Most families are ecstatic if they produce a valedictorian. But how would you feel with two?
"We're very proud of them," said Dr. Vibhuti Singh, father of Niraj Singh, this year's valedictorian at Lakewood High School's Center for Advanced Technologies program and Navin, the school's 2006 valedictorian.
Add that a cousin of the students', Vivek Singh, was this year's valedictorian at Forest High in Ocala, and you get one happy family.
Navin is studying medicine at the University of South Florida, and Niraj and Vivek are heading to the University of Florida to eventually do the same.
Vibhuti, a cardiologist, doesn't think his profession pushed them to study medicine.
"Rather they've always pushed themselves to be successful in their studies," he said. "They like challenges."
But the Singhs disagree about how the success came about.
Dad says: "I'm sure it's not anything unusual or anything in the genes."
Mom, Usha Singh, says (with a laugh): "They had the genes."
But Niraj says it's because of their grandfather Rama Singh.
All three valedictorians thanked him in their speeches, and all spent lots of time learning from Rama, who emigrated from India during the 1960s to become a civil engineer.
"He's the reason our family is in this country, let alone the reason we had a good upbringing," Niraj said.
Rama, 79, said he tried to instill a basic value in his grandchildren: Think about others before yourself.
"You have the opportunity and the ability to do good things," Rama said. "So don't be selfish."
As far as his own accomplishments, Niraj tries to play them down.
"I did my best and it just happened," he said.
He's just like any other kid, he said. He plays tennis and listens to music, including anything from punk rock, classical to traditional Indian. He works out at the gym and plays the piano or violin to "relax." That and he got a 4.8 grade point average.
Niraj said he's looking forward to stepping it up at UF and making his family — including his grandfather — proud.
He's certainly following his mother's favorite advice, which she doles out frequently.
"I believe you only walk this way once," she said. "So make the best of it."
Andy Boyle can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8087.