Published June 05. 2011 4:00AM Updated June 05. 2011 9:33PM
Brittany Marie Murray is just 5 feet tall, but a couple of moments into a basketball game, she said, her opponents on the court realize she is no easy target.
The 17-year-old Norwich native, who is graduating this month at the top of her class from Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School, takes pleasure in defying stereotypes.
"I like showing people that I can do what they think I can't," she said.
Those who doubt the 105-pound Murray is able to wield a drill or tie in an electrical panel also would be mistaken. She has flourished in the electrical program at Grasso, where instructor Jamie Lamitie said she has the rare combination of being studious and good with her hands while also having a great personality.
On Friday night, Murray was honored as Grasso's student of the year.
Given a choice of three scholarships, she has chosen to study nuclear engineering at Three Rivers Community College. Dominion Nuclear Connecticut, which owns the Millstone Power Station in Waterford, has awarded her a two-year scholarship along with a paid internship. Murray said she grasps math and science concepts quickly but knows little about nuclear engineering.
"That's why I'm excited to get into it and learn something new," she said.
Even in middle school, Murray was thinking of her future.
"I decided to come to a technical school so I would have job opportunities when I get out," she said.
That she is valedictorian is no surprise to her parents, Heather and Rich Murray. Heather Murray said they let Brittany, the oldest of their four children, choose her own direction, then made sure she stayed on course.
"Whatever she wanted to do, we stood behind her," Heather Murray said. "We made sure she did it and continued forward."
Murray's valedictorian speech, which she will deliver at graduation on June 17, is about a concept that Lamitie, her teacher and coach, introduced to her freshman year.
With the simple three-word phrase "waste of talent," he persuaded her to choose the electrical shop over another course of study and to try basketball and track.
She was captain of the girls' basketball and track teams junior and senior years.
"It takes a lot for me to get myself into things," she said. "I get nervous. But I've kind of learned to hide that. I've been pushed to do things."
Murray will pursue an associate degree at Three Rivers and said she may eventually enroll in a program leading to a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
Meanwhile, Murray works weekends as a cashier at ShopRite in Norwich and is immersed in end-of-the-year activities at school.
She attended the prom with a boy from the electrical program and said she would be going on a class trip to Six Flags amusement park.
She also plans on beach outings and sleepovers with her best friend, junior Jayne Morris.
Morris said she considers Murray trustworthy and inspirational.
"Because she gets good grades and is valedictorian, it encouraged me," Morris said. "She also got me into track."
Morris said everything she does with Murray ends with them laughing hysterically, but that she would be crying at Murray's graduation because she will miss her friend.