All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
A life of service
Members of the National Honor Society circled names on pink slips. It was election time. One by one, members got up and submitted their ballots. Junior Raj L., who was running for president against four other people, didn’t think he would win.
The next day, Raj waited for the results to be posted. His eyes rose to the top of the yellow paper that listed the new officers. There was his name at the top of the list.
He smiled to himself. This presidency tied everything he had been through together. All of the struggles of losing his home, moving to Texas and becoming closer to God. He can't wait to start.
It’s August 28, 2005. Seven-year-old Raj, along with his mom, dad and younger sister, were driving north to Mississippi. Hundreds of cars lined the highway.
“Dad, why can’t we just park our car out here?” Raj asked. “We have our tent.”
“No, the water is going to be coming through here, too.”
Raj couldn’t picture it. The grass and dirt on the side of the road was dry. The water couldn’t possibly come that far. But it did. Early in the morning on August 29, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, causing massive damage. But at first, Raj thought it was a normal evacuation.
“The thing a lot of people don’t realize about New Orleans and the people that live there is how often people evacuate,” Raj said. “It’s like a normal kind of drill. You board up your house, take whatever belongings, go to a hotel for the weekend and you miss school the Monday you come back. But obviously this one was a lot different.”
It wasn’t until the family had been at a hotel in Jackson, Mississippi for several days that Raj began to worry. Heavy winds and rain caused the power to go out. There was no air conditioning, and it was extremely hot.
“I didn’t realize the sheer scale of it at the time,” Raj said.
When the family was allowed to go back, they discovered the water had flooded their house 3 ½ feet. The floor and any appliances that were plugged into the walls were ruined. His grandparents’ house in Mississippi was gone. All that was left was a slab of concrete. His father and grandpa had gone back to the family’s home in the suburbs of Metairie first, trying to salvage all they could.
“The problem was it had already been sitting in the water awhile so most of it was already molded,” Raj said. “They tried to get what they could. I remember going back and all our stuff was on the curb, with all this green mold on it. It was really gross.”
Over the next few weeks, the family stayed in a condo that their friends had rented out to them. Raj and his sister went to school in a church, since their school had completely flooded. That was when what had happened started to truly affect Raj.
The teachers had told the students to bring what they could to the makeshift school. Raj grabbed what he had, and went to class.
“They told you to bring everything,” Raj's friend said, rummaging through his backpack full of school supplies. Raj looked down at the few things he had.
“This is what I have left,” he told his friend.
Raj was angry. He was angry at his friend. He was angry that his home was destroyed. He was angry he lost all of his stuff. He was angry at God.
“Most kids were worried about what Pokemon card collection was going to come out next, but I had my whole life turned around in one day,” Raj said.
He struggled with his faith. He felt like he didn’t deserve what happened to him. He carried that anger with him for several years after the disaster. He and his family moved to Texas before he went into third grade, and it wasn’t until late in middle school that he looked back on that summer in a more positive light. Something that stood out to him were a couple of blankets that were given to his family.
“I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought we had just gotten some blankets, but it was people who had sent them,” Raj said. “We still have them. They’re in my room.”
He thought about the people who were willing to help their family even though they had no way of repaying them. And he realized that that’s what he wanted to do, too. In sixth grade, after the earthquake in Haiti, Raj asked Briarhill Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society to organize an art night to raise funds for relief efforts. In eighth grade, he became president of NJHS and started a tradition that Briarhill still continues today called Change For Change, in which members of the society collect parents’ spare change in the carpool lane every morning for a few weeks.
"First and foremost, Raj was a great role-model to his peers as NJHS president," Briarhill Middle School NJHS sponsor Amanda M. said. "He represented our organization, he was a leader and he was always coming up with new ideas and ways to help others."
Today, he said he thanks God for giving him the experience of living through a hurricane.
“It’s not every day that people go through national disasters, but everybody has their struggles in their daily life,” Raj said. “If I understand what it’s like to be in that spot, if I can help out people and I can help my community, why wouldn’t I?”
That’s why he decided to run for NHS president. And it's sponsors like Amanda who believe he's a great candidate.
"The thing about Raj is this: He's unapologetically himself," Amanda said. "Raj is genuine, the real-deal and every last bit of the caring, giving, quirky personality that he has is authentic. There's no show with Raj; there's nothing fake about him - he's all heart, and he's all real. He's going to be great."
Raj wants to continue to help others the same way people helped him after Hurricane Katrina. He wants to incorporate more service opportunities in NHS so the society can continue to serve others.
“I want to do that with my life,” Raj said. “I want to end up doing mission work and help relief efforts and things like that. [Hurricane Katrina] has definitely given me perspective I don’t think a lot of people have. I’m very grateful for it.”