President’s Medal winner Nishka Maharaj.
The country’s top performing CAPE students who were awarded the President’s Gold Medal for their achievement have both credited having a balanced life as a key part of their success.
The award is given to the highest-performing students in two categories. This year’s recipients were both graduates of Hillview College, in Tunapuna.
Ryker Harricharan, 18, copped the award in the category of Environmental Studies, Information and Communication Technology, Mathematics and Natural Sciences while Nishka Maharaj, 18, got the award in the category of Business Studies, Creative and Performing Studies, General Studies, Language Studies and Modern Studies/Humanities and Technical Studies.
In a telephone interview with Sunday Newsday, Maharaj said she was hoping for an open scholarship but never dreamed she would get the President’s medal.
“The president’s medal, it’s a great achievement but I think everybody should just strive to do the best that they can with what they have while not sacrificing their mental health and everything else in the process. I think that’s super important. Taking care of yourself above everything else,” she said.
“Take it at your own pace, do your best, try your best, get up and keep trying. But don’t sacrifice the other little things, like the crucial parts of your high school experience and your teenage life just for an academic achievement that will inevitably be fleeting. I mean definitely work hard, be disciplined, do your best but don’t sacrifice the other things in your life that are important as well.”
Her mother Nalini Kokaram said this was advice that her daughter lived by.
She said Maharaj was always involved in extra-curricular activities like ballet, even representing the country.
“What I admire about Nishka, too, is the balance, and I should say the work and extracurricular harmony that she would strive to get. She never neglected herself, and that is true,” Kokaram said.
Similarly, Harricharan said how elated he was to win the award, saying it came after two years of hard work. His mother Vitra said he had a good balance between his academics and extra-curricular activities.
“At an early age, Ryker was involved in many extracurricular activities. So around four years old, he started piano, he was doing swimming, he was doing karate. So he was always involved in extra activities. Also at his school, he was actually the president of the astronomy club…that started when he was in form three. So they took part in many, many of the astronomy competitions that are held by the Astronomy Society of Trinidad and Tobago,” she said.
Harricharan said balance, hard work and trust in God were his formula for success.
Both Harricharan and Maharaj are close friends and they intend to pursue studies in medicine.
President’s medal awardee Ryker Harricharan. – Photo courtesy Ryker Harricharan
Hillview College acting principal Sharon R. Ramdeen told Newsday she always tell her students to aim for gold and to praise God. She described the achievement as historic.
“This is a jubilant moment in Hillview’s history. Let me tell you what else. Never in the history of Hillview and the national community has there ever been two students from the same school receiving the President’s gold medal,” she said.
Based on Harricharan’s results, she said, they anticipated he would have won the award. But she said they were not expecting that another student from the school would win the second one.
“The girl, she’s the granddaughter of one of our more renowned principals, Mr Richard Kokaram. So, words cannot express the pride and joy. This is a momentous occasion for all those who are interwoven in the fabric of Hillview College,” she said.
She said the school plans to celebrate the awardees during an upcoming function, but it is still in the planning stage.
“Normally, it is tradition at Hillview that we do a scholarship function where they come in and they address the entire student body and the staff. Of course, it’s going to be a little bit more heightened this time with some more celebration. But we are taking our time to plan. There may be an evening of celebration as well. With staff and the scholarship winners. But right now we are focusing on the scholarship function.”
Ramdeen anticipates the achievement could see more students hoping to attend the school.
Apart from producing the two President’s Medal winners, the school also received the largest chunk of scholarships for this year. Hillview students were awarded 13 scholarships, while St Augustine Girls’ High School got 11, and Naparima Girls’ high School and Naparima College each got nine scholarships.
The Ministry of Education said government had awarded 45 open and 55 additional scholarships based on the CAPE results. Of the 100 scholarships, 60 per cent were awarded to girls and 40 per cent to boys.