A weekend interview with ...
... King High School IB valedictorian Rumela Das. With all the graduations going on, the Gradebook decided that, rather than talk to someone who runs the education system in some way, we'd hear from someone who took advantage of the system. That someone is Rumela Das, who heads to MIT in the fall after graduating with the third-highest recorded grade-point average in the history of Hillsborough County public schools. Even as she earned that 8.08 GPA, Rumela found time to be a cheerleader and volunteer. Here, she offers advice to other teens and their parents about how they might achieve what she has achieved.
Q: Tell me a little bit about what you will tell your graduating class. (Das gave the commencement speech on Thursday.)
A: Basically, I didn't want to make it boring or long. The whole year all my friends have been telling me, 'Keep your speech short and make it interesting.' It was really hard to some up with what I should tell them. ... We learned a lot in high school. So, basically, (I'm) telling them to make use of their knowledge and give credit where it is due.
Q: How are you going to make use of your knowledge and give credit where it is due?
A: Basically at MIT I'll have to, because everyone there is just as smart as me if not smarter than me. So it's going to be hard to keep up with all the classes and everything. So I'll be pushing myself at MIT as I have been here, but probably even more. And making use of my knowledge. That's an interesting question. How do you do that? Basically I would say I guess like always keep your mind in what you're doing. Don't do anything mindlessly and always remember what you've learned. ...
Q: Did you get a sense from being in school how hard it was? You earned an amazingly high GPA. Did you ever get anything lower than an A?
A: Not on the semester grades. In quarter grades I got a few B's.
Q: So you must have been able to focus yourself in ways ...
A: ... It's basically a balancing act, in how you balance which classes are important and which classes you know are harder so you spend a proportionate amount of time working and studying for that class. ... Some people always have this image of me (as) someone who studies all the time. Any valedictorian I know has different hobbies, does different sports and is in different clubs. Being valedictorian, it shouldn't be just about the GPA. I know it is, but it's just like an all-around thing. Even if you were valedictorian of your class but you didn't do other things, you wouldn't be able to get into a good college.
Doing as much as you can is what makes life fun. How I was able to take all those classes and balance it out with, like, I did cheerleading all through high school and I did other stuff. I was in a lot of clubs. ... The way that you balance it is you organize yourself and have a way to keep track of everything that you need to do and get everything done as fast as possible. That's how I did it. I didn't spend more time on something when I knew I needed to get something done. I set a time limit for myself and said I'm going to make myself finish it by this time so I didn't get distracted by the usual distractors like TV, the internet, etc. You just have to motivate yourself to get what you can done. If you do that then you'll still have time to enjoy yourself. ... It's not all about studying all the time. It's always possible to get your studying done and have fun and do other stuff. Like volunteering. That's an important thing that kids our age do.
Q: Did you do that?
A: Yes. I was in Key Club at my high school. That's a service club. We have different activities that we did. ... And every summer I would volunteer. The only thing I haven't done so far is get a job, which I'm planning to do this summer. Instead of getting a job over the summers I would take summer classes at USF for dual enrollment, which also helped get my GPA up that high. And I would volunteer. ... I think it's a very integral part of your high school experience, volunteering.
Q: What do you recommend to students coming up behind you in high school if they want to be as successful as you ... and still have a life?
A: What I recommend is make sure you're an organized person. That's one thing you definitely need to learn. ... If some people don't have that skill there's this class called Inquiry Skills that we took in high school. No one really liked that class too much. It helps you learn how to organize. If you pay attention in that class it helps. That's the first step, being organized. Then you have a way to keep track of everything you have to do. Without that, it's impossible to balance everything and know that everything is getting done. You also have to be a quick learner. You have to make yourself work hard. When you are working, it has to be a concentrated work. You should focus the whole time and not get distracted from what you are doing. And if you set time limits for yourself, like I did, then you have time to do other stuff too. ... Of course there are some classes you have to work harder, because they're not your best subject. For me that was history. ... If one day I had a lot of math homework and just a little history homework, I would still spend the same amount of time - I would spend more time probably on the history than on the math because it's just like balancing out which subjects need more attention.
Q: Did your parents have any role to play in this?
A: Yes. Definitely. When I was little they encouraged me to be self-motivated. ... When I came to high school they were always supportive. They never set rules for me like what I was expected to get (grades). ... Since I already knew what I wanted and was motivated, they just supported me. That really helped.
Q: Is there anything you would tell parents?
A: For parents it's important that they start when kids are young and that they get it so the kids themselves want to motivate themselves. ... Then when they get older the parents won't have to push them any longer.