This story is part of a series of profiles the Ventura County Office of Education is presenting about outstanding graduating seniors in the Class of 2023.
Graduating from high school at age 16 is impressive enough, but Brinda Garikapati is doing it after arriving in the US as a seventh grader who spoke little English. Brinda had been living in India with relatives before moving to Simi Valley to be with her parents. “It was very scary and traumatizing,” she recalls of the move. “I remember crying a lot because I didn’t understand what people were saying.”
With help from her parents and nonstop reading, Brinda perfected her English skills, but adapting to an unfamiliar culture was another matter. “I grew up with a large family where everyone was together,” she says. “Here, everyone has their own individual lifestyle and there’s less interaction compared to India.” Just as she was getting used to her new surroundings, the pandemic hit and threw everything into chaos. “I didn’t have any friends until after COVID,” Brinda says.
Once schools reopened to in-person classes, everything began to gel for Brinda. She began developing friendships, excelled academically and threw herself into school activities at Santa Susana High School. She launched her school’s chapter of the Red Cross Club, cofounded an International Student Support Club and was treasurer of the STEM club.
For her senior project, she organized an event to raise awareness about Parkinson’s Disease. Inspired by a family member’s struggle with Parkinson’s, she recruited UCLA neurologist Dr. Jeff Bronstein as the keynote speaker. “What really touched my heart is that there were people with Parkinson’s in the audience and it gave them a chance to interact with each other to learn more about it.”
Brinda also put her passion for medicine and helping others to good use during a summer trip to her childhood home in India during the pandemic. The COVID vaccine had been released, but it wasn’t making it to villagers who needed it. “They were fighting for their lives and I know a few people who lost their lives because of it,” she says. She decided to approach local health authorities about holding a series of vaccination drives. While they initially discounted this teenager visiting from California, she didn’t give up. They eventually agreed to work with her and managed to get the majority of people in 20 different villages vaccinated over a six-week period.
After high school, Brinda will pursue a career in medicine. She’ll be a pre-med student at UC Irvine this fall and dreams of becoming a surgeon. She says she’s grateful to her teachers and school counselors for helping her graduate at such a young age, giving her a jump start on what’s sure to be an impressive career.