by Opal Vadhan
Meet our Brown Girl of the Month for September 2015!
Opal Vadhan is a recent graduate from Pace University where she majored in communications and minored in women and gender studies. At Pace, Opal was a resident advisor for three years working with the freshman to upperclassmen. She is a two-time New York Women in Communications scholarship winner, a campus editor-at-large for Huffington Post, a freelance reporter for TV Asia, as well as a panelist for The Seven Sisters Project.
Vadhan spent her fall 2014 semester interning at The White House in the Office of Communications in Washington D.C. Her previous internships include NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, MTA, Gimme Mo, Fashion Delivers, Girls Who Rock, The Rachael Ray Show, and Sony Music Entertainment. Vadhan is also the youngest person in the Lacoste hall of fame selling more than $250,000 of merchandise under a year.
During her free time, she volunteers with Marist Young Adult and goes on mission trips to help children in Jamaica. She is a big dreamer and hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams.
“I always had big dreams, and I always knew I wanted to help people and make a difference. As soon as I could walk, I started dancing and wanted to be a Bollywood actress. And then one day I came home from elementary school, after learning about former presidents, I wanted to be the first female President of The United States.
Then, I would spend my afternoons watching talk shows with my mom and realized I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on TV. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a television host. I wanted to tell people’s stories, give them a platform to have their voices heard and have other girls look up to someone who looked like them on TV.
In seventh grade, I had to give a presentation on someone that we admired—I choose Barbara Walters and wore a tweed pink blazer, and memorized one of her speeches.
I would always tell people I wanted to be the next Oprah Winfrey and host a show called, “The Opal Show,” one day. That wasn’t the ‘norm’ and a lot of people would laugh at me and say my dreams are too big. I also got made fun of growing up for my big aspirations.
But I used all of the doubt that people had in me, and kept all those people who thought I’d always fail in the back of my head, and I used it to motivate me even more. I always thought about my grandmother, ‘Baa,’ we called her. She was the matriarch in the family—a strong, loveable, woman who raised seven kids with my grandfather in a small one-room apartment in India. And all she wanted was for her children, grandchildren, and great-grand- children to be happy.
I always reminded myself that I wasn’t just doing this for me or to prove people wrong, I wanted to do it for all those other kids out there with big dreams that have no one to believe in them. I wanted to show them that If I can achieve my goals—so can they.
At the age of 17, I interviewed for my first ‘on the books’ job. I had been a waitress, dog walker, babysitter, and tutor, which taught me so much. I found a Craigslist ad that said the Lacoste U.S. Open boutique was looking for retail associates. I decided to apply although I had no retail experience, I was called for an interview. I went into a group interview with people much older and more experience than I, but somehow the next day, I got a call saying I got the job.
To this day, I thank my first boss, Jena, for giving me this opportunity. After that, Lacoste brought me into their boutiques in Manhattan and I stayed with them for two years. I would go to school, hop on the subway, and work the closing shift. I loved to work, but I definitely was exhausted.
At the end of my senior year in high school, I met someone who changed my life, Tammy Tibbetts. Tammy gave me my first internship at GIRLS WHO ROCK, a benefit concert that raised money for the non-profit She’s the First, which sponsors girls’ education in third-world countries. So much that I’ve learned came from Tammy and that internship. After that internship, I made my way through college being a resident advisor for three years at Pace University.
But throughout my journey, I face many hardships and didn’t always see success, the first time around. I’m a big believer that if one door closes, another door will be open, and that failure is an essential part in achieving your dreams. You can choose to give up or you can keep trying. I’m a two-time New York Women in Communications scholarship winner but the first two times I applied, I didn’t even make it to the second round.
Something else I have learned from my journey is that some of the best things in life are unplanned. There was never a thought in my mind that one day I’d be interviewing Bollywood superstar, Hrithik Roshan at the Indian International Filmfare Awards. I never planned on interning at The White House, I always thought I was never qualified to even apply.
It was interning at The White House in the Office of Communications where I found my true passion. I always thought being on TV was my way to use my career to help people, but I found that I didn’t just want to tell the stories, I want to help create the stories.
I was given a unique opportunity to work with the best people at The White House, who taught me the true meaning of public service. And as a first-generation American, whose parents sacrificed a lot to give me opportunities in America, there wasn’t a more rewarding feeling them to give them a tour of The White House.
There’s so much gratitude in my life, and I know that my high school, Archbishop Molloy High School, and my college, Pace University, gave me endless opportunities. I have a lot of love for a place called Esopus, which allows me to continue to serve others. Being able to volunteer in Kingston, Jamaica has given me such a purpose. I’m eternally grateful for all the mentors, role models, teachers that have came into my life. And I’m thankful to God for everything, and for giving me the best friends and family who continue to bring so much love and support.
As my journey continues, I pinch myself thinking, how did I get so lucky. It’s a long way from the seventh grader who pretended to be Barbara Walters. At 22 years old, I do know there’s still many dreams I still have to accomplish. Until then, I am happy to have inspired some brown girls along the way. I love hearing from someone that I helped get them their first internship or an article of mine related to them. I have a group of mentee’s now who I love rooting for every step of the way.
This was tough for me to write because I absolutely hate talking about myself, but I hope if my story can resonate or inspire someone, then it’s worth telling. If I can leave you with one thing, it is to dream big, and when life exceeds your wildest dreams, continue to dream bigger.”