ELMIRA — When the Notre Dame High School Class of 2019 walks across the stage on Friday night, it will be a very special moment for Dr. Ram and Ann Sharma of Sayre.
The Sharmas will watch two of their children graduate — their biological son, Declan, and their adopted daughter, Kalpana.
Declan has received the prestigious Joel Andrew Stephens Award and another award for academic excellence that came with a $10,000 scholarship.
“I’ve been at Notre Dame since my eighth grade year. Over the course of my career at Notre Dame, I had a great time — not just school, but all the extracurricular (activities) I did as well,” Declan said of his time at Notre Dame.
While Declan has put together an impressive resume at Notre Dame and will be heading to college to pursue a career in medicine, it’s his sister, Kalpana, who has inspired him and many others over the last few years.
Kalpana came to the United States in 2011 at the age of 13 and would have to start her education from scratch.
“They had a lot to learn. They spoke no English,” said Ann Sharma of her adopted daughters, Kiran and Kalpana. “They didn’t even know there was an America. They didn’t know there was anything outside of India.”
Kalpana had to get over many obstacles to get to the graduation stage on Friday night.
“Not knowing the people, not knowing the culture or the language, it was very awkward for me because I had never met educated people before,” said Kalpana on her first couple years in school. “I had a lot of help here from a lot of teachers just working with me for speech, and just learning (vocabulary) and the alphabet and numbers.”
Declan talked about his pride in what his sister has accomplished during an interview for the National Honor Society.
“The teacher who is the head of the (National Honor Society) at Notre Dame told me that one of the questions they ask the children they are interviewing before they are awarded a place in the (NHS) is who do you admire most? She told me that Declan said Kalpana because she worked so hard to get to where she is and to be a graduate. He is really proud of her,” Ann Sharma said.
While Kalpana would lean on Declan during her first few years of school, the relationship was also helpful to Declan when they both entered high school at Notre Dame.
“When we both transitioned to Notre Dame, I didn’t really know many people there, so being close to Kalpana I would say helped me a lot, too,” said Declan, who played soccer and tennis at Notre Dame. “Seeing (my sisters) in school every day and seeing how they’ve grown is really something cool that I got to experience when I was at Notre Dame with them.”
Declan plans on going to medical school and then hopefully come back to the Valley area to live and practice.
“Growing up and being surrounded by people in the medical field — with my dad being a doctor and Amit, my older brother, being a doctor, and my mom being a nurse — I was always exposed to that field. I feel like this route is one that is suited for me and that I know I can do the most good with,” said Declan on his decision to pursue medicine. “I love this area ... hopefully I’ll end up here one day as a physician.”
“(Declan) will be here in the community. He loves this place,” Dr. Sharma added.
Kalpana will head to Tompkins Cortland Community College after graduating from Notre Dame.
“I’m going there to study sports and recreation and in the future hopefully become a fitness trainer,” said Kalpana on her goals.
Declan is excited to graduate alongside his sister, but it will be even more special with his maternal grandparents, Liam and Angela McAuliffe from England, flying in for the ceremony.
“I think it will be a great time, especially because my grandparents will be here to see it. With them being in England, we don’t see a lot of family all the time, so it will make it more special,” said Declan, who was also involved with the school newspaper and the quiz team at ND.
Dr. Sharma is excited to see both his kids graduate on Friday.
“It’s just such a nice feeling. It’s just wonderful because my son and daughter who has acclimated (to the United States) and to see her grow and kind of become American,” said Dr. Sharma.
Any parent is thrilled to see their child reach this point in their young adult life, but for Ann and Ram Sharma, Friday night’s graduation ceremony will be a special moment.
“I’m so proud of all my children, but Kalpana turned 13 (a few months) after she came here. Can you imagine being uneducated at the age of 13 and starting school, not knowing anything about speaking English,” Ann said. “They were uneducated. They didn’t even read and write in Hindi — and now she’s graduating high school and going to college. To start school at 13 and to be able to graduate is just unbelievable. I’m just so proud of her, so unbelievably proud.”