Riya Patel

South Burlington Teen Distinguished From the Rest

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Thursday August 01, 2013

If you’ve been following Neighbors in the News, the name Riya Patel may be familiar. She’s an accomplished teen, recent South Burlington High School graduate with an impressive academic career and civic service record, and most recently crowned Distinguished Young Woman of Vermont. And yet, it’s all seemingly just a glimpse into what she has yet to achieve.

In 2011, The Other Paper introduced Patel, then a sophomore, for her awards and honors at the Vermont Science Fair. Last year, Patel was highlighted for founding the SBHS DECA chapter and successfully competing in the State and International competition. She raised funds for Vermont Special Olympics and helped organize the 5K Walk/Run Bike for Sara, an event in honor of a friend fighting leukemia, which raised $11,482 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Patel was one of 13 SBHS students selected to perform in the Vermont Youth Orchestra’s Opera Extravaganza this winter, and she co-founded Fostering Refugees to Integrate, Explore, Nurture, and Discover (FRIEND), a cultural awareness program uniting refugee youth with U.S. high school students. She served as senior class president and graduated summa cum laude. 

With a long resume of accomplishments, it’s not surprising Patel was selected Distinguished Young Woman of Vermont (DYW) in the state competition held in Vergennes in March. DYW is a national scholarship program inspiring high school girls to develop to their full, individual potential. Teens compete for the title based on talent, scholastics, self-expression, interview, and fitness.

“This is a unique experience like no other,” said DYW State Coordinator and 2006 Distinguished Young Woman of Vermont Laura Hall, a former South Burlington resident. “The friendships and experiences you gain through this program stay with you for life; that is what is so special about this scholarship program.”

“I’ve never done anything like this,” said Patel. “I danced and performed. It gave me confidence in things I don’t usually do.”

“Riya is the epitome of a Distinguished Young Woman,” said Hall. “Between her dedications to her academics, her strong involvement in community service and extracurricular activities, to her friendly nature and fun personality, Riya is a wonderful role model."

In April, Patel spent her spring break teaching students of Orchard School’s Out program the competencies of DYW’s Be Your Best Self initiative: be healthy, be involved, be studious, be ambitious, and be responsible. The kids put their lessons into action, making and delivering sandwiches to the Salvation Army.   

“We talked about being involved,” Patel said, “then we went out and made a difference in the community. The kids were all really excited.”

The DYW National Competition held in June in hospitable Mobile, Alabama, gathered the winners from each state. The grand prize: a $30,000 scholarship. Two weeks of intense rehearsals culminated in an elite staged production. Patel earned top 5 honors in the interview category, capturing a $1,000 college scholarship, and her diary tribute to family and friendship was recognized as a best entry of the day contest winner.

 “I learned that our generation of young women is ready to grow up and make a difference,’ Patel said. “They’re smart and talented and determined. Our future will be in good hands."

Before heading off to Harvard University for her freshman year later this month, fulfilling her life-long dream, Patel is spending a few weeks being a typical teenager, making memories with friends, relaxing, and traveling with family.  
Patel credits her parents and the Rebel and South Burlington community for preparing her for the future. “The South Burlington community had so many opportunities to get out in the world and try,” said Patel with pride and sincerity. “I couldn’t have done everything if I hadn’t grown up here.”

SOURCE:Lisa Osbahr, Correspondent