Alumna, essay contest winners celebrated


Rochita Ghosh

Naresh Khatri gives a presentation on the key ideas addressed in the winning six essays, which focused on social issues prevalent in society in the United States.
Last semester, Naresh Khatri and his family announced an essay contest honoring their daughter, RBHS alumna Avantika Khatri, who passed away during April of last year, according to The Daily Northwestern. On Mar. 22, the parents announced the winners of this contest at a ceremony held in their daughter’s memory, with four more people receiving recognition than what the family planned.Junior Boon Palipitana received first place in the contest, while junior Lisa Zhuang and senior Kelley Tackett joined him in second and third respectively. Juniors Megan Potthast and Mariah Doze as well as freshman Valeria Velasquez also received honorable mention awards in the contest.
The increased number of winners comes from the level of quality seen in the 19 essays submitted, Khatri said. He judged the essays alongside his wife, son, his wife’s colleague and his daughter’s friend, and all decided that more essays deserved recognition than the planned number of two.Junior Lisa Zhuang and Naresh Khatri shake hands as she receives recognition for placing second. Photo by Rochita Ghosh“We spent a lot of time on [judging], and we ended up with 6 essays. What we are doing is having a first, second and third place, and 3 more essays for consolation prizes, because even they have some good points,” Khatri said. “It’s okay, you know, having more people get recognized for their efforts, their thoughts.”
The essay contest topic involved the multitude of social issues seen in the United States today, which Velasquez finds interest in. She found the contest to be a way to explore and discuss social issues affecting the population at large, and appreciates the opportunity for it.
“I covered a lot of topics, like how a group of people may be blamed as an entire population, and some people feel the need to represent themselves, while other people don’t feel that pressure,” Velasquez said. “Like, how the actions of people in our American society don’t represent the population. Like with Muslims and how when a terrorist attack happens, people develop islamophobia.”
Velasquez’s research into islamophobia is an example of what Khatri wished to accomplish with this essay contest — living out his daughter’s ideals and inspiring others to do the same.
“The idea has been that, you know, she was a very idealistic person, and really wanted to take on some social issues and we [thought we] should think like that,” Khatri said. “We as a family really felt that maybe we can live her ideals in a way, if we can create some [discussion].”
Zhuang believes that Khatri and his family fulfilled this goal. She initially expected writing the essay to be easy, but when actually sitting down to write it, her mind drew blanks on what to write. The challenge of the essay soon evolved into passionate writing, leaving Zhuang feeling content about what she had learned.
“What I really liked about the essay topic was that it wasn’t asking like, why should we have change? It was more asking how should we have change, and that’s what really got me to have to think about the essay,” Zhuang said. “At first, I thought, ‘Oh this is gonna be easy, I’m just gonna be like we should all have equality, blah, blah, blah,’ but it’s asking how we should have change, and then I had to sit there for quite a while and think, ‘hmm, how do we have change?’”
Zhuang feels that the essay contest was a great way to honor Avantika Khatri’s memory, through partaking in her passion for social issues and advocating for progression in them all.
“I love how they had an essay contest to help have people learn about something she loved. I know she would have loved to learn more about social [issues]. I like how this almost continues it for her, that we’re all learning it sort of for her, in her memory,” Zhuang said. “…When I was writing it, I didn’t feel like I was writing an essay for a history class about social issues, I really felt like this essay was a lot more personal. You’re not writing to impress a teacher or anything, you’re writing in memory for this person, you’re not just doing this random assignment just because.”
Naresh Khatri aimed to create just this, wanting to invoke his daughter’s interest in the students of RBHS. By doing so, he feels that he is not just keeping her memory alive, but also her personality, accomplishments and dreams.
“Rather than creating some other memorial, this is something that I feel like, when we are doing it, we are living her and her life,” Khatri said.