Eight Indian-Americans win highest congressional honour for youth
The Congressional Award program gives youngsters between 14-23 years the opportunity to do something positive for themselves and their community, garnering their talents, and most importantly, gaining valuable experience from it. The minimum eligibility criterions for the Gold award includes 400 hours of work in public service, 200 hours in personal development, 200 hours in physical fitness and 40 hours of expedition / exploration.
Rediff.com / India Abroad provides a closer look to the lives of these winners, and most importantly, what makes these youngsters 'special.'
Neal Bakshi of Pennington, New Jersey, logged more than 1,600 hours of volunteer work, physical fitness, personal development and expedition/exploration -- the four program areas in the Congressional Award program for the American youth.
He was awarded a gold medal in the Congressional Award program, Congress's highest honour for youth.
For volunteer work, Neal completed his Boy Scout Eagle badge by building an informational kiosk, clearing 3,000 square feet of trail and planting fruit trees along the Hopewell trail in his town, putting in over 450 hours.
For physical fitness, he played varsity football and is the captain of his school team. For personal development, he worked as tech crew for his school plays and musicals and received the Rising Stars honour. For the expedition, he climbed the 6,288-foot Mt Washington.
"Service," Neal said, "usually springs from selflessness and the reward is in the service itself, but I am humbled and honoured."
He is a two-time winner of the Presidential Volunteer Gold Award. The Princeton Chamber of Commerce honoured him in May with its Kristin Appelget Award for civic service and community leadership. He is co-president, People To People International's Princeton chapter, and has led national and international humanitarian projects. An honour roll student, he hopes to pursue a career in business or law.
Image: Reward is in the service itself, says Neal Bakshi
'We can help make our world a better place'
For personal development, he played pieces like Fur Elise and The Moonlight Sonata on the piano. Vinay has also excelled as a varsity soccer and tennis player at his school since freshman year, and was selected as captain of both teams. He has also organized trips for his family and friends.
"I had never imagined," he said, "my work with SeniorLink would have won me such an award. Though I do not need such recognition to feel fulfilled, learning about the award and the many other medalists has been a profound humbling experience. We are doing revolutionary things for our society, both on a small and large scale. To be a part of this all, to be recognized with similarly accomplished individuals, is a privilege. If the collective group of Congressional Award medalists can incite a similar energy in others, we can help make our world a better place."
A national AP scholar and a national merit scholar finalist, the Princeton Day High School graduate was accepted at many top universities and has decided to attend Harvard University.
Image: We are doing revolutionary things for our society, says Vinay Trivedi
'My parents have been extremely supportive'
As part of her voluntary service, she assisted at We Care Arts, a facility for adults with physical and mental disabilities; taught young visitors to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery; and helped the community through the City of Beavercreek's Youth Council.
For personal development, she said she learned to play the violin using the Suzuki method. Rowing was her sport of choice for physical fitness.
"I started this [award] project in the eighth grade and my parents have been extremely supportive since the beginning," she said. "Not only did they drive me around, but also encouraged me when the task seemed daunting. This [the project] has inspired in me a love for public service which I will certainly continue for as long as possible."
Image: This project has inspired in me a love for public service, says Nandini Srinivasan
Helping the underprivileged of the world
"We provide funding to hospitals in these areas for eye-related surgeries for individuals who cannot afford them," Sujay said.
A graduate of Pittsford Mendon High School, Rochester, New York, he will be entering the freshman class at Harvard University this fall.
"Throughout high school, I was part of the varsity tennis and the varsity Frisbee teams. I played table tennis at the national level, and was ranked No. 2 in the United States for my age group in 2003," he said.
He had been doing graduate level science research on the production of ethanol for alternative energy for five years now, and was named the Top Young Scientist in New York in 2008.
Image: Sujay's ReSight Inc funds hospitals for eye-surgeries for people who cannot afford them
'It's an honour to be recognized by the Congress'
She also performed with her Irish music and dance school, St Louis Irish Arts. For personal development, she learned how to play 50 new Irish tunes, in addition to learning how to play the Irish tenor banjo. Her physical fitness goal was to learn four traditional Irish set of dances.
Ami grew up in St Louis, and graduated from the Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing in 2004, where she earned her high school diploma and her associate's degree in applied science.
She attended Washington University in St Louis, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 2008. She was one of 30 students from North America selected to attend the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland, commencing this fall.
"While I have enjoyed doing voluntary public service," she said, "and plan on continuing service long into the future, it is an honour to be recognized by Congress for giving something back to the community. Helen Gannon, director, Saint Louis Irish Arts, was my adviser for the Congressional Award program, and I cannot adequately express my gratitude for the opportunity she has given me in endorsing the program and supporting her students."
Image: Ami Mehta has volunteered 7 years for the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned songbirds
'I am humbled'
His personal development included inculcating skills and leadership ability in extracurricular activities. For physical fitness, he developed tennis skills and improved overall fitness.
His expeditions included hiking on the Grand Canyon and touring the historic Mackinac Island.
"The Congressional Award is a tremendous opportunity for everyone from the ages 14 to 23 to challenge themselves and gain lifelong skills and habits," he said.
"I am humbled. I have done nothing extraordinary."
Image: 'The award is a tremendous opportunity to challenge oneself and gain lifelong skills, says Aakash Bavishi
From Indian classical dance to reading to the blind
For public service, she volunteered at the Jersey Shore Medical Center and assisted physical therapists at Crest Physical Therapy.
She also worked at soup kitchens and rotary dinners for the less fortunate and read to the blind. For personal development, she learned how to play Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake on the piano in two months and advanced to a more challenging level.
She took karate lessons twice a week and advanced from orange belt to red belt. Her physical fitness goal was to take Indian classical dance lessons, learn 10 challenging songs and graduate in Indian dancing.
She just graduated from Wall High School and will be attending Quinnipiac University in the fall.
"I am enrolled in their six-and-a-half year physical therapy program and will be receiving my doctorate in physical therapy once I have completed," she said.
Nevin Raj, a Star-Ledger Scholar for Hunterdon County, graduated from Huterdon Central Regional High School, New Jersey and is reportedly expected to attend Harvard.
He hopes to become a physician. He scored 2,330 in SAT, had a perfect 800 in math, and top-scored in all his eight AP exams.
He took summer courses at Harvard and Raritan Community College. He was also a research intern at Princeton University and is an all-star midfielder with a traveling soccer team.
He runs a computer business and has established a charity, Tools for Schools, that provides school supplies to poor children and is supported by the United Way.
Image: Sonam Shah just graduated from Wall High School and will be attending Quinnipiac University in the fall