Talk to Adavya Dhawan for a little while, and you’ll notice a word that pops up fairly often: transformative. It’s a word he applies to many activities that have shaped his educational journey at Norfolk Academy; the Honor Council, Global Affairs Fellows, the Cross Country team—all have been transformative, shaping the arc of his life in ways that he can clearly delineate.
Now, he’s preparing to embark on another transformative experience as a Jefferson Scholar at the University of Virginia, one of only 36 selected recipients for one of the most highly selective merit scholarship in the nation. Nine of those students are from Virginia, and only one other student, from Lakeland High School in Suffolk, hails from the Hampton Roads region.
In order to be named a Scholar, candidates must undergo a rigorous, highly competitive, multi-stage selection process. This year, nearly 2,000 students were nominated for the Scholarship, 116 finalists were invited to take part in a four-day competition at U.Va., which included seminar discussions, essay and mathematics examinations, as well as interviews conducted by U.Va. alumni and faculty.
In addition to receiving the full cost of attending the University for four years, Jefferson Scholars benefit from a number of enrichment programs sponsored by the Foundation, including travel abroad, career networking activities, an outdoor challenge program, and a leadership speaker series.
Adavya, who is the son of Drs. Raj and Vandy Dhawan of Suffolk, has learned to be comfortable with speaking, whether for interviews, in classroom discussions, or on the stage. He has been a representative on the school’s Honor Councils, both in Middle School and Upper School, every year since seventh grade, and he has served as the chairman in his senior year.
Over those six years, he has talked to many students as they reckon with the impact of a bad decision that has led to an honor violation. He has learned to listen and empathize. “Sometimes they come in crying or don’t want to talk at all,” he said. “Being able to maneuver through that, to understand their thoughts even when they are not in the mood to share. That is something I learned from the Honor Council that no other leadership role has taught me.”
This year, the Honor Council has been working on developing guidelines for sanctions, so that there can be more equality and consistency, he said. The effort has arisen from the Council’s sense, as a deliberative group, that it would be an improvement to the process, and from some of the comments that they have heard from the student body. Members of the Honor Council have also visited lunches when the students meet in advisory groups, so that they can get students’ perspectives on the Honor System and how it functions as the school’s moral foundation. “Lunch offers the opportunity to keep it open and relaxed,” as compared to the more formal settings that they have tried, like open forums, Adavya noted.
Through the Global Affairs Fellows of the Batten Civic and Global Leadership Program, Adavya has transformed his understanding of diplomacy and international politics. He noted that the group’s summer trip to Peru was a “wake up call” about the discrimination faced by indigenous people. He has also found a way to share his passion for business in his projects for the Fellows program by teaching financial literacy—saving, budgeting, balancing a checkbook, and investing—to some classes and as a short session in the Middle School’s new Mini-mester.
When life gets a bit hectic, he goes on a run; cross country has been a “big part” of his life. He enjoys distance running as a habit that imparts discipline and keeps him in shape, and he has done a few half marathons, including one in India. He will return to India this summer—traveling there by himself for the first time. He will spend a few weeks with his aunts, uncles, and grandmother in New Delhi, before he returns home and then heads to Rochester, where he will be a counselor at Hindu Heritage Summer Camp, which he has attended since he was eight years old.
At the camp, he most enjoys the one hour philosophy class each day. Discussions that begin there often continue throughout the day. “It’s a whole lot of pondering,” he says with a smile. “About the universe...karma...the entire day, we’re talking about topics that start in the class.”
As he ponders the road ahead, he is torn between savoring those transformative conversations, among friends at Norfolk Academy and at the Hindu camp, and fast-forwarding to the transformative adventure ahead at U.Va. The Jefferson Scholars have been getting to know one another on social media. “We are already having great intellectual discussions,” he said. “What I look forward to the most is having conversations with individuals who have had so many fantastic experiences.”