The dream recedes unrealized

When the whole world was celebrating New Year 2013 last week, Pritam Adhikari, a 21-year-old promising student from Georgia, Atlanta, was battling to survive in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Grady Hospital. In a Facebook post on January 1, his brother Alok extended New Year wishes, but in a complete different tone. “On behalf of Pritam and the family I would like to wish you a happy New Year 2013. At this moment, Pritam is in stable condition in ICU at Grady Hospital, Atlanta. He is very brave, strong and hopeful and in very good spirit. I would like to request you all to pray at least a minute today evening and share this post with your friends and family and tell them to pray for his quick recovery and good health.” Unfortunately, Pritam breathed his last, and dozens of resettled Bhutanese attended his funeral ceremony, Sunday.
On graduating from high school, Pritam was among the top 10% in his class; a member of the school’s International Club and The National Society of High School Scholars; Advanced Placement Honoree (three or more AP classes); and Work-Ready Certified, Gold Rank (to perform 90% jobs in the state). He was also awarded the Emory University Award for Academic Excellence, Georgia Certificate of Merit (top 5% of his junior class), and President’s Award for Educational Excellence (recognition from the U.S. President and Secretary of Education to students whose outstanding efforts have enabled them to meet challenging standards of excellence). Seven schools accepted Pritam, including Purdue University, in Indiana, and in Georgia, Mercer University and Oglethorpe University. In August, he plans to begin post-secondary coursework at Georgia Perimeter College, then transfer to Georgia Tech. 

I was born in a small, rural village in Bhutan, a monarchy on the border between China and India. Everything was backward, lacking, or undeveloped — education, transportation, sewage, electricity, and medical facilities. In 1992, when I was two years old, the cruel monarch expelled me and my family (mother, father, brother, and five sisters) and our 100,000 Nepali-origin community from our homeland. We were sent to live in Beldangi-2, Jhapa district (one of seven Bhutanese refugee camps in neighboring Nepal). There, we lived in bamboo huts with mud floors and newspaper-covered walls to keep out the winter cold and rain. We cooked, washed, and used toilets in outdoor communal facilities.

Though refugee life in the camp was miserable, I spent 15 years studying hard, participating in our cultural festivals, playing sports (soccer, table tennis, and Badminton), and volunteering in two organizations helping young children and teens: “Save the Children Forum” and “Youth Friendly Center.” In the United-Nations-run English-language-school where I had a golden chance to study, I was known as a smart and likable student. Though my parents attended only grade school, they inspired me by their example to work hard and discipline myself for a bright future.

Since age six, I loved playing with small paper airplanes with my friends and family. Questions filled my imagination, and I have been curious to find the answers to them and to other questions ever since.

For example, I wondered —

  • How does this paper plane fly? 
  • How can I make it fly higher? 
  • Is it like a real airplane? 
  • How can an airplane fly, but not a car? 

In fourth grade, I learned a bit about engines, and I wondered, how can engines be made stronger so that airplanes can carry more weight? And, in seventh grade, I wondered, why don’t jet airplanes fall because of their huge mass?

I have always loved and excelled in science and math, and have planned on a career related to aviation since I was 14. In 2008, when I was almost 17, I was excited when my family and thousands more got a chance to leave the refugee camps and to resettle in the USA. Finally, I could continue my studies at higher levels and at more rigorous standards.

I am constantly adjusting to new people and different customs, foods, and habits; navigating busy roads and many buildings; and managing language and communication challenges! I am an active volunteer in two of my local community organizations, Bhutanese Community of Georgia and Sewa International and I accompany my family to health care and immigration offices where I translate for them and agency officials.

At Druid Hills High School, I learned a lot about computers, which I had never even seen in the refugee camp, and I discovered the aerospace field through my chemistry teacher and friends. My fellow students come from all over the world, and I love this diverse society. I am practicing to be a careful listener, to speak clearly, and to appreciate and respect differences among my peers and others. I’m steadily improving my English in composition and literature classes and in speaking with American-born friends while working hard to maintain good grades in all my classes, including advanced placement (AP) classes in physics, statistics, calculus, and economics. (The last two years, I earned straight A’s and have been on the Honor Roll.) I am a member of my high school International Club and The National Society of High School Scholars. After graduation, I seek to fulfill my dream to do research, to obtain valuable real-life practical experience, and to study through the doctorate level.

Life circumstances required me to follow a long, nontraditional route toward my goal, and though I am financially poor, mentally, I’m rich! I bring to academic community unique gifts of a refugee student from another hemisphere who can teach and inspire fellow students and others. I’m excited to share my experience, knowledge, culture, traditions, and positive attitudes, and to make an outstanding contribution to the community.

Editor’s notes: The write-up is posthumously adopted from a blog following some revisions by BNS. The original texts were compiled as a motivation letter that late Adhikari submitted to his college while applying for enrollment in last fall.

Also read 
Pitamber Adhikari: “Though I am financially poor, mentally, I’m rich!” 
At Georgia Tech’s Combustion Lab, you’re never too young to learn


  1. It is really a most shocking news. Bhutanese diaspora once again face an irreparable lost. We lost such a young and most talented scholar. I hope his talent, hard work in studies and achievement in his short span of life will inspire our younger generations, especially in education sectors and will remember him as a Person of High Inspiration in the coming days.

  2. I am shocked by this news. Rina and I talked about Pritam’s accomplishments last week. When I saw his brother’s post on Facebook we were very optimistic about his recovery. We are shattered now. May God give strengths to the bereft family to withstand this irrepairable loss. Our prayers are always with you Pritam !

  3. Yes,it is really the shocking and saddened news to all and also the irreparable lost from our community.
    I expressed my heartfelt condolences for the sudden and untimely demise of our/my brother Pritam Adhikari. It not only made us/me sad but also felt regret upon the early loss of young life.On behalf of me and all my Bhutanese friends ,I send my deepest sympathy or condolences to the Bhutanese Community of Atlanta Georgia, and especially to his bereaved families remaining with full of sorrows and grieves. Also pray to the POWER OF GOD to relief the sorrows and grieves of the bereaved family members and the relatives too. Also hope that GOD will make the safe way for his soul to reach and rest in peace in heaven safely. He will always be remaining in our hearts and memories forever. Let us hope “the hope of our late brother’s” will be making true by all his well wishers.

  4. It is one of the greatest loss the Bhutanese in America experienced. We couldn’t respect his talents in academics and his social living. His dream of becoming an aerospace engineer remained incomplete. May any of our future generation get inspired through his aim, and build up thier career, and fulfill his wish and dream? He was not only the Gem of our Community but also of the college. The college had his expectations from him.
    We the Bhutanese, either as parents, guardians, friends or future generation should vow to work together to acomplish his dreams. He remains happy in the lap of the Almighty when he sees academic high level achievement among our future generation.
    Let us work together.

  5. Rest in peace, dear Pritam.
    Although a very brief acquaintance, you have truly been a blessing – I feel honored to have met you. You have proved that it is not the number of years that a person lives that count, but the life in the years that you have lived that matters. You were the ideal son that any parent could wish for, the perfect student that any teacher would hope for, the most adorable brother that any sibling would dream for…you lived a gentle life with the fiercest passion for life. Thank you so much for being an inspiration!

    To Pritam’s family: Please accept my sincere condolence. May you find strength to cherish Pritam’s life.

  6. It’s really hard to write up this comment for me because I am inflicted by pain after hearing about Pritam’s demise. I cannot believe that Pritam has ceased existing on the face of earth. I had always seen Pritam as becoming some kind of great person in future and me writing comments on his success stories but it had to be this sad news which I am commenting.

    Pritam was a dear friend of mine. Way back when I met him, we became friends quickly because of his nerdy talk and courteousness. I knew him as a talented and a hard working student. On top of that, he had a gracious smile which to anyone instantly provided a sense of comfort and friendliness in his company. Sadly, fate plucked him at a tender age. Pritam will be missed very much and I bestow my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family.

  7. I am so sucked about the Pritam death. He came to me 7 years ago to learned music, but she again focus to his study. His both sisters are my class mate for two years in Nepal. I again met Pritam in 2009 in Atalanta. He was genius in study and his smile is unforgetable. It is the heartbreaking loss to the community and his family for longtime. He will be come to his family all over their life. When i see this kind of cruelty of god, I am always with question, is there is god? is this death is justice ?. …Anyway It is easy to express condolences, but its hardest matter for family to tolerate, which i feel few years ago.. I pray for your departed soul my dear Pritam. You will be missed forever…..

  8. Yeshey Baineee rightly said ‘it is not the number of years that a person lives that count, but the life in the years that you have lived that matters’. The true test of a person is often seen in the obituaries people write after his/her demise. In this short time people squeeze all the good memories, good deeds, work, friendship, ideas, achievements and virtues of that person – an entire life is audited in some short sentences or a few small paragraphs. The obituary is the actual result of a person’s life.

    Some people leave nothing to be written for their obituaries. Others like Pritam leave inspiration and a legacy even in a very short time. His work and intelligence matched the dreams he dreamed. His attitude and his social life fitted the values he lived. If I were to draw a time line of his entire life span, it would be shorter than all my sentences here; if they were written in a single straight line. Yet, today, he outlives those years and becomes a source of inspiration to other mortals, who live longer lives.

    His premature death has shocked all of us. May his Soul rest in peace, in heaven.

    May the Lord provide courage to the members of the bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss. Hearty Condolences.

    Rp Subba, VA.

  9. Sorry to hear the untimely demise of such a talented youth. May his soul rest in peace.
    I didn’t understand clearly the reason for his death. Was he sick or some fatality had occured? Anyhow death is death.

  10. Our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the bereaved family. can anyone tell us what was the cause of such untimely departure. it is difficult to digest the demise of such a genius young mind. Totally devastated and broken.
    may his soul rest in peace!

  11. It is obvious that many of us do not know Pritam and the disease that snatched this promising young soul from us. Lately it was learnt that he has been suffering from CA in the tummy region for a long time, without diagnosed and treatment. Recently, he complained acute pain in the designated area and took him for the treatment but without success. The doctors rushed to treat him but it was already late and as a result of that the disease spread quickly to all the major organs inside his stomach.
    It was a bizarre type of cancer which doesn’t show any kind of signs and symptom until it reaches the unrecoverable

  12. Pritam’s brief life proved that a person can overcome almost all conventional odds in shaping a dream and taking every possible step to reach it. Just this week, he was to have started classes at Georgia Tech following two years’ studying at Oglethorpe University. Yet on Sunday, in Atlanta more than 1000 people mourned the courageous, brilliant, accomplished, and confident soul who was without a trace of arrogance.

    Pritam’s personal essay, a requirement for all college applications has become a written legacy and testament — that neither false privileges of income, skin color, gender, nationality, nor “status” of any kind will deter a young refugee with pluck, brains, focus, faith, and support and love of family, community, and allies worldwide.

    Pritam, your life’s journey is a gift for eternity. And, I thank you, grateful that we met.