Shining Star: Janki Devdhara
Janki Devdhara’s evenings are filled with the spicy smell of curry.
Many nights, she returns home to sounds of prayers being spoken in Gujrati, her native language, as large groups of people gather in her home, sharing their faith late into the night.
When she wakes up in the morning, she smells chai tea and biscuits, the familiar scent wafting through her home as she prepares for the day.
“And then I walk outside and I’m not in India anymore,” said the 17-year-old, her voice containing a hint of humor that colors most of her conversations.
Devdhara then heads to school at Brandywine, where she says for the most part, she is a typical American teenager.
“I do stand out. I’m tan all year round!” she said. “I have dark black hair. Obviously I stand out, but I never feel like I don’t belong.”
In fact, Devdhara has so embraced the high school experience that she not only participates in nearly every club offered at her high school; she also leads them.
“Since middle school, I’ve been the president of my class,” she said. “I like being in that leadership position — the power and the role. I love to be in charge.”
Devdhara is also the president of Brandywine’s National Honor Society. She participates in Science Olympiad and Brandywine’s Robotics Club, and represents her school district on Michigan Gateway Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council, a youth philanthropic organization that grants funds to various youth projects.
Last fall, she co-founded Brandywine’s first Key Club, a youth branch of the Kiwanis Club, an international organization dedicated to fostering global initiatives.
Outside of school, Devdhara keeps busy with volunteer efforts, whether donating her time at Lakeland Hospital, or working with children at the Logan Autism Center in South Bend.
“I tried to talk my friends into [volunteering at the Logan Center], but they were super shy,” Devdhara said. “So, I set up a meeting with the lady and she was really excited.”
Now, the teenager, who describes herself as “not even a little bit shy,” spends one afternoon a week helping children with autism do art projects. Devdhara finds the experience rewarding, a unique perspective into a different way of life.
“I think I learned that I can be part of a community that I’m not naturally part of,” she said of her experience at Logan. “They’re not functioning the way that I am, but I’m still a part of them.”
This sentiment is reflected in much of the teenager’s life. She enjoys meeting new people and exploring cultures, especially her own. This winter, when most of her friends were baking Christmas cookies or opening presents around the Christmas tree, Devdhara was on the other side of the globe, celebrating her family’s heritage in Bardoli, Gujrat, in India, where her family owns large pieces of land.
She excitedly shares customs she experiences in her native country, even acts that may seem peculiar to her peers in Michigan.
“Every time I greet somebody that is older than me, I have to bow down and touch their feet to speak their blessing,” she said. “And I am blessed that my parents have taken me there.”
Devdhara said her trip to India was humbling, and reminded her how fortunate she is.
“It really makes me look at little things with a different perspective,” she said. “A simple glass of water — millions of people are dying for a glass of water over there.”
Devdhara said that while she dreads waking up in the morning to go to school, she is reminded that many girls her age in India are not allowed to continue their education past a certain age.
“I go to football games and basketball games — little things we do here that we don’t do there,” she said. “Living life, honestly, from a girl’s perspective really makes a big difference.”
Though most teenagers spend their lives trying to blend in, Devdhara feels fortunate that her two cultures help her stand out.
“I love it, because it’s who I am. That’s me. My name is Janki,” she said. “I like to be connected with my culture and my heritage, and I don’t want to miss out on that.”