One in 1800: Siddarth Rajkumar

From sophomore to senior, one student was randomly selected to tell their story. ​

Lily Fleming, Copy Editor

Across the United States millions of high school students approaching graduation have a busy schedule that includes the ACT, an entrance exam reflecting college readiness. First introduced by University of Iowa professor Everett Franklin in 1959, for 64 years students have taken the 36-point test. The odds of a perfect 36 score are increasing, but they are remarkably low even so. Each year, less than 0.5% test takers earn a 36. This year Siddarth Rajkumar ‘24 contributed to this impressive statistic, leaving the question, who is the kid behind the perfect score?

When Rajkumar was one year old, his family moved to America from India.

“I actually didn’t first settle in Iowa. We moved around until I was in 6th grade, so we settled in Iowa then, but my parents moved to America because my dad and my mom had a lot of student loans and they found a job opportunity to pay those off,” Rajkumar said.

Counting on his fingers he listed the states he has lived in: California, Texas, Minnesota, Kansas, Arkansas, Connecticut, North Carolina and as a 2nd and 3rd grader he lived in the Southern city of India, Chennai.

“That’s where my dad is from,” replied Rajkumar. “My mom kind of moved around… She’s South Indian too, but I think she’s even further South.”

Looking back on memories, Rajkumar described schooling in India, “I’d say that, it was a lot stricter. So you have to memorize a lot more and the teachers are more— I don’t know, the culture is different.”

While Rajkumar hasn’t been to India in a while, he says he would like to visit the family he has there soon. At home, he speaks Tamil with his parents and has one older sister, Dhatchu, who’s in college and is someone he looks up to a lot,“She really taught me how to deal with people … Just like how to treat people with respect and respect each other’s differences,” said Rajkumar.

Rajkumar is currently taking French three in addition to speaking English and Tamil. Outside of Rajkumar’s full schedule of classes, he has been involved in the Technology Student Association (TSA) since last year, “which is like the big one,” he said. He also swims for Johnston and plays a handful of instruments including the flute for concert band, synth in marching band, and piano in jazz band. The backstories of his chosen instruments are quite simple.

“Why do I play the flute? I mean, it was just the first thing that occurred to me, and I wasn’t bad at it, so that’s why I chose to do it. The piano, I mean, I was four when I started, so I didn’t really have much choice,” Rajkumar explained.

Similar pressure from Rajkumar’s parents have made quite the impact in his life; after earning a 34 on his second go at the ACT, he was satisfied, but his parents urged him to reach his full potential.

“I took the ACT thrice … I took it once my freshman year and once my sophomore year. So I got a 34 my second time, and I was happy with that, but my parents thought I could do better,” he stated.

In addition to the encouragement of his family, discipline was key to his success, taking lots of time to study, and a website of official practice tests, “Crack ACT”. For less expensive ACT practice prep, Rajkumar bought used practice books from ThriftBooks, as well as borrowed prep books from the library. The timeframe of his practice consisted of

“Like two or three hours a day, so quite a bit … for about two or three months,” said Rajkumar.
Despite his achievement on the entrance exam, he recognizes the flaws of standardized tests in college admissions,

“To be honest, I think there is a lot of inequality because practice materials for those tests can be pretty expensive,” Rajkumar acknowledges. “It’s really unfair to people who can’t afford those kinds of courses because the people who do have more money get the higher score because they have those materials. And that gives them access to better education, so it’s just an unfair system.”

Nonetheless, undoubtedly Rajkumar’s dedication and hard work will open significant opportunities in the college admissions process, a process Rajkumar is not yet immersed in as a junior,
“I mean, I’ve had a lot of discussions about what I want to do for a career and like what colleges I want to go to. But as of now, I’m not sure, like I’m thinking about biology or engineering,” he reflected.

Through the momentary uncertainty of future plans, on the question of a dream job he pondered,
“A dream job… I don’t know, I think researching biology would be really fun.”

While navigating junior year and fathoming what life will look like post graduation, Rajkumar enjoys reading and, more recently, creative writing in his free time. He remarked,
“Well, I’ve been trying to get started with creative writing. I also read a lot, so that’s good. … I really like Game of Thrones, so more into the fantasy kind of stuff.”

Rajkumar may be that rare one out of 200 ACT takers that gets the perfect score, but in many respects he’s the typical Johnston teen. The future is bright for Rajkumar, but next year will be filled with the ordinary trappings of a high school senior; music, band, swimming, TSA and college visits.