Milken Scholars is an initiative of the Milken Institute and the Milken Family Foundation which chooses high school seniors in the Los Angeles area based on academic performance, community service, leadership and their ability to persevere through challenges.
Among the 15 seniors honored were teenagers Shubhayu Bhattacharyay, Ruwanthi Ekanayake and Simaranjeet Rai.
“We’re honored to welcome these exceptional students to the Scholars family,” Mike Milken, who cofounded the program with his wife Lori in 1989, said in a statement. “Each has already demonstrated academic excellence, a commitment to community service and the fortitude to overcome adversity.
“Many are children of first- and second-generation Americans,” Milken added. “We’re pleased to offer them a helping hand and grateful for the opportunity to interact with tomorrow’s leaders.”
Each scholar earned a $10,000 scholarship, as well as access to a lifetime of resources provided to recipients, the foundation said in a news release.
Bhattacharyay is an aspiring neurosurgeon heading to Johns Hopkins University by way of Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, Calif., where he graduated as the valedictorian.
While in high school, the teen was president of the school’s National Honor Society and a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and California Scholarship Federation.
He also served as the school’s Olympiad team president, leading the team to medals in the Dynamic Planet, Anatomy and Physiology and Disease Detectives categories.
On an individual level, he won the Northrop Grumman High School Innovation Challenge by designing and building a remote-control blimp. He also helped on satellite technology applications while interning with Boeing’s ground systems engineering group.
Bhattacharyay was also president of Mira Costa High School symphony orchestra that played at Carnegie Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall and six concert halls in China. He participated in the Model United Nations throughout high school and was named best delegate at the North American Invitational Model United Nations in Washington, D.C.
Ekanayake, a graduate of Palos Verdes Peninsula High School in Palos Verdes, Calif., started writing poetry at the age of five. She published a book of humorous poems for children called “A Bag Full of Everything” and reads it aloud at pediatric hospitals, taking joy in watching young patients laugh at the silly rhymes and pictures, according to her Milken Scholar bio page.
She won a National YoungArts award for creative nonfiction, was named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and received a National Merit Award.
Ekanayake, who will attend Cornell University to study global health and biology, is an aspiring neurosurgeon who has done research in a memory lab at UCLA. Her work has led to winning several awards in behavioral sciences at the California State Science Fair, as well as the American Psychological Association Award and the U.S. Naval Research Award at the Los Angeles County Science Fair.
She has participated in the Palos Verdes Peninsula 4-H Club for nine years, serving as its president, winning numerous public speaking competitions, and running public speaking clinics and leadership conferences for younger members.
As a 4-H National Healthy Living Ambassador, Ekanayake developed an educational comic with the Centers for Disease Control, teamed with the television show “The Biggest Loser” to fight childhood obesity, launched a national health blog and created a nine-county Southern California Healthy Living Summit, according to her bio.
Rai, who will be heading to the Bay Area and U.C. Berkeley to study international relations, is a graduate of Granada Hills Charter High School in Granada Hills, Calif.
She credits a summer study-abroad opportunity in Russia for igniting her keen interest in international relations, according to her bio page.
During the study-abroad program, she lived with a host family for six weeks in Kirov and absorbed Russian culture through visits to museums, libraries and an embassy, it added.
“On my flight to Russia, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” she said in the Milken Scholars page. “On the flight back, I saw a future filled with language-learning, cultural immersion and international relations. I discovered passions that were simply waiting for the right time and opportunity to shine.”
At the charter school, Rai has won several honors, including four years of honor roll and highest honors in the International Baccalaureate Program. She was one of 16 cadet commanders in the Los Angeles Police Department Cadet Program, overseeing community service programs for 6,000 cadets that included staffing parking lots, writing cards for veterans, cleaning helicopters and organizing toy drives, the bio page added.
Additionally, Rai co-founded The Snack Strategy Club, which educates students about healthy eating habits and brings the campus its first farmers market.
Since its inception in 1989, the Milken Scholars Program has supported more than 400 scholars from diverse backgrounds with about half being the first in their family to attend higher education.
Additionally, every summer, the scholars participate in a three-day summit in Los Angeles, where scholars, staff and speakers provide a forum to discuss crucial issues paramount to their success.