North Allegheny grad named a Presidential Scholar

| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Surabhi Beriwal has one regret about being named one of the 141 U.S. Presidential Scholars this year: Her grandfather did not live to see it.

“He died at the end of March, before the semifinalists were announced. He was going to come from India to go to Washington, D.C., with me if I won,” Beriwal said. “He taught me to live each day to the fullest and always do the best I can.”

Every year, 121 students are recognized for academic achievement, and 20 are recognized for artistic achievement.

Beriwal, a 2014 graduate of North Allegheny Senior High School, qualified for the selection process for the academic Presidential Scholars by attaining a high score on the ACT college-entrance exam. In her case, it was a perfect score.

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by the president, selected the scholars based on personal essays; school transcripts; and evidence of community service, leadership, and a commitment to high ideals.

Beriwal, 18, the daughter of Shilpa and Sushil Beriwal of Marshall Township, had a GPA of 4.6, which placed her in the top 2 percent of North Allegheny seniors.

She participated in community-service projects, including fundraising for typhoon-relief efforts in the Philippines, collecting 3,000 books for needy children in Ghana and selling bracelets to raise money for HIV/AIDS education.

Her favorite service project, she said, was participating in anti-bullying efforts at North Allegheny.

She served as secretary for the NA debate team and, as a fourth-degree black belt in tae kwon do, she volunteered as a martial arts teacher at ZangTKD in Marshall.

“(The Presidential Scholar award) is one of the top awards in the nation. To compete against students who walk through the door with perfect ACT and SAT scores, a candidate needs to showcase an additional dimension. Knowing Surabhi's writing, I suspect she submitted application essays that won over the judges,” said one of her former teachers, Dave Morris, 42, of Mars.

He was Beriwal's 11th-grade Advanced Placement English 3 Language and Composition teacher.

“I was happy just to be listed as a semifinalist,” Beriwal said.

Scholars were permitted to invite their most influential teacher to accompany them on the trip to Washington to receive their award.

Beriwal chose Morris.

“When I started in his class, I was not a confident person. He influenced me and helped me gain a voice through my essays,” she said.

Last month, the Presidential Scholars were honored at a ceremony in Washington, where they received a 24-carat-gold-plated medallion from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

They also participated in activities and events held in their honor, including a performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; spoke with members of Congress at the Capitol, and met First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

“Meeting Mrs. Obama was such a pleasure and an honor,” Beriwal said. “She spoke to us briefly, and we got a group picture with her.”

In the fall, Beriwal will attend Duke University in North Carolina to study economics or neuroscience.

This is the second consecutive year that a North Allegheny student has been named a Presidential Scholar. Last year, Richard “Tommy” McCoy, also of Marshall Township, was awarded the honor.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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