Spackenkill Student is a Youthful Leader
April 28, 2006
By Jeremy Schwartz / The Weekly Beat
Sulinya Ramanan has not yet completed high school, but she has accomplished more in her 17 years than many people do in a lifetime.
On May 18, the Spackenkill High School senior will be honored as one of the recipients of the 2006 Hometown Hero awards.
The awards are presented annually by the American Red Cross of Dutchess County to honor individuals in the community who have had an uncommon impact on the lives of others.
In Ramanan's case, the Red Cross is honoring one of its own. She has volunteered with the organization for two years.
"Sulinya is one of the most aware teenagers I've ever met," said Red Cross Executive Director Willis McCree.
Using her technological skills, Ramanan designed the center page theme and layout for the 2005 Dutchess County Red Cross Annual Report. She has also been highly visible in the community, traveling with Red Cross staff to local schools and community events to speak with children about emergency preparedness and distribute "boo-boo bags," first aid kits that teach youths the importance of safety and hygiene.
McCree said Ramanan displays an uncommon mixture of poise and humility.
"She has a presence about her that people are drawn to," he said.
The Hometown Hero award is not the first accolade that Ramanan has received. Last year, she won the 2005 Dutchess County Executive Arts Award as a "Youth with Exceptional Promise" (for which she was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from The Weekly Beat's sister publication, Pulse).
In 2004, Ramanan wrote a winning grant application to the Dutchess County Arts Council for a series of classical Indian dance programs, which she presented last year at community centers and schools in eastern Dutchess.
From an early age, Ramanan exhibited a willingness to donate her time and effort to help others, volunteering at the bookstore of her Hindu cultural center in the Poconos.
Always aware of national and global issues, Ramanan voiced her concern for animals and the environment by regularly writing letters to state and national leaders about issues like habitat destruction and the slaughter of baby seals for fur.
"I really started becoming active in middle school, paying more attention to the news and bills that were being passed," she said.
She follows developments in environmental legislation through her membership in advocacy groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, The Humane Society of the United States and the Ocean Conservancy.
Dance has also been a major part of Ramanan's life, specifically the Indian classical dance form of Bharata Natyam. She has studied the dynamic form, which incorporates devotional and dramatic elements depicting Hindu mythology, since the fifth grade.
"The footwork is intricate and there are demanding facial expressions because you are telling a story. You blend both to make a dance/drama. The dance can depict epics. It's the first form of classical dance. I love it because you can forget about your life and become someone else. It's liberating," she said.
Ramanan has progressed to teaching the dance to youthful students at her cultural center and the Hindu Samaj Temple in Wappingers Falls.
Ramanan's love of the dance was such that she wanted to share it with others.
"There are people who've never seen (Bharata Nayam) and don't have access to a lot of the nice things that I do," she said.
Ramanan wasted no time in submitting a detailed proposal to the Dutchess County Arts Council. According to Benjamin Krevolin, president of the arts council, Ramanan's proposal was selected from a field that included as many as 40 applications.
"She was able to define better what her project was and talk about her work in a more articulate and clear way. She is precocious in her ability to organize a program She has great talent as a dancer, but what separates her from others is that she knows how to get herself produced," said Krevolin.
Last year, she gave a series of half-hour performances for children at schools in Dover, Amenia and elsewhere. The recitals included elaborate costumes, hairstyles and makeup, which required more than two hours of preparation.
Ramanan said the students asked her myriad questions following the performances.
"One student asked me, 'Are you a princess' That made my day," she said.
Ramanan has also excelled in the classroom. A member of the National Honor Society, she plans to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall.
Her extracurricular activities include Youth Against Racism, the Environmental Friends Club and Advocates for Human Rights.
Ramanan said receiving the Hometown Hero award was unexpected.
"I was really surprised. It was a bit of a shock, but it's really heartwarming," she said.