Darien High School valedictorian Maya Nalawade said that living in many places has broadened her perspective on the world.

Maya was born in Danbury, and lived in Redding, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and New Delhi, India, before moving to Darien.

“I have seen other cultures and it made me more aware of how different everyone’s experiences are,” said Maya, who speaks fluent French.

This fall, she’ll be attending Columbia University, majoring in English literature and business management.

According to Maya, the cultures of India and the United States vary greatly.

“For example, in India, there is a large difference with how you are supposed to treat elders,” Maya said. “I have to say a word [of respect] after their name, and bow down to the eldest person in the house.”

She said she prefers treating the elders on the “same plane” as the rest of the household.

“You should be able to talk with them and not feel limited, and be able to express your opinion,” she said.

Published poet

Maya has published poetry in various literary magazines. She recently published a book of poetry, called, “The World Is a Broken Puzzle: Exploring Identity and Belonging,” which is available on Amazon.com.

Unlike many people who may be afraid of poetry, Maya said she loves it. “It enables me to paint whatever is going on in my mind with words on a piece of paper,” she said.

“I like how I can take images in my mind and emotions and write them down,” she said. “I’m not bound by any rules. I don’t have to follow any punctuation. I can just do free verse.”

Her favorite poet is Maya Angelou.

“She’s a great poet and the name adds an extra element,” Maya chuckled.

Writing

Maya said her 10th grade English class inspired her to follow a writing path. “I really enjoyed how authors express themselves,” she said.

Maya is editor-in-chief of Darien High School’s literary magazine and president of the creative writing club. She’s also vice president of the school’s National English Honors Society.

“The English Honor Society and literary magazine has really opened up my mind,” Maya said. “I found a community of writers where I can actually have a place to express myself and people would validate it.”

She said it’s important to also foster other creative expressions at school to create events, competitions and meetings to get people organized in writing.

In that regard, Maya and her peers were responsible for keeping the school’s writing center tutoring service strong.

“We expanded it to get more people, and made it more known around the school,” she said.

She helped spread the word about it to English teachers and was able to get more English Honor Society members to come and join it, according to Maya.

She and her peers are still working on the literary magazine now — remotely.

“We are trying to create an online version,” she said, adding they plan to publish it later in the month.

Maya would like to continue her passion for English into college and beyond.

Music and singing

Music makes up a large part of Maya’s life. She plays the viola for Darien High School’s orchestra and sings classical music.

Outside of school, she does classical singing at the Stamford Music & Arts Academy, and performs in recitals.

She has learned about other languages through her music. One song she has done that with is “l’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from the opera “Carmen.”

“When I sing it, I have to learn how the French annunciate certain vowels and sounds to sound authentic,” Maya said.

She added that one must also have good breathe support when learning how to sing. “So, you do a lot of exercises to sing from your core and use your diaphragm,” she said.

Role models

Maya said her life has benefited greatly by being a twin. She has a fraternal twin sister, Nisha, who will be attending the University of Pennsylvania.

“Being a twin helps you because you have another support system right in your house, in your school and in your personal life,” Maya said. “Having a twin pushes you to find your own niche.”

Maya continued: “When you are a twin, you want to differentiate yourself and be your own person. Nisha pushed me to follow my own path.”

Aside from Nisha, Maya said her role model is the Darien High School class of 2020.

In the time of the coronavirus, “we’ve all shown our resilience. We are all trying our best.”

“Even though we have the shutdown, we still have club meetings running on Zoom, like clockwork,” Maya said. “It’s commendable. We are still carrying on as if it’s normal.”

Darien High School eLearning began running very quickly after schools closed, and about a week after eLearning, the school’s clubs started running remotely as well, according to Maya.

Advice for classmates

One piece of advice Maya has for her classmates is not to let other people determine what’s best for them. Instead, they should listen to themselves.

“Don’t be limited by anyone,” she said. “Go with your gut.”

She said that many Indian families strongly encourage their children to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

“At the end of the day, I chose what I wanted to do, and I don’t regret going down this path,” she said. “Be your own person.”

sfox@darientimes.com