United States Senate Youth Program Class of 2020: Profiles of Leadership and Resilience During the Pandemic: Arushi Avachat – California

California 2020 delegate Arushi Avachat is a published author who wisely says, “It is tough to be productive when everything is so far from normal.”  Spending the early days of the pandemic delving into the personal practices of journaling, reading and yoga, Arushi’s focus on wellbeing is an example of mindfulness for all.  Her recommendations for a good fiction read are great, too.

We continue our Blog series about the 2020 delegates and how they have been faring since Washington Week was canceled due to the global pandemic. Two outstanding student leaders are selected to serve as USSYP delegates from each state in the nation, as well as the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Education Activity.  Learning of the breadth and beauty of our country as delegates share home state stories and photos is one of the profound gifts of the program.

California delegate Arushi Avachat at the Sather Gate, near her sister’s home, at the University of California Berkeley.

USSYP:   Can you give us a quick timeline of what has been happening in your life since the announcement of the pandemic?

I am from Pleasanton, California, and graduated from Foothill High School, a large public school in the Pleasanton Unified School District, this Spring. Our graduation was virtual, with an opportunity for pictures afterwards with a cardboard cut-out of our principal. After graduation, I dyed my hair pink, and I moved to Berkeley with my sister for the summer. There, we fostered six baby kittens while we sheltered in place! We named them all after different foods. They have all now found their permanent homes.

Graduation day at Foothill High School

I feel very fortunate and privileged to be from the Bay Area. I have found myself missing the mundane activities I did so easily pre-pandemic: doing homework in Peet’s, taking BART to San Francisco, exploring new parks and restaurants in the city with my friends. I look forward to resuming those activities someday soon.

USSYP: In addition to the pandemic, much of California, including near your home in the San Francisco Bay area has been heavily impacted by the extreme wildfires affecting the state. How have you and your family dealt with this challenge?

I was local to several of the Bay Area fires. I remember waking up one morning and feeling like it was evening — there was no sunlight outside. That week, the sky stayed a hazy orange, and the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see the hills that normally appear on the horizon. My family and I stayed indoors all day and prepared evacuation bags in case the next fires crept even closer to our community.

Thankfully, we never needed to make use of our evacuation materials. Too many other people, including friends of mine, were not so fortunate. That is why it has been so painful to see our president deflect blame for the fires exclusively to poor forest management instead of recognizing and acting on the issue of climate change. It has also been painful to have our governor continue to issue drilling and fracking permits. We urgently need bold, transformative action on the issue of climate change, and this year’s fire season has proven that in the most devastating way.

USSYP:  Did you have an opportunity to partake in the Washington Week Online sessions, and if so, which speakers and events were most impactful for you?

I sincerely loved participating in Washington Week Online. It was fascinating to learn from the speakers about what it means to be a public servant. In particular, I enjoyed our session with Senator Tammy Baldwin. She is a leader I dearly admire, and learning more about her experiences as a queer woman in politics was inspiring.

2020 Washington Week Online delegates in conversation with USSYP Democratic Co-Chair Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

 

USSYP:  Technology has made it possible for you to know and be engaged with your fellow 2020 delegates.  Have you formed friendships or special connections?

While I was incredibly disappointed to learn of Washington Week’s cancellation, I am forever grateful for the friendships and community I have found through Senate Youth. I have grown close to many of the delegates. I video call Alabama delegate Matthew Bray close to every day, write longhand letters to Indiana delegate Eilidh Macleod, and am a very loyal Goodreads follower of Massachusetts delegate Serena Jampel. I have made so many more friends through the program as well, bonding over books and Bollywood and the Bachelor, among other topics. I know these connections will last a lifetime.  

Arushi, keeping in touch with 2020 Alabama delegate Matthew Bray

USSYP:  Has the pandemic had any positive effects in your life? Have you taken up a new hobby or read any books during this unusual excess of time that you can share or recommend? What do you feel you have learned from this experience so far?  

I have learned to take better care of myself during the pandemic. This crisis has brought personal challenges for us all, and I have been making an effort to prioritize my wellbeing as a result. Lately, I have been practicing Yoga regularly, reading more good books, and journaling more often as well! I am also trying to show myself leniency when I don’t meet a particular goal. It is tough to be productive when everything is so far from normal.

My two favorite books from this summer are The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson (a very fun, light, and meaningful Young Adult story) and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. The latter is less fun and light, but still very meaningful!

USSYP: The pandemic is also a time to show leadership – in your community, through your school, with family and friends. Have there been any instances where your natural inclinations toward leadership and service have shone through?

In June, I helped organize a social media fundraiser that raised over $8,000 for Black Lives Matter related organizations through a combination of small donations and subsequent corporate matching. Many of my Senate Youth friends participated in this fundraiser. It was rewarding to use social media as a tool for positive change.

USSYP:  Have you had the opportunity to work with any outside groups, non-profits or other organizations to affect positive change during this time?

I have been postcarding for Democratic candidates for Congress through a local organizing group I belong to. I have also been textbanking through Commit to Flip Blue for a variety of issues and candidates. Additionally, I am a volunteer for a political campaign — a cause that Massachusetts delegate Serena Jampel helped me get involved in!

USSYP:  Please tell us about your plans for college this fall if you are going, where you will be going (either virtually or in person) and what ideas you have about what you might like to focus on in college or other future plans. Has the experience of the pandemic changed any of your original thoughts for your future?

I will be attending UCLA this fall, majoring in English and Political Science. I am interested in pursuing a career as a writer, perhaps through journalism or fiction storytelling. I hope to publish my second book someday soon – I have been making lots of progress on my novel-in-progress during quarantine. I am excited to see where this project goes! But regardless of my career path, I know I will always be involved in public service and community advocacy in some capacity. I will always fight for the causes I believe in, and I will always be an active and engaged citizen.

Arushi with Aloo (Hindi for potato), one of the kittens fostered during the quarantine.  Aloo’s littermates include: Eggs, Mango, Biryani, Ladoo (an Indian sweet), and Kulfi (an Indian ice cream)


Arushi Avachat’s first book When Love Dies: and other stories was published last year