Heera Kodiyamplakkal, Valedictorian, Class of 2020

Heera Kodiyamplakkal, St. John’s Class of 2020 Valedictorian, has earned the highest level of academic accomplishment a high school student can achieve through hard work and dedication.

Heera Kodiyamplakkal, Valedictorian, Class of 2020

What colleges were you accepted into?

Vanderbilt University, Cornell University, Brown University, Georgetown, University of Michigan– Ann Arbor, Boston University, University of Southern California, Emory University, University of Rochester (Guaranteed Medical School program), Case Western University, Fordham University, University of Portland, Rutgers University

Which college will you choose and why?

I will be attending Vanderbilt University in the Fall. Vanderbilt is a midsized school located in the vibrant city of Nashville. In other words, Vandy is small enough to form a tight-knit community but large enough to explore and meet someone new every day which is something I was attracted to. Vandy also allows students to take classes across different schools so I am excited to see how that will mold my career path. On top of that, I am really happy to be attending Vanderbilt as Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholar which comes with a full scholarship and an incredible opportunity to work with extremely talented students and faculty in a small classroom setting!

What is your planned college major? minor?

Medicine, Health, and Society Major and a minor/major in Communications

Why do you wish to pursue this major or career? How does this align with what you would like to achieve in your life after college?

I’ve always wanted to pursue a career that enables me to help an individual and impact a community. I think this is why I’ve always loved both sociology and medicine. I hope to become a medical doctor and return to Guam to serve our community. One of my goals is to work with the WHO or CDC or some other international healthcare organization to help bring more awareness and solutions to the most pervasive health concerns that exist on our island. I think the Medicine, Health, and Society major at Vanderbilt will enable me to see medicine from a broader perspective.

What about college life are you most excited for?

Being away from family and this beautiful, warm island is going to be a huge change, and I will undoubtedly miss both Guam, my family, and my friends. It feels surreal that college is the next step. This upcoming year, and likely the next few years will look different from that of previous college students because of the pandemic but I am excited to step forward into an uncharted situation. I look forward to seeing how I grow in the next four years whether it be through meeting new people or just living in a different environment. After all, a bird only learns to fly once it steps away from its nest. 🙂

What advice would you give to a high school student starting college applications?

Take a deep breath. Calm down. Everything that you’ve been preparing for throughout high school has culminated into this moment of college applications. While the pressure of putting together the “perfect application” may seem very stressful now, just know that which college you get into will not make or break your future.

Show your best self, your weird quirks, your most important passions in your application. Show you. Not who your tutor wants you to be, not who your parents want you to be, just you.

Don’t be afraid to get help. It might be nerve-wracking to have someone you know read your personal statement because it’s, well, personal. However, having one or two pairs of eyes that you trust look through your personal statement might give you more ideas or potential improvements.”

What advice would you give to a new St. John’s freshman?

Take your freshman year to find out what you like. Don’t be afraid to explore different clubs, try out sports, etc. Exploration will become more difficult as your progress through high school and start to accumulate more responsibilities on your plate. Start developing good study habits. I know it’s difficult, but don’t procrastinate. Experiment with apps, journals, or even having your parents hiding your phone while you work to develop a productive work ethic. Of course, don’t forget to chill out and have fun as well. Your classmates won’t be with you forever. Cherish the time you have with them.

What will your lasting memories of St. John’s be?

Definitely the people! I had some amazing teachers here at SJS who have made such a huge impact on me inside and outside the classroom. My classmates are also unforgettable. Although I only moved to SJS in my sophomore year, everyone here has been so supportive and welcoming. I will truly miss class-bonding memories like Prom, the Sophomore Lockdown, and Senior Retreat.

 How well has St. John’s prepared you for a successful college future? 

St. John’s has challenged me and allowed me to become more independent and motivated and develop a better work ethic. What makes St. John’s classes, especially the IB classes, unique is that it enables me to think outside the box and see connections between drastically different subject areas or topics. My teachers have also been really supportive. I have also made some incredible friendships here at SJS. I think it’s this perfect combination of rigorous academics, talented and invested teachers, and a welcoming student body that has made my time at St. John’s so memorable.

Who has been the most influential person in your time at St. John’s School?

There are a countless number of people I must thank for overseeing and guiding my growth throughout these past few years. My parents and my siblings have been my constant pillar of support.

I’ve also had some amazing teachers here at St. Johns. Mrs. Salas’s English class was one of my favorite classes because she made me see literature through a completely different perspective.

Mrs. McCormic and Ms. Chua have both taught me and accompanied me on International Science Fair Trips, and I must say thank you for making our classes and our trips so enjoyable. Ms. Yang was a great mentor and coach during the Science Fair season and Titration competitions. Mr. Pearson challenged me and taught me that the process matters just as much as the goal. I owe a huge thank you Ms. Chu for expanding the way I think through TOK and helping me with the college application process.

What clubs/activities/organizations were you involved with on/off-campus?

During my sophomore year and throughout my junior year, I founded and became president of the SJS Red Cross Club. Senior year, I became president of the National Honor Society. Aside from that, I was also involved in the Glee Club, ACB, and the SJS TRI-M chapter.

Outside of school, I interned for and served as the editor of the Pacific Daily News’s VIBE Teen Journalism Team. Science fairs were also a huge part of my high school career. I was also heavily involved in Indian Dance and performed for events like the Diwali Ball.

I was also able to be a part of some really great initiatives during my summers. I was thrilled to graduate from the Public Policy Institute and interning under Speaker Tina Muña Barnes and Senator Will Castro. I received an opportunity to do math research with Dr. Oh and environmental research with Dr. Orr at the University of Guam. I learned so much about the medical field after shadowing OB/GYN Dr. Shieh and volunteering at Guam Memorial Hospital.

How were you able to balance your extracurricular activities and academic life so well?

Through the Red Cross Club and NHS, I met and got to work with so many wonderful people who dedicate their lives to service and improving our island. Glee Club was something I looked forward to each day because singing with a fun group helped relieve my mind. Journalism, dance, medicine, science, and public policy were all areas I was really interested in. I truly enjoyed all the activities and organizations I was a part of. Because I enjoyed these activities, making time for them didn’t seem like a burden. In fact, I think my work ethic was best when I was the busiest because I wouldn’t have much time to procrastinate and become distracted. But trying to find balance and avoiding burnout is something I am still working on.

My advice to high schoolers is to really think about everything you are involved in and decide if it’s something you enjoy or you are learning from. If not, maybe the activity is not worth your time. Also maximize the time of the day you are most productive. If you work better at night, stay up a little later to do your homework. If you work best in the mornings, maybe go to bed earlier and wake up early. Just remember that rest and overall well-being is most important!

Heera with her family at the 2020 Graduation Ceremony

Heera presenting her project at the APCYS Science Fair in Thailand.

SJS Red Cross Club at the 2019 Red Ball.

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