2 Under 20 - Class of 2015
By Dave DeLand
Originally published: January 10, 2016
SARTELL — It's a long way from Tokyo to Sri Lanka to Sartell to wherever life is about to take Gopi Ramanathan.
Right now, the Sartell High School senior isn't exactly sure where it will lead. But his multifaceted path may have begun with something as simple as an international flight and a malfunctioning airplane.
"My interest in geography started a really long time ago, probably kindergarten or first grade," said Ramanathan, 17, who is one of two winners of Times Media's inaugural 2 Under 20 Award.
"My parents (Gajendranathan and Vasugi Ramanathan) are from the little island called Sri Lanka," he said. "We were flying out there just to visit relatives, and we got stuck in Tokyo one of the nights because the plane broke down."
There, in that Tokyo hotel room, the seed was planted for a future World Geography Bee champion — and so much more.
"I went to the hotel and looked up at the wall, seeing the Japanese letters," Ramanathan recalled with a laugh. "I asked my dad what kind of English they speak here."
A totally different kind, as it turns out. Young Gopi was fascinated.
"I was just so intrigued and so curious about this," he said. "When I came back home, I tried to find Japan on the map, then Sri Lanka and all those countries surrounding it, and all the countries surrounding them. It just kept going and going."
So does Ramanathan, in almost every way imaginable.
"There's been such a great culture about what you do if you're part of our community," said Jeff Schwiebert. He is superintendent of Sartell-St. Stephen Schools and nominator of Ramanathan as well as 2 Under 20 award winner Hannah Yackley, also of Sartell.
They'll be honored at a Jan. 19 reception along with runners-up Kaydee Miller of St. Cloud Tech, Isaac Logeman of St. Cloud Apollo and Nicole Yang of Sartell.
"Gopi's academic ability is as strong as I've ever had," Schwiebert said. "He scored a perfect 36 on the ACT the first time he took it.
"But for him to also be as personable and involved is amazing. It's a good thing to be bright, a good thing to be involved in student council, in fine arts, in (athletics)."
It's for all those reasons and more than Ramanathan is one of the recipients of the award, which is presented to Central Minnesota teens who have been instrumental in shaping their communities through their leadership and service.
"One of my main goals in life is to make an impact on the world," Ramanathan said. "I guess I'm a believer that every small thing you do will eventually make a big difference at one point or another in time."
The compilation of "every small thing" Ramanathan does adds up to a substantial list:
"One of my most enjoyable activities right now is Student Council," Ramanathan said. "Just being in all the leadership roles in the school, just knowing that you have the voice and you have the power to make an impact on your classmates and the community as a whole, is really amazing."
Point out a spot on a globe, and Ramanathan can tell you what country it is.
"I could probably do that, yeah," he said with a grin.
"Basically, we're trying to make our ‘Little' the best person he or she can be," Ramanathan said. "What I've gotten out of it is I've learned to work with new people, and work with people of many different interests."
Gopi Ramanathan was a two-time champion in the Minnesota State Geography Bee, and was captain of the United States team that took first place in the 2013 National Geographic World Geography Bee. (Photo: Jason Wachter, firstname.lastname@example.org)
"The community involvement that I do — whether it's through Student Council, or something as small as just helping a classmate in class — I feel like each of those are important in the big scheme of things," Ramanathan said.
It's all just part of a myriad of interests and involvements for Ramanathan, who's basically doing something productive any time he's conscious.
"He always knows what's going on. He's such a great leader," said Yackley, his classmate, Student Council mate and co-award winner. "I really do look up to him. He's really incredible."
He's also not exactly sure what incredible thing he wants to do next, or where.
"That's a great question," said Ramanathan, who has applied to seven colleges (and most likely will be accepted by all of them). "I have a ton of interests.
"I have an interest in science, technology, engineering and math — the STEM fields. But then on the other hand, I also have interests in political science, geography and education."
Whatever and wherever it is, though, you can safely assume it'll be exceptional. Ramanathan seems unwilling to settle for anything less.
"It's a good reminder for us as adults about how bright our young people are," Schwiebert said, "and what a great thing it is for us to support those people at every opportunity we can."
"It'll be exciting to just start being involved in college, like I have in high school," Ramanathan said. "And seeing what I can do myself to make the world a better place."
Contact Times columnist Dave DeLand at 255-8771 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davedeland and on Facebook at Dave DeLand SC Times.