Senior spotlight: Shani Abeyakoon the Sri Lankan academic scholar

Too smart// Posing with her National Merit certificate, Shani Abeyakoon, 12, expresses her joy in her hard work to qualify for the award. Abeyakoon challenges herself on standardized tests and in the classroom to get the best scores she can. (Photo courtesy of Tamica Perera)

by Jordyn Tribus 

Shani Abeyakoon is an absolute academic weapon in the classroom and a cultural contributor in her spare time. Since her freshman year at Coronado High School, she has maintained all A’s and has been awarded the straight A lunch certificate for ten years. She is ready to continue this progress throughout her senior year and into college. All of her hard work of getting straight A’s and taking Advanced Placement classes has led to an impressive weighted GPA of 5.1. She is hoping to continue her studies at a prestigious college which may include UC Berkeley, Cornell, UCLA, or Yale. Wherever she ends up, one thing is for certain, she plans to major in chemical engineering. Abeyakoon hopes to explore the chemist-side of her mother and the mathematical-side of her father through her major. She enjoys both chemistry and math separately and decided to combine them. While Abeyakoon cherishes these two subjects specifically, she is all about learning new things.

“It’s important to have an education in order to get a good career and be disciplined in the real world,”  Abeyakoon said. “It allows you to interact with other people because you know more about concepts and other perspectives.”

School participation is one of Abeyakoon’s biggest contributions to Coronado High School. She is involved in a plethora of clubs, ranging from first to third-year membership, including: National Honors Society (NHS), Key Club, South Asian Student Alliance (SASA), Science National Honors Society (SNHS), STEM Like a Girl, and Environmental Club. Of these six clubs, she is the co-president and co-founder of SASA and the president of SNHS. Abeyakoon’s astonishing club activity has everything to do with her father’s encouragement. Before high school, she would go to school and then go home, not associating with the school activities once the end bell rang.  Abeyakoon’s father pushed her into doing school clubs, but she persistently made up excuses to not participate. After a lot of convincing, Abeyakoon took her father’s advice and since then has packed her schedule with school clubs and activities. The big takeaway from partaking in the previously mentioned clubs is that they are a more entertaining way of engaging with the content learned in class. 

“Usually in school, science classes are stressful and based on getting the best grades, but in the club [SNHS] you can just do experiments for fun,”  Abyekoon said. “I find that when you learn new stuff you find ways to apply it outside of the classroom; like you could be watching a movie and hear a word that you have previously been taught, but now it makes sense to you because you have learned.”

While her academic results are stellar, they are not the only importance to Abeyakoon. Shani Abeyakoon takes pride in her Sri Lankan culture. After being introduced to this culture by her parents, she has been engaged with her community her whole life. She is involved in the Sri Lanka America Association of Las Vegas Youth Movement (SLAALV) and is the president of the Million Smiles program, which is a program started by the SLAALV. The Million Smiles program dedicates its time to helping the orphans of Sri Lanka. After COVID hit, Sri Lanka began to struggle, especially the orphanages because they were receiving little donations even as the number of kids began to double since 2019. Recently, the Smiles program visited Sri Lanka to visit one of the orphanages the program raised money for. While Abeyakoon and the association were at the orphanage, the kids greeted them with gratitude and thanks for the clothes and supplies they were given. As for her other inputs in the SLAAVLV, she has performed Sri Lankan dances, played the bass, and rocked the mic, aka mc’d, at several of the events hosted by this organization. 

“My parents were big influencers in my cultural upbringing,” Abeyakoon said. “I would not be that integrated in my Sri Lankan culture if they didn’t bring me to all of the events when I was younger.”

In her spare time, when she is not studying or exploring her Sri Lankan culture, Abeyakoon dabbles in performing arts. Prancing on stage since age two, she has taken a liking to multiple dances: hip hop, ballet, and Sri Lankan. In addition to dancing, she has also played the piano for eight years and continues to make harmonious sounds from classical to pop music. As if piano wasn’t enough, Abeyakoon plays the stringed instrument, double bass; she started fiddling with the bass from the start of middle school and will continue to play up until the end of high school. Abeyakoon also finds joy in baking, painting, and crafting. These hobbies are a fun break from all the stressful affairs in her life. She finds peace in making cards, i.e. birthday cards, but would not pursue it any further. Finding a balance between work and entertainment are good life lessons that Shani Abeyakoon has learned, even at such a young age. 

“I feel like in school especially, it’s really stressful because you are always moving from one thing to the next,” said Abeyakoon. “With baking, painting, and card making, I can just relax and go with the flow.”