Four years ago, Akhil Rekulapelli had a dream.
In the aftermath of winning the National Geographic Bee, the then-eighth-grader said he someday wanted to attend the University of Virginia.
Here at UVA Today headquarters, we felt it was important to acknowledge that dream.
On Tuesday, Rekulapelli – now a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County – got back to us:
On Friday, Rekulapelli said he can’t wait to become a ’Hoo. “Being at UVA,” he said, “is something that’s always been on my mind.”
Similar to the better-known Scripps National Spelling Bee, the geography bee that Rekulapelli won featured winners from regional events around the United States.
Rekulapelli has been fascinated by maps ever since he can remember. As a toddler, his favorite puzzle was one of the United States.
In fourth grade, he wanted to pursue geography, but his school didn’t offer it.
Rekulapelli began studying on his own, eventually competing in the 2014 National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C.
After winning the competition, Rekulapelli began traveling and giving talks to other kids about geography and his experience in the bee.
“Studying for the bee taught me so much about what hard work can get you and how much discipline is needed to get to your goal,” he said. “You may never catch up to somebody who’s much better at something than you, but it’s about chasing your passion.”
Now, Rekulapelli hopes to apply the same drive toward a medical career.
Rekulapelli, whose father is a pediatrician and mother is an engineer, said UVA’s Days on the Lawn event last month whetted his appetite for what lies ahead.
“I just really like how advisers work with the students and try and plan out all four years,” he said. “They have a very long-term mindset to try and help their students get into medical school.
“And then just on top of that, how many service opportunities there are at UVA. I am really looking forward to maybe being an EMT in Albemarle County, as well as working at Madison House, which seems like a really exciting program to join.”
Rekulapelli is a member of his high school crew team and a big UVA sports fan, but to this day studying maps is still one of his biggest passions.
“A lot of people ask me what I find so interesting and it’s hard to describe really what it is,” Rekulapelli said, “but I think it’s about understanding the world and what’s around us and recognizing I am not the only person here. There are 195 other countries and so many different experiences to be made.”
For winning the bee, Rekulapelli won $50,000, which he said is going toward his UVA education.
He laughed when asked if he was the big man on campus back in the eighth grade when his school put up photos of him following his victory. Rekulapelli said he still gets a kick out of the photos.
“It’s crazy to see myself back then,” he said. “But whenever I see it, it’s funny because it’s just a moment I’ll never forget. I remember everything that happened up on that stage and being in the final round and winning. It was a culmination of four years of studying and just so fulfilling.”