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LARSON: Collins Hill grad conquers challenges

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

We all have challenges when we commence into the world from high school, be it a job, military training or college. My first challenge was trying to cram 20 pairs of shoes into a six square foot closet I had to share with two other roommates.

Manav Dutta’s challenges were, well, quite a bit more challenging.

Dutta, who has always dealt with the challenges of autism, really rose above them when he delivered the valedictory speech for the class of 2013 at Collins Hill.

But when Dutta entered Georgia Tech as a Computer Science major, he encountered new and different challenges.

He said when he moved into his dorm he was amazed at the variety of people he clicked with. “I met some guys just like me and enjoyed sharing my nerdiness with them,” he said. “Like any other student, I played video games, traded cards, and went on crazy late-night adventures to Waffle House and McDonald’s. When classes started, I wasn’t daunted. I aced everything just like in high school. For real challenges, I went to epic programming contests called hackathons and participated in events like tricycle races and epic dodge ball tournaments.”

“Tech ain’t a challenge at all,” he said. “My professors were really nice and I really related to them.”

In his freshman year he maintained a 3.5 GPA, worked on a research team to produce a thermomechanical model of salt rocks and spent time probing the secrets of artificial intelligence. He even improved on his already proficient public speaking skills, which he used at his mom’s wedding.

But then came the challenges. Mostly social. Even though he was socializing with people on his floor, he said he couldn’t understand them at all.

“I felt like they were from another planet,” he said. “Two in particular were cruel towards me because of my autistic characteristics, even though I tried to explain it to them. I felt overwhelmed trying to balance all the classes and extracurriculars. I felt a growing sense of detachment from the professors and other adults. Eventually in October, a vicious conflict erupted culminating in ‘No Contact’ orders being placed between me and the two of them.”

After that, Dutta said he met some students from Wheeler High School with whom he really bonded. Things got better, but he said the people on his floor tried to get him in trouble on false accusations. Even though Tech has an autism support group, Manav chose not to seek help because he had his friends to back him up. Through it all he said he had the support of his new friends. He rose above the challenges and says he’s just put his freshman year behind him.

Now Dutta is taking on a new challenge of spending his sophomore year in Germany. And he’s already taken up the challenge of learning German. No matter what the challenge, I believe this young man will rise above it.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.