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Staples Harvard bound

West Fargo High School Principal Gary Clark, right, introduces class representative Mark Staples, left, during the 2013 commencement ceremony at Scheels Arena in Fargo, on Sunday, May 26. (Carrie Snyder / Forum News Service)

Recent West Fargo High School graduate Mark Staples is taking a big leap this fall, as he leaves his family's Harwood farm and goes to the nation's oldest and most prestigious university.

Mark, the son of Les and Brenda Staples, could have gone to several top-notch universities, but ultimately decided to become one of roughly 2,000 graduates around the world to join Harvard University for the Fall 2013 semester.

"I've asked myself 'why Harvard' lots of times," Staples said. "When it came down to it, they have incredible opportunities there. When I was there, I told my tour guide I was thinking about going into government, and she said 'well, Condoleezza Rice was just here just the other week.' It also ended up being better financially, too."

According to Staples, the process included an application, optional essay and interview with a Harvard alum. His information is then displayed to the Harvard admissions staff, which has the final say.

"It was quite humbling to find out that my life was on display for these 40 people," Staples said.

The admissions staff accepted just 5.8 percent of the applications it received -- according to a report on Harvard's website -- which begs the question: What made Staples stand out in a sea of roughly 35,000 applicants?

"I talked to an alum from there and asked what he looks for in an interviewee," Staples said. "He said 'a well-rounded person who does more than one thing, along with any other unique experience or difference you can bring to campus.' Somehow, I had the right formula. I don't know what it was, but it helped."

What made him stand out is far more apparent to West Fargo language arts teacher Aaron Knodel.

"He is a rare, rare student," Knodel said. "Intellectually, he is very impressive, but he can also balance that with a multitude of interests in a special way. A lot of students who take the course work that he takes get really stressed. He is very even-keeled and very measured in the way he thinks about things. He thinks long-term. He is a truly rare kid with so many talents, that it's difficult to determine where he is going to end up, because there are so many possibilities."

Throughout his time at West Fargo High School, Staples has been very active, serving as the student body president, as well as the vice president for the North Dakota state student council. He also serves as a writer and copy editor for the school newspaper.

Outside of the school setting, Staples does a great deal of volunteer work. He is on the planning committee for the "Fill the Dome" food drive, and had a big hand in making the United Way's Student Day of Caring an event that expands past the Fargo area.

"In my junior year, I worked on the Day of Caring with the United Way," Staples said. "It was a great experience, so later that year, I ran for state student council president and my campaign platform was to take the Day of Caring program, which was big around the Fargo area, and make it a statewide thing and get student involvement."

He ended up becoming vice president, but still brought that plan into action.

"It was a long summer of work, but it was fun," Staples said. "It got to be a big thing, now they are planning to make it an annual event."

He also has a hand in the Team Ian run for charity, which raised $20,000 this year.

"I'm not sure where all my time goes, but it gets eaten up somehow," Staples said.

"I think if you asked him, I doubt he would have any regrets about the choices he has made in terms of getting involved in various things," Knodel said. "He is a tremendous kid. He is not one of those students that volunteers specifically to get into a college. He genuinely believes -- steadfastly -- in his community and the well-being of others."

"There is more to Mark than meets the eye," principal Gary Clark said. "He is obviously a very bright young man who has done very well in the classroom, but on top of that, his character is important to me. It is his continued passion for community service that makes him outstanding."

What excites Staples most about donning the Harvard crimson is moving from a rural area in North Dakota to Boston, one of the most densely populated cities in the nation.

"It's definitely going to be a big change," Staples said. "I grew up on a farm. I've always lived on a farm. Moving to one of the biggest population centers in America is a pretty daunting thought. There is definitely a little trepidation there, but it's a lot of fun to think of all the experiences I'm going to have and the opportunities I can't get elsewhere."

Despite looking forward to the scenery change, Staples will not forget the area -- and the community -- that made him the person he is.

"Absolutely everything that I have experienced or known has come from the Fargo/West Fargo community," Staples said. "It's where I grew up and it holds everything I've learned in life. It is going to be ingrained in me, and I'll always be a part of it, and that is something you can't replace -- that sense of home. I'll take the entirety of everything I have learned here and see how I can mold it in another place."

For Knodel, expectations for Staples in the future are incredibly high, but he has the capabilities to meet -- or exceed -- everything expected of him.

"It's just exciting," Knodel said. "To get into Harvard really says something about the range of his abilities. He is capable of anything ranging from the arts to humanities to the sciences to mathematics. His range of skills is so broad, and when you couple that with his leadership skills, it is not hard to imagine him taking a role where he is in charge of a large group of people, whether it is in government or business. He is a natural leader, but also has the charisma and dedication to others that make him naturally appealing. He is hard not to just gravitate toward. He has all of these skills, yet still comes off as a very humane, genuine guy. That is what separates him.

"I told him 'honestly, if you ran for governor, I would vote for you,'" Knodel said, laughing.

Likewise, Clark expects Staples to continue his fine work both in the classroom and the community.

"He is equipped to do well (at Harvard)," Clark said. "He is not going to be a wallflower. I fully expect him to have community service in mind there as well. I expect to see him take an active role wherever he lands."

"I don't think he will forget his roots, yet I see him pushing new frontiers," Clark said. "I know whatever he does, he'll want to help others."