Kareena Sheshadri ’27 takes inspiration from her family when turning her dreams for inclusivity into action

Kareena Sheshadri ’27 was recently named to the planning committee of the new NC State Educational Opportunities Program, a university-wide initiative that is administratively housed and managed in NC State’s College of Education. She is from Cary, NC.

Kareena reflected on how she got involved with inclusive enrichment opportunities for the neurodivergent population and what inspires her to work for change.

I am a firm believer that your experiences shape your reality. For me, while I’ve been through challenges that I would never want to relive, those challenges have shaped who I am today. They have redefined my life, giving me a reason to be a dreamer. 

During my freshman year of high school, we learned that my older sister Bayla was born without the structure that connects the two sides of her brain, a condition called absent septum pellucidum. Because of the absence of this crucial structure, she has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism and a brain condition called Intracranial hypertension, a condition in which excess fluid builds up in the brain. Bayla’s intracranial hypertension went undiagnosed due to experts all over the world stating that she was making up her disease or malingering (exaggerating or feigning an illness). My ever-evolving world gaining colors and joy came to a sudden stop. I moved into survival mode. 

Kareena and family stand in front of greenery together
Bayla (second from the left) and Kareena (third from the left) with their parents

Due to this going undiagnosed, she became nearly blind. After going through two brain surgeries, my sister started healing. I finally regained my footing and the beauty of this experience started to recolor my life. I decided that I wanted to use my experiences to help those around me who have also been misunderstood. I became involved with an organization called GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome Achievement Center. I came in with the goal of being a voice for those who are often misunderstood, like Bayla.

Being part of GiGi’s has ultimately changed the trajectory of both my passions and goals. The moment I walked into GiGi’s, I knew I was home. At GiGi’s, I spent time with the individuals there and sat on a youth board that organized events for them, like prom. I formed true connections with these individuals, and they became an extension of my family. I knew that from this transformative experience, I wanted to make a difference for these individuals, whom I view as family. At GiGi’s, I also met my best friend, Lizzie. Lizzie has a twin sister with Down syndrome, Meredith.

One day, it hit me that Lizzie will be graduating high school and starting college soon, which will prepare her for the rest of her life. On the other hand, Meredith will be graduating high school, but then what? The fact that Meredith might never have a job or higher education is not due to a lack of intelligence or skill on her end, but it reflects society’s negligence towards those who are different. With this realization in mind, I knew I was ready to make a difference for these individuals.

Kareena and friend pose at an event with twinkle lights
Matthew Schwab and Kareena at GiGi’s annual “I Have a Voice” Gala
Group of three stand in front of a Gigi's Playhouse table with signage under a tent
Kareena, Lizzie and Meredith at a GiGi’s resource table at an NC State football game

When choosing a college, I wanted to choose a place that would be committed to making a stand for the neurodivergent population. The moment I stepped on NC State’s campus and learned about the commitment the Park Scholarships program has to making a difference, I knew it was the place for me. During my first semester at NC State, they have proved to me that they are truly committed to not only stand for change, but also to act towards change. I have been gifted with the opportunity to participate as part of the Educational Opportunities Program Committee. As defined by NC State and the College of Education, “this program will: offer educational credentials such as degrees, certificates and non-degree opportunities; provide students with inclusive academic enrichments, socialization, independent living skills and integrated work experiences that will help them develop career skills that can lead to gainful employment; and offer support and services will include academic and social inclusion in academic courses, extracurricular activities and other aspects of campus life.” 

Knowing that NC State has committed to making this change and is making it happen is so powerful. I know that through this program, people like Bayla and Meredith will have a chance to live out their lives to their fullest potential. I am grateful to NC State for dreaming this into action. This will forever speak to the strong nature of the Pack.

Kareena and Sam take a selfie together sitting in a car
Kareena and Sam Hening from 321 Coffee

Going forward, I am hopeful that this program will set a foundation for what education should look like, provide employment for these individuals and promote an attitude of inclusion across all domains. I’d like to leave you with a few words that inspire me to keep dreaming and believing.

As Meredith’s dad says, “I think sometimes people look at kids with special needs and think they’re limited by some capacities, but you must ask a question, at least I do at times, as you look at the joy they bring and how they live. And so, from God’s perspective, who’s the disabled one? Myself who looks at the world and struggles with the world, or Meredith who just loves and has joy and just enjoys being.”

As my favorite Peloton instructor Kendall Toole says, “If you see everyone’s differences you’re going to feel like you walk through the world alone. But if you see how we are all way more similar and all in the same fight in a different way, life gets a little better.”

And finally, as John Lennon says, “Imagine all the people, sharing all the world. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one.”