At first, it was not easy for Ayen Mihidukulasuriya to make friends at Port Richmond High School.
“I have always been isolated. I tried to isolate myself. I tried to push myself academically, while my social life was, if I may say so, uncertain,” Mihidukulasuriya said.
What do you want to know
- Ayen Mihidukulasuriya moved to the United States just over four years ago
- But Mihidukulasuriya has managed to become an important part of his high school community – and the school valedictorian.
- Mihidukulasuriya says the connections he made in school are more valuable to him than his rank
He was new to the city – and to the country, having spent most of his life in Sri Lanka.
He had attended private international schools, where discipline and competition reigned. He did not find this in the public school in his neighborhood. But he found something else.
“Something that I saw that was more valuable than that private school environment was, again, the community – at those schools, we never had a community. We were all like, ‘I’m for myself.’ In this school it was different,” Mihidukulasuriya said.
And Mihidukulasuriya worked hard. He was made valedictorian of the school – an honor he says helped him break out of his bubble.
“What I value more than being valedictorian at school is that I value the classmates I studied with, the people I met, the people I got to know through this experience,” Mihidukulasuriya said.
As he took a practice walk on stage a day before graduation, the connections he had made were evident.
“Mihidukulasuriya has been involved in every aspect of this building, and he is probably, in addition to being valedictorian, one of the most popular students in this building,” said principal Andrew Greenfield. “And you heard, at graduation rehearsal when they called his name, the whole auditorium cheered for him.”
Mihidukulasuriya says coming to school here was a cultural challenge for him – but it was a challenge worth overcoming.
“I felt like I couldn’t be in a much better place, because I got to experience a whole other world, and that world actually made me better,” Mihidukulasuriya saud said.
Port Richmond isn’t the only school impressed with him. He received great academic acceptances.
He only threw a few: “Columbia, MIT, Brown, Princeton.”
But Mihidukulasuriya, who hopes to study medicine and become a cardiologist, is staying close to home and attending Hunter College’s Macaulay Honors Program.
“Talent or potential is not diminished by going to a smaller school,” Mihidukulasuriya said.
His principal agrees and couldn’t be prouder.
“He’s a young man who’s going to change the world, and we’ll hear about him in 20 or 30 years,” Greenfield said.