Education

Teen named UC Berkeley's top graduating senior

Friday, May 10, 2013

Imagine this -- you have just been named UC Berkeley's top graduating senior and you're just 18-years-old. This year's University Medal winner has also won more than 40 awards totaling more than $300,000.

Ritankar Das is one of Cal's brightest seniors. As you would expect, his grade point average is high.

"It's 3.99," Das said. When asked if it's true that he did it in three years, he laughingly answered, "That's right!"

Das is completing his studies at UC Berkeley with a double major in bioengineering and chemical biology and a minor in creative writing. And at 18, he's the youngest recipient of the University Medal, the prize given to the year's top graduating senior, a prize that hundreds of students qualify for as long as they have close to a near perfect GPA.

"That they have 4.0, which is sort of crazy GPA, at that point what matters afterwards is actually what they did with all that talent they have," said Marcin Majda, Ph.D., one of Das' professors.

Das was born in India. His family settled in Milwaukee when he was only 7. The family moved to Fremont just as he was about to enter UC Berkeley.

While at Cal, he has won 40 academic and community service awards. And two years ago he founded "See Your Future," an outreach program for all students, but especially those living in underserved communities.

"Every young person can change the world," Das said. "It's just that as a society we have to acknowledge that and we have to give them ways to show that."

At this point I had enough gumption to ask him about life outside school.

Lyanne: "Do you have time to date?"
Das: "Yes, but it's not something I've pursued."
Lyanne: "Okay, how about hobbies?"
Das: "I love to play basketball. And I'm an outside shooter."
Lyanne: "I can see the height!"

Nothing seems to hold him back. From here he will go to Oxford and then MIT for his Ph.D. He was telling me this as we passed Room 307 of Gilman Hall. That's where plutonium was first identified and later used to develop the atomic bomb.

As we stood in front of that room, Das said he wants to focus on helping others less fortunate than him.

"How that going to happen, I can't tell you," Das said. "But as long as I find myself working on that, I'll be happy."

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Tags:
berkeley, UC, uc berkeley, fremont, immigration, competition, education, lyanne melendez
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