John Barney says his former student Aarthi Murugappan is a rising star.
"She just has poise, the ability to talk to people and an inquisitiveness and curiosity about everything," said Barney, who taught Aarthi advanced placement U.S. history at Lakeside High School last year. "She is just amazing."
Aarthi, the 16-year-old daughter of Ravi and Meena Murugappan, of Martinez, hopes to use her recent placement on this year's Augusta Chronicle Extreme Teen Board to inform readers about other cultures and countries. Her parents are natives of India, and she said her heritage is often misunderstood by those around her.
"There's so many people here of so many different cultures," she said. "If you have to go to school with them and work with them, then it would be nice to have some basic knowledge of their culture."
Aarthi often is asked questions about her Indian background, particularly whether her culture worships cows and about the red dot many Indian women wear on their foreheads.
"Nobody really worships the cow," Aarthi said, "but we have respect for it."
As far as bindis - the red dots placed between the eyebrows - a Web search noted that in most instances it denotes marital status.
"A red dot on the forehead is an auspicious sign of marriage and guarantees the social status and sanctity of the institution of marriage," according to Web site www.hinduism.about.com. "The Indian bride steps over the threshold of her husband's home, bedecked in glittering apparels and ornaments, dazzling the red bindi on her forehead that is believed to usher in prosperity, and grants her a place as the guardian of the family's welfare and progeny."
Questions about forms of worship and dress have caused Aarthi, who is extremely proud of her heritage, to want to share more about her culture with her peers.
"I guess some people are just nave about other cultures and sometimes make offensive comments without meaning to," the Lakeside High School junior said. "I think everyone should have some sort of knowledge about other cultures."
"She's exactly right about the navety of students," Barney said. "Americans are so wealthy in power, but are so nave about other cultures. I have told my students that we are the most culturally and racially diverse. We are not black and white; we are a step beyond that - Panamanians, Chinese, Hispanics, all cultures. I make every effort to ... make sure that other students are aware of these varying backgrounds and cultures."
And though she hopes to use her forum on the teen board to break down some of the cultural barriers that pervade society today, Aarthi also will be busy as co-president of Students Against Destructive Decisions and secretary of the school's Beta Club.
She also is treasurer of the Spanish honor society and vice president of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America and holds membership in the National Honor Society, math team, Interact, Girl Scouts, debate team, honor council and the school's marching band. She also actively participates in classical Indian dancing and will be performing next month at the Greater Augusta Arts Council's Arts in the Heart of Augusta.
"She just has graciousness to her and wants to understand things," Barney said. "She's a rising star."
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