In order to be named valedictorian or salutatorian of a graduating class, a student has to be scary smart and ranked at the top of the class. That holds true for this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian at Farmington High School, but there’s one more attribute they have in common: humility.
Tarek Shoukri (the valedictorian) and Xinni Cai (the salutatorian) are both known for their intellects, talents and love of learning. Yet when others speak of them, what stands out is that both are humble and unassuming.
“It’s such a great honor and recognition,” said Shoukri. “I’m proud of all of my peers. We’ve all done such a great job.”
But if Shoukri won’t sing his own praises, others will.
In a recent “Patch” story, it was reported that at the recent Board of Education Student Recognition Night, board member Ellen Siuta told Shoukri, “You are one humble guy, you really are.” She then recalled when she learned he had been named valedictorian she said to her son Jack, “Did you know that Tarek was your valedictorian?” He responded, “Yes, I’ve known that for years.”
The top-ranked student in this year’s graduating class, Shoukri has taken the most rigorous program of studies that the school offers, noted David Berrill, guidance department chair. He is an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit Commended Student. Last year, he was the recipient of the Harvard Book Award.
“Throughout high school, Tarek has developed an insatiable desire to learn and to explore the world around him. His curiosity and passion emanate throughout all his academic and extracurricular pursuits,” said Berrill.
“I’ve enjoyed my history classes the most,” said Shoukri, who cited AP European History and AP U.S. History as two of his favorite classes. He participated in the Model UN and hopes to major in history at Brown University.
The son of Kamal Shoukri and Marlene Haddad, who are Egyptian, Tarek has lived in Farmington all his life. He’s played alto sax since fifth grade and was in the Symphonic Band at Farmington High. He’s also played on the varsity tennis team for four years and was named co-captain this season.
While he was not ready to disclose the topic of his speech for graduation, he did say that a theme will be how the graduates will always be connected to the town of Farmington and grateful for the privileges they were afforded.
Number two in the class
As salutatorian, Xinni (pronounced like “Shinny”) Cai is number two in the class of approximately 340 students. She has only had one B+ on her transcript (freshman year English) and is a Commended Merit Scholar and an AP Scholar with Distinction. Among her awards are the Brown University Book Award, and membership in the National Honor Society as well as Spanish, Math and Music National Honor Societies.
Yet Xinni was still surprised to be named salutatorian.
“I’ve always kept my grades up. I wanted to do well for myself and for my parents, but I didn’t expect it,” she said. “It was a surprise, and I’m really honored about getting this.”
Cai is the daughter of Chinese parents Xiaonan Xin and Yiqiang Cai. She was born in Japan, came to the U.S. at the age of two and moved to Farmington in third grade.
Guidance counselor Mary Sobin said, “Xinni is a brilliant young woman: an outstanding intellect with talent and personality to match. She is someone who is always ready to pitch in when help is needed.”
Cai is a member of the Madrigal Singers and plays violin in the Symphony Strings, the most selective orchestral group. In addition, she is senior editor of the yearbook. While she especially liked science classes in high school and participated in the Cutting Edge Internship Program at the University of Connecticut Health Center, she said she is not sure what she will major in when she attends Boston College (honors program) in the fall.
“Originally, my desire was to major in biology and study science, but I’m going to wait and see,” she said, adding that she also enjoyed AP U.S. History and AP Politics and Government.
She, like Shoukri, is still formulating her speech, but said it will include memories of high school and best wishes to her classmates.
At the recent Board of Education awards ceremony, Farmington High principal Tim Breslin spoke about the two honorees. He noted that in a crowd or in the lunchroom, it would be difficult to spot them, “because they are such gentle, kind people and they blend in so nicely.”
Farmington High School's graduation will be held June 20 at the school.