daughter. "The others are just graduation-related."

The floating Pooh-Bear proved to have a side benefit -- making Gonsalves easy to spot in the midst of the bustling crowd.

Scott Grundie took a different approach. After hanging up with his father, the Duke-bound graduate pocketed his cell phone and headed into the shade. When asked about sentiments regarding the graduation, he stripped away the day's pomp and circumstance down to its core element: namely the heat.

"After all," he said, wiping his brow, "it was just a 90-degree day with 3,000 of us crammed inside the Staples field house."