Even before meeting Stoneman Douglas’s class of 2016 projected valedictorian, Sahith Mandala stands out in a crowd. At 6-foot-one, Mandala towers over nearly everyone around him – not only through his physical stature but also his impressive list of achievements.
With his extensive catalog of accomplishments, Mandala is anything but a stereotypical high-achiever, who dedicates every breathing moment to academic success and thus remains sheltered from the world outside the classroom. In fact, Mandala put thousands of miles between himself and the American classroom in 2009, when he moved to India for family.
“Literally everything changed. I was the kid from America, just like how I’m the kid from India now. I had a lot of adjusting to do,” Mandala said. “I had to make new friends, learn the language, and adjust to the stricter school system.”
However, even as he adjusted to stricter academic life characteristic of Asian countries like India, he refused to give up non-academic interests.
“I was one of the few that tried to be well-rounded,” Mandala said. “The best there devoted every waking second to studying. They didn’t care about service, sports, or even a personal life.”
Mandala’s cultural influences converged, as he struggled to balance India’s rigorous academics with time-consuming extracurricular activities, maintained by his American values of well-roundness. His determination to achieve this perfect balance brought him to a local government school, which exposed him to the hardships experienced by a developing country’s population.
Bearing the worst equipment and instructors, government-funded schools are “terrible,” as termed by Mandala. Most significantly, these schools lack teachers with proficiency in English, as well as classes taught in English, which puts students at a heavy disadvantage at college.
“So a few friends and I took it upon ourselves to go to a local school to teach English,” Mandala said.
Ultimately, his volunteer involvement in the government school evolved into so much more, especially as the schoolchildren inspired Mandala.
“The value that these kids put to education changed my perspective on life. Education was the only way out for them. They endured suffered and went through so much, just to sit at school and try to learn,” Mandala said. “I realized how lucky I was to have the opportunities that I have. I never needed an excuse for not trying my best ever again.”
Today, this philosophy permeates every aspect of his life. Since his return to America in 2014, Mandala has seized every opportunity that has come his way. Not only is he top of his class academically, Mandala is a member of Douglas’s varsity volleyball team. He also finds time to volunteer at a local hospital, illuminating his desire to pursue a career in the medical field.