Growing up in Suriname, 18-year-old Oema Devi Rambharose of Schenectady dreamed of becoming a neurosurgeon one day.
“I’m very interested in the brain, and I’ve always wanted to become a doctor and figure out cures for diseases,” she said.
Her family relocated more than 1,600 miles from the South American nation to help make that dream a reality.
“They all moved over because my family wanted a better education for me,” the new Emma Willard graduate said Sunday following her commencement ceremony.
Her father, Ram Rambharose, who works as a mechanic, left behind his agricultural business so his children could have more opportunities. He said he would make the move to the United States if his children focused on their studies.
“Our decision was really to get the kids a good education,” he said.
His daughter’s desire to be a doctor does not surprise him as the family knew from an early age that she was very intelligent.
“Every day, she had this heavy backpack full of schoolbooks,” Ram said.
Oema Rambharose came over to the United States when she was 8, but her mother and father alternated going back and forth from Suriname for a time until the family settled here permanently.
Oema was introduced to Emma Willard through family friend and real estate agent Thomas P. Kennedy of Troy.
“I was selling them a house. It took them a year and a half to sell them one house,” he said with a laugh.
Kennedy saw that Oema was a good student and brought her report cards to show the admissions staff at Emma Willard. She transferred from Schenectady High School after her freshman year when she received a full scholarship to the private school.
Rambharose said one of the hardest parts of her years at Emma Willard was balancing academics and extracurricular activities. She was very active in the foreign student organization, where she bonded with people from other cultures — and the only place where she said she could find people “wearing an Indian sari and rapping in Russian.”
Rambharose was also heavily involved in the school’s campaign to end the modern-day slavery that is human trafficking.
Three years of hard work finally paid off but she still could not believe graduation day had come.
“I’m very excited. It’s just not hitting me right now.”
The family also has high hopes for their other children. Shiua Rambharose, 16, is a student at Schenectady High School and hopes to one day become a marine biologist. Another daughter, Narayane, 9 and son, Sharwan, 21⁄2, round out the family.
“He speaks three languages — English, Dutch and Hindi,” Ram Rambharose said proudly about his youngest. “We all speak about five or six languages.”
Multiple languages could be heard on the Emma Willard campus. The 84 students graduating on a warm Sunday spoke 22 different languages and came from 10 countries and 10 states.
The keynote speaker, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a graduate of Emma Willard’s class of 1984, encouraged the graduates to consider public service.
She had been practicing law in New York City in the 1990s but was not fulfilled. She eventually got a job as legal counsel in the office of then-U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo and was first elected to Congress in 2006.
She expressed dismay that there are so few women in Congress and encouraged the Emma Willard graduates to follow her path.
“We need more women’s voices engaged and leading America’s future,” she said.
Head of School Trudy E. Hall read a short vignette about each of the students — referring to one as a “patient perfectionist” and touting another as a Dance Dance Revolution champion.
“Class of 2011, you may be assured that you have left your mark.”
Oema Rambharose plans to make her next mark at Union College, which she will be attending this fall.
Rambharose’s uncle Devanand Rambharose came all the way from Holland to watch his niece’s big day. “Now, I have a heart like this,” he said, moving his arms far apart.