Dark clouds, gusty winds and the threat of torrential rains looming in the air didn’t stop Connetquot High School’s Class of 2011 from graduating Thursday.

With red and white caps and gowns blowing in the wind, students proudly walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Speaking in front of the graduating class of 450 students was Valedictorian Madison Pauly, 17, of Oakdale. She talked about the tremendous impact Connetquot High School had on her and her fellow students’ lives.

“The experience at Connetquot made us students into empathetic and understanding people,” she said. “Being able to interact with so many different people has been wonderful.”

With a 104.1 GPA at Connetquot, Pauly was the Literary Art Magazine Editor in Chief, National Merit Scholarship Student, AP Scholar with Distinction, National Art Honor Society President and the member of the National Honor Society and National Foreign Language Honor Society. She also volunteers at Saint John Nepomucene in Bohemia.

Pauly plans to attend Dartmouth University, where she will major in English literature. She aspires to become a newspaper journalist.

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Pauly’s parents, Mary and Steve, couldn’t be happier about their daughter’s academic excellence.

“Madison has been incredible to raise. Besides being the smartest person I know, she is the nicest,” said her mother.

Class President Steven Candito brought humor to the ceremony during his speech.

“A very wise man named Dr. Seuss once said ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’,” said Candito.

He also encouraged his fellow students to remain optimistic even during these tough economic times.

“The class of 2011 has the power to do astonishing things even in a downed economy, because sitting before you are our future leaders.”