FARGO - Lalit Saravana saw two basic paths to a college education. One was to go out of state to a university that would leave his parents with a huge debt to pay off. The other was to attend North Dakota State University and work his way through college.
Saravana chose the work-and-stay-at-home option. In addition to taking a heavy course load, he worked full time - actually more than full time, often racking up 50 or 60 hours a week on the job - while pursuing a business major.
As a result of all of that hard work, Saravana will graduate Saturday, May 12, one of about 2,300 eligible students for graduation at NDSU, with a bachelor's degree in finance. And he will attain that milestone at the tender age of 19. He's believed to be among NDSU's youngest graduates ever.
"As much as I could handle, I tried to pack in there," Saravana said, referring to the heavy course and work load he shouldered through high school and college. "I took a kind of sleep-when-you-can approach."
"He's worked incredibly hard, as a family we're very proud of what he's achieved," said Karan Saravana, Lalit's older brother, who also will graduate from NDSU on Saturday, with a degree in biology. Karan plans to attend medical school. He's been accepted at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Saravana, who took lots of Advanced Placement courses and skipped his senior year on his accelerated track through Fargo's Davies High School, saw his parents as examples of hard work and dedication. They immigrated to the United States, settling first in Atlanta, where his father worked as an engineer in developing new technology.
The family then moved to the San Francisco Bay area during the dot.com boom era, when computer technology businesses and startups flourished. Then came the dot.com bust. Faced with high living costs and decreasing job opportunities, Saravana's family decided to move.
"In California, things weren't so good," Saravana said.
Originally planning a move to New England, Saravanna's family stopped en route in Fargo, liked what they saw, and decided it was the right place to settle in 2005.
"It ended up being an intriguing spot for them," Saravana said. Among other ventures, his father owns the Passage to India restaurant. "Fargo just ended up being the biggest blessing."
He saw the long hours and hard work his parents put in to get established and develop their businesses, and appreciated their efforts to provide him with opportunities.
"I can't ask for more," he said. In college, inspired by his parents' example, he worked for local businesses as a technology and marketing consultant. Karan agreed that their parents' example was a motivator.
"They embodied the tenets of hard work, education and gratitude, and that's something my brother is trying to share through his own experiences," Karan Saravana said.
Lalit Saravana said he never felt pressured by his parents, and didn't mind the heavy workload, at school and on the job.
"It's one of those things that's kind of enjoyable," Saravana said.
So, how does someone who has toiled so much, including getting by with less sleep, spend idle time? Does Saravana ever take time to relax?
"I do have hobbies and stuff that I love to do," he said. He enjoys watching basketball, traveling when he can, and food.
He'll be able to indulge his interest in travel soon, when his family returns to India for a visit. Saravana's parents, now U.S. citizens, are from Bangalore.
After that, Saravana will take a couple of months to contemplate his future. "There are a few things I'm pondering," he said. Once back home, "I'll get back to the drawing board, I guess."
If you go:
What: Commencement at North Dakota State University
When: 10 a.m. Saturday, May 12 for graduates of the College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources; College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; College of Human Development and Education; and Interdisciplinary Studies; 2 p.m. for graduates of the College of Business, College of Engineering, College of Health Professions and College of Science and Mathematics.
Where: Fargodome, NDSU campus
Details: NDSU alumnus John Klai will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters. He earned a bachelor of science in architectural studies in 1977 and bachelor of architecture in 1978. Along with fellow NDSU alumnus, Dan Juba, he founded Klai Juba Architects, which has been involved in the design and development of iconic Las Vegas buildings, including Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, Luxor, Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood.