A future doctor from Salem wins top National Merit honors

Student Arnav Mohindra speaks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new addition at South Salem High School in 2021. Mohindra is the only Salem student to win a National Merit finalist scholarship from the Class of 2022 (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

When Arnav Mohindra got a letter in the mail from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, he assumed it was to clarify his college plans for the fall.

Instead, the letter — sent to his Salem home in late May — told him he was a finalist for the organization’s top $2,500 scholarship.

“I opened it and I read it a few times and this actually said I got the award,” Mohindra said.

He’s one of 26 Oregon students from the Class of 2022, and the only one attending school outside the Portland Metro area, to receive the prestigious scholarship after getting a perfect score on the PSAT. He followed that with a near-perfect 1590 out of 1600 on his SAT.

Though the recognition is gratifying, Mohindra didn’t spend his years at South Salem High School focused on acing standardized tests.

He’s instead been preparing for a career in medicine, inspired by his peers’ struggles with mental health and his interest in fusing science and humanities to help make people better.

“You have to be a scientist and you have to be good at science, but then you also have to be able to interact with people and understand people,” he said.

Mohindra is attending Washington University in St. Louis in the fall on the university’s Ampersand scholarship, which pays full tuition for students who display significant interest in multiple disciplines of study.

“I have a lot of diverse interests. I’m interested in languages and how they reflect a person’s culture and identity” he said. “I think medicine ties those things together.”

In his college and scholarship essays, Mohindra wrote about how he at times struggled as the child of immigrants, finding some of the Hindu practices he was raised with at odds with his peers, or having people yell “go home” at him from car windows.

“It was only as I entered high school that I began to see my multicultural upbringing as a boon, one that allows me to view the world through a lens that many of those around me can’t. Rather than brood about characteristics that set me apart, I began to realize that I could use my intersecting identities to examine human culture and identity in a way that many others cannot,” he wrote.

Mohindra has been active in mental health and suicide prevention work at South, serving as the president of nonprofit Live to Tell, a student-led suicide prevention organization founded by 2019 by an older classmate. 

He wanted to help other students after hearing stories from classmates struggling thoughts of suicide and finding that even those who knew what they were going through didn’t check in or offer to help. In that role, he spearheaded a student-written guide to suicide prevention and mental health resources that quickly became the most-viewed item on the school counselor’s website.

Mohindra said he’s not yet sure what area of medicine he’d like to focus on but plans to study on the college’s pre-med track.

He said he’s excited to be part of a group of students recognized at Washington University for excelling in both science and humanities.

“It was like they were seeing me,” he said.

Correction: This article was corrected to describe how Mohindra became interested in suicide prevention work after hearing from classmates about their struggles getting help with suicidal thoughts. The article originally incorrectly said Mohindra had personally experienced those difficulties. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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