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Salute to guts & grades Spirit wins at school awards

- ‘Houseful’ at The Telegraph school awards

I am very optimistic because I believe in what my father once told me: that life is not always a bed of roses and one must know how to overcome obstacles

- Atrayee Saha

Neelam Kumari’s parents had asked her to drop out of school after she scored 82 per cent in ICSE because her father was struggling to fund her education.

The 19-year-old not only went against her parents, she did even better in her ISC exams.

Neelam’s father, who earns barely Rs 2,500 a month ironing clothes in Jadavpur, would be proud today that his daughter didn’t listen to him. Her 91 per cent score in ISC science has been reward enough for putting up with her refusal to take no for an answer.

Atrayee Saha, four years Neelam’s junior, suffered brain haemorrhage thrice and underwent surgery twice in the span of a year before her Class X exams. Many in her place might have felt defeated but not Atrayee. The student of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan earned a CGPA (cumulative grade point average) of 8.2 in CBSE Class X.

“I am very optimistic because I believe in what my father once told me: that life is not always a bed of roses and one must know how to overcome obstacles,” Atrayee said.

The student of Class XI aspires to become a psychologist so that she can counsel people facing obstacles in their lives. “Life has taught me that a positive outlook helps people cope with any crisis,” she said.

Atrayee received The Surrendra Paul Memorial Award for Courage and Neelam The Prasenjit Paine Memorial Scholarship for Courage at a houseful Uttam Mancha on Saturday. The occasion: Peerless presents The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence 2014, in association with Parle-G and powered by Adamas University.

“The farthest women in my family have gone is Class X. But I was not ready to give up studying and requested my teachers to speak to my parents after I had failed to convince them,” Neelam recalled. She went on to study ISC at Calcutta Emmanuel School and is now a student of zoology at Asutosh College.

“I had to score high and prove others wrong. But I have a long way to go,” said Neelam, who has started giving private tuition to two students to pay for her books and a part of the house rent.

Nagma Parveen, who received The Surrendra Paul Memorial Award for Courage along with The Telegraph Education Foundation Scholarship, shares Neelam’s never-say-die spirit.

Nagma had started giving maths tuitions when she was in Class IX and was forced to take in more students after her father lost his job a month before her ICSE exams. She scored 82.4 per cent despite the twin pressures of studying and tutoring.

Nagma Parveen

The Class XII student of Jewish Girls’ School, who lost her father last October, currently tutors about 20 students ranging from primary to Class VIII and earns about Rs 2,000 a month. “My aim is to earn enough to cover at least my own expenses,” Nagma said.

Rudrangshu Mukherjee, the managing trustee of The Telegraph Education Foundation, described the awards ceremony as an “annual pilgrimage”.

Saturday was the first leg of the 19th edition of the school awards. The finale is scheduled for next Saturday at the Science City auditorium.

Mukherjee said that when the awards started 19 years ago, nobody could have imagined that “we would be forced to hold two separate ceremonies”.

“This growth, this expansion would not have been possible without your support. The support of schools, principals, parents and, of course, not possible without outstanding students…outstanding students who work against the odds, outstanding students who produce miracles…”

He could have been talking about Barun Damani, who keeps accounts in an office from noon till 3pm six days a week to earn Rs 2,000 a month and studies BCom at Seth Anandaram Jaipuria College in the evening. Or polio-affected Popi Dhar, who travels about seven hours by train every day to reach Salt Lake from Bongaon and study BEd.

Barun received The Telegraph Education Foundation Scholarship and Popi The Prasenjit Paine Memorial Scholarship for Courage.

Barry O’ Brien, the convener of The Telegraph School Awards for Excellence, said: “It is wonderful to see that you can fill a hall…even when there is no entertainment. Just a meaningful morning to be spent together saluting excellence, saluting courage and applauding the efforts made not over a day or a week but through the year and many many years.”

For more on the school awards, see Metro on Tuesday