By Peter St. Onge
About a decade ago, Suman and Vignesh Sivasubramaniam held a little contest – who could read the most books in one year for their elementary school's reading program. Suman remembers this competition more enthusiastically than Vignesh, who points a reluctant finger toward his brother when asked who won.
But, says Vignesh: “I'm better in sports.”
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Such is the competitive life of the twin brothers and Myers Park High School seniors. Today, they are scheduled to learn who will give the valedictorian's speech at Sunday's Myers Park graduation. Suman and Vignesh are two of the four leading candidates for the honor. Entering this semester, Suman and Vignesh both carried a grade-point average of 4.0. Factor in weighting for advanced classes, and both are near 5.3.
They've been similarly neck-and-neck in extracurriculars, including swimming and Bhangra, an Indian dance team at Myers Park. “It's across the board,” says Vignesh of the brotherly battles. “It's not just academics.”
All of which comes with the blessing of their parents, who believed it healthy not to acknowledge that one brother might be better at anything. “Everything they got,” says their mother, Shanthi, “they got it together.”
With that has come an understanding that competition is ultimately less important than what they do with their talents. The brothers have, together, raised money for causes distant and local. They hosted fundraisers and a book drive for children in war-torn Uganda. They co-founded a dance marathon to raise more than $6,000 for the Autism Society of North Carolina, in honor of a family friend's daughter.
Their inclination for service comes in part from Myers Park, which urges students to reach out to their communities. They've also been nudged by their parents, not only with encouragement but with history. Siva and Shanthi Sivasubramaniam are both from India, and Siva grew up in Sri Lanka, where civil war caused his family to flee.
“Their struggling and hardships are motivations for us to take advantage of our opportunities,” Vignesh says.
The brothers plan to attend Vanderbilt in the fall, where they will major in economics to start. Suman, and perhaps Vignesh, would like to become doctors, like their father, and work with an organization such as Doctors Without Borders.
For now, they are waiting for graduation – and for news on who will give the valedictorian's speech. Each of the Myers Park valedictorian candidates was asked to write one in advance – just in case. Suman's is more humorous, he says. Vignesh has opted for a somber approach.
Which is better?
“I'm going to be diplomatic,” says Vignesh. “They're different.”
“I think they're both decent,” says Suman, and then: “We'll see…”