Six essays meld Hindu and American into strong identity: HAF announces NextGen Essay Contest winners

New York, NY (August 23, 2011) - “My dedication to my faith does not take away from my American identity, but instead reinforces this message. I see America as a beautiful potpourri of people and cultures – all with [the] same soul of liberty, opportunity and freedom,” wrote Sohini Sircar, 22, one of three first prize winners of the Hindu American Foundation’s third annual NextGen Essay Contest.
Every day, my Hindu-ness makes me a better American because... This was the essay topic presented to young Hindu American writers across the nation this year. Contestants, in three categories based upon their age -- 14 - 17, 18 - 22, and 23 - 27 years -- were judged on their creativity, focus, and style by a panel of judges composed of HAF staff and Executive Council members. From the many entries, a first and second prize winner were selected in each of the three categories. In addition to the cash prize, the three first prize winners will have their essays published in the widely-read news and blog website, the Huffington Post.
Vinti Singh, 24, a reporter for the Connecticut Post, took the first prize and $500 for the 23 - 27 year category.
"Being a Hindu makes me a better American because it helps me see with clarity the American dream, and the pursuit of happiness, as something that is materially intangible, but much more satisfying when achieved,” Singh wrote in her first prize winning essay.
Sircar, a recent graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, received $300 as the first prize winner in the 18 - 22 year category. She has been involved with the Hindu Students Association and Campus Ministry at Georgetown University to plan seva events, social opportunities, and charity fundraisers.
Faren Rajkumar, 17, was the winner of the first prize and $150 in the 14 - 17 year category. She is a senior at South Plantation High in Florida, editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, and a classically trained violinist.
"I never waiver in my dedication to my spiritual life, and Hinduism gives me reason to be American. If my fire is of the West, the wood sustaining the flames is forever imported from the East,” wrote Rajkumar.
The second prize winner in the 14 - 17 year category was Tejas Dave, 17, a rising senior at Pearland High School in Pearland, TX. Dave is a coordinator for the annual Sri Meenakshi Temple Youth Camp, has spoken at the annual Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference, and has been published in Hinduism Today magazine.
Sarika Persaud, 20, won the second prize and $200 in the 18 - 22 year category. She is a student at St. John’s University, NY, the Educational Resources Coordinator for Hindu Students Council, and involved with the Coalition of Hindu Youth.
Divya Srinivasan, 23, winner of the second prize and $250 in the 23 - 27 year category, is a doctoral student pursuing a Ph.D in ublic policy at George Mason University in Arlington, VA.
"This year’s entries were outstanding, and the process of narrowing them down to only two per category was difficult, but these six winners really stood out for having demonstrated a keen understanding of the commonalities between Hindu philosophy and American ideals,” said Sheetal Shah, a Senior Director for HAF and coordinator of the annual essay competition. “We at HAF always look forward to not only hearing from, but also learning from, younger Hindu Americans, and this NextGen essay contest provides us with a great platform to continue doing that. It also gives us an opportunity to identify the next generation of Hindu American leadership by encouraging them to think about and articulate what it means to be Hindu in America.”
Also noteworthy were “Adding the Hindu Spice to the Great American Melting Pot,” an essay submitted by Kush Desai, 16, and “A Lifelong Journey of Faith” by Pooja Patel, a sophomore from Midland, TX, who has also been published in Hinduism Today magazine.
Please click on the name of the winner to read his/her respective essay in its entirety.
Please click here to view the essays on Huffington Post. Please click here to view the topic in its entirety.