‘Unity is always important’

Meet the Future: Vishnu Mano

Vishnu Mano seeks to promote interfaith understanding as a Kaufman Scholar

Creative, innovative, imaginative … Many of today’s students are all that and more in a vast variety of interest areas. This series features students with exceptional and unusual gifts.

Vishnu Mano and fifth grade teacher Matt Meyer, whom he calls ‘my biggest inspiration for programming’ (courtesy)

Name: Vishnu Mano
School: Forest Hills Eastern High School
Jam: Interfaith scholar

Sharing about his Hindu faith with his peers and others is important to this high school freshman, who has plenty more going on.

Vishnu Mano volunteers with his family at Kids’ Food Basket and at retirement communities. He founded and led after-school coding clubs since the sixth grade. He’s active in robotics and Science Olympiad. He’s played violin since first grade, and is a member of the school orchestra and of the St. Cecilia Philharmonic. He’s also interested in environmental issues.

We could go on. All that, and “I still like to just go play outside,”  he said.

Vishnu’s varied involvement puts into practice what he has called “brain to action,” and to an oft-quoted philosophy that he said his parents have instilled in him and his younger brother, Krishna: Good intentions are not enough. We must do.

“He’s clearly someone who is wise beyond his years, who sees a much bigger picture beyond his years,” said Judy Walton, principal at Eastern Middle.

How old were you when this became something you wanted to pursue, and what’s the story there? His family’s Indian origin and Hindu faith has informed much of Vishnu’s path. He has spoken with his brother at interfaith events. In fourth grade he was introduced to Fred Stella, president of the Interfaith Dialogue Association and member of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University. “(Stella) became a mentor to me, teaching me all about diversity and helping me make connections in the interfaith community,” said Vishnu, who this fall attended a party hosted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to celebrate Diwali.

Vishnu Mano and his younger brother, Krishna, speak earlier this year during the United Nations International Day of Peace at the Dominican Sisters’ Marywood Chapel (courtesy)

Vishnu quotes former Indian President Dr. Abdul Kalam, speaking in 2007 at the Golden Jubilee of the European Union in Strasbourg, France: Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. And when there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.

“I think it is very important to learn about other cultures and religions. Unity is always important,” Vishnu said. “Instead of being divided by race, religion or nationality, if humankind could learn to consider ourselves as one world. … Through the Kaufman Scholars program, I have the opportunity to embrace the differences among all beliefs. 

“The scholars program teaches young adults that we should accept others for their differences instead of being divided by them, (that) it is okay to practice different faiths but still walk in the path of righteousness and helping each other. Knowledge is powerful. Learning about other religions and sharing my own helps educate others about every religion, to understand that we are all one.”

A few related accomplishments:

Is there a teacher or teachers who have had a big impact? Vishnu points to his parents first (and last). Stella. Knapp Forest Elementary art teacher SharonTabaczka and her husband, Greg Peterson. Recess aide Laura Glazer, who introduced him to the violin when he was in kindergarten at Knapp Forest Elementary and took him to his first concert. And his private violin teacher, Diane Duryee, as well as Eastern High Orchestra Director Anne Thompson, “and my peers in orchestra.” And of his inspiration for starting programming clubs at school, Eastern Middle teacher Matt Meyer, “(and my parents, who) were the ones that advised me that there is no sense in keeping knowledge to yourself. The more you share, the more you learn.”

What are your professional aspirations? “I would love to work in the cybersecurity field to secure our world, or in the machine learning field to pioneer the betterment of mankind.” In sixth grade, Vishnu told SNN he hoped to work for the U.S. Army, developing codes for robots intended to help communities. He said that plan still stands.

If you walked into your school building to theme music, what would the song be? “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John. “Not only is the beat catchy and positive, but the lyrics are uplifting and motivational. The song gives off good vibes and is a timeless classic. Elton is my favorite singer as well.”

Vishnu Mano in his happy place, the orchestra cello storage room. ‘It’s my favorite room ever,’ he said
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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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