Sumitra

Sumitra was born in Nepal, traditionally the birthplace of the Buddha, a nation of peace and harmony. When she was was a child there, however, it was a place of political confrontation and Maoist revolt.

"News about murders, abductions, and an upcoming revolution replaced cartoons and games," Sumitra wrote in an essay. "Festivals were quiet and solemn. Laughter was silenced." Her father, a government worker, was the first in his family to attend college. He had even gone on to earn a master's degree and traveled to places far from home for weeks at a time to build schools and health facilities and to advocate for better education. Sumitra remembers frightening phone calls with ransom threats, school bus rides interrupted by violence, and her mother burying money in a field.

Eventually, Sumitra, her parents, and a sister made it out, and settled in New York. Her father is now a salesman in a Garment District store that sells trimmings, and her mother works in a nail salon. In her two years at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, Sumitra has achieved a remarkable 4.0 average and extracurriculars galore—including chief editor of the yearbook, vice president of her class, captain of the school's Science Olympiad team and troop leader of the Nepal Scouts. Her next stop is Fordham, to study political science, and then perhaps law school.

The teacher who made a difference in Sumitra's high school career at Grover Cleveland High School is her calculus teacher, Marius Cosma.