What Does Character Mean to You? One Student Answers
Speech written by Severn Upper School student Shreeya Bahethi '18
As Headmaster Doug Lagarde stated in his speech to the graduating class of 2017 last spring, character is a choice. It's the way in which one engages with others and the communities of which they are a part. At the NHS and Cum Laude ceremony each year, students write reflections on what the four tenets of NHS mean to them — this year Shreeya Bahethi '18 wrote a personal reflection on character. She tells the story of her grandfather's experience as an immigrant to the United States and how both he and her grandmother use their successes in life to benefit others. The following is a transcript of her speech.
When I Think of Character
When I think of character, I immediately think of my grandparents. My grandfather grew up in Rajasthan, India, with his brothers and sisters. He grew up in an underprivileged home, where his family struggled to make ends meet. His strong character today is rooted in his childhood. He watched as his mother chose to feed her children rather than feed herself. In 1969, he traveled to America by himself on a scholarship, leaving behind his wife and baby (my father), in order to pursue his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Buffalo. Eventually, my grandfather and grandmother opened their company Science Systems and Applications Inc., which today spans three different states: Maryland, Virginia, and California.
I Think of Humility
Even given his many successes, my grandfather has never forgotten his roots or the people who contributed to his success, which brings me to a key component of character — humility. For example, although he was president of his company, he used to park near the back of the parking lot at work because he wanted to make sure anyone who was disabled or was in a rush had easy access to the building.
He is also humble because instead of taking all of the credit for his success, he readily acknowledges the people who have helped him along the way. For example, he credits Dr. Fraser, a professor who took my grandfather as a young immigrant under his wing at the University of Buffalo. In my grandfather’s own words, “We would never be as fortunate as we are today without the kindness of Dr. Fraser.”
I Think of Compassion
Another person my grandfather credits for supporting him throughout his journey is my grandmother. The community she creates around her is one of inclusion. She always makes an effort to get to know the people around her, regardless if they are professional colleagues or strangers, which brings me to my second key component of character — compassion. As soon as she enters SSAI, she readily greets her employees, asking personal questions, "How are your children? Is your husband feeling better? Has Larissa left for college yet?"
Along with my grandfather, my grandmother established multiple scholarship funds, both independently and through the American Meteorological Society, to aid talented students in achieving their goals. Because my grandfather received a scholarship to pursue his studies in America, my grandparents want to pass on the opportunities they were given to the next generation of young entrepreneurs.
I admire my grandparents’ strong characters, particularly my grandfather’s humility and my grandmother’s compassion. I find myself wanting to mimic their legacies in establishing my own character.
More about Character and Leadership at Severn
Severn is a community of leaders who believe in honor and character development. We have a living and functioning honor code, which was designed by and continues to be upheld by our students and faculty members. We hold grade-level seminars where students explore questions of ethics and values. Our students take the lead in school-wide initiatives to promote unity through class and club activities, often to benefit local and global charity organizations. These character and leadership building activities help our students learn to both recognize good character in others and actively make choices of good character for themselves.