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Youth Forum - Graduation Gift

Ranjani Saigal

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Neha Uppal had been planning her graduation party for nearly six months.. As she was planning it, college applications, SAT and other senior year activities were keeping her extremely busy during her senior year.  “It was such a busy year. I was eagerly looking forward to the end of this ordeal and was looking at the graduation party as a happy culmination of my efforts. Grandma and Grandpa agreed to come all the way from India for my graduation,” said Neha.

Neha Uppal graduated in the top 5% of her class from her high school in Trumbull, CT. While she was very good at academics, she also was involved in a range of extra curricular activities. She has learnt Odissi for many years. She has a brown belt in Karate and plays the violin. Volunteering and helping people in need is Neha’s passion. She spent her 2004 summer in India volunteer at a school for disabled children in Dehradun.  “To work with children who are in wheel chairs and sometimes are mentally challenged is not easy. Neha worked hard to help them and gave them great love and affection. She made them feel special,” says her aunt, Joe Chopra a New England native who lives in India where she runs this special establishment.

Neha was delighted when she received acceptance to the premed program at Tufts University. "I had applied to the early decision pool at Tufts and I was so glad to get the admission offer" said Neha.

Her accomplishments made her parents proud and they wanted to celebrate with a graduation party. “Neha is our pride and joy. We made arrangements for a grand party and booked a hall nearly six months ” says Neha’s mom, Archana Uppal.

While all the planning for the party was in full swing, suddenly tragedy struck. The father of one of Neha's friend from school had a heart attack and had to undergo surgery. Their family, like so many others in America, could not afford health insurance and hence had no insurance. Unless they could find funds quickly, they would have to sell their house to afford the surgery. This would mean that the family had to move out of the neighborhood.  Neha was shocked and saddened to see the plight of her friend. Neha decided to talk to her parents to see if the they could give money to help to her friend.

“I was very happy that she wanted to help. We did not know the family. The sum needed was large. I told her that I would give it some thought” says Neha’s dad Rajiv Uppal.  “While I was mulling things over, she came back and suggested that I cancel the graduation party and give the money I would have spent on the graduation to her friend.  I was so touched!  I could not believe that my little girl was making such a decision. Her mother and I were  so proud to hear this decision and we decided to support her.”

The money she gave her friend helped the family pay for the musch neede surgery. Neha cancelled the plans for the grand party and had a small one at home instead.  How does Neha feel about canceling the party? "I think the greatest graduation gift for me was to see my friend happy. The point of a party is to have fun and I had great fun with my friends at home. I did not need a large scale part to make me happy," said Neha.

I think this young lady has clearly shown that the greatest gift is not what you receive but what you give. Neha hopes to be a doctor when she grows up. I think with caring and compassionate doctors like her, the world will certainly be a better place.


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