1988 to September 12, 2008
He could quote whole episodes of South Park and Family Guy
Atul Vyas, a brilliant physics and mathematics student who planned to attend medical school after graduating from Claremont McKenna College in 2009, was one of 25 victims of the Chatsworth train crash on Friday, Sept. 12. The gregarious pre-med student, who doted on younger cousins and loved to play family pranks, was on his way home to see his parents in Simi Valley for the weekend when his Metrolink passenger train collided with a freight train. He was only 20 years old.
A fan of the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip, Curious George books and strenuous workouts, Atul was known across the Claremont campus for his expertise at Super Smash Bros., a Nintendo video game, quoting whole episodes of “South Park” and “Family Guy”, and his luminous personality. He lit up a room with his smile, said his grieving father Vijay Vyas, and never seemed to need to study all that hard to make top grades.
“Thoroughly brilliant, flying high”
Though of Indian descent, Atul was inducted into a Latino club because “they loved him so much,” his father added. “He was a thoroughly brilliant kid, flying high. Ask his professors.”
James Higdon, Atul’s adviser at Claremont and his physics professor, said Atul had an arrogant swagger but backed it up with excellence in the classroom. Higdon had urged his ultra-bright student to consider physics as a profession, but Atul had his heart set on medicine and helping people, he said.
“He was a good friend, as well as a good student,” said Higdon, one of many who gathered to remember the gifted young man at the Cornerstone Church on Thursday, Sept. 18th. When the professor left the podium, he broke down in sobs and was held in a long embrace by Atul’s mother, Ruby, according to those in attendance.
“I’ve had a blessed life”
Scoring in the top 1% on his medical school entry exams, the rapper-loving whiz kid, who skipped sixth grade, had trouble answering only one question on applications to Harvard and MIT, his father said: Describe a hardship you’ve overcome.
Atul’s answer was simple. “I’ve not had any, I’ve had a blessed life.”
Rohan Patel, 21, a friend from Claremont who was among those at the church, likened Atul to a brother. ” He was a great listener, a gym buddy, a great drinking buddy. He loved science and sleeping and would take on any dare or challenge.” Patel said.
Longtime lab partner and good friend Elisa Gutierrez described Atul as “always positive and infinitely patient. If anyone was ever stressing about something, Atul was the person who would say, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ve got this (in the bag).’ Or he would say, ‘Life is good, yours is, too.'”
His choices were endless
A graduate of Santa Susana High School in Simi Valley, where he earned the highest SAT scores in the school’s history, Atul chose Claremont McKenna College in large part to be near to his family, said his cousin Ruchi Agarwal. “His choices were endless,” she said. He could have gone anywhere.
Electing to study abroad through an exchange program with McGill University in Montreal last spring, the laid-back young man, who almost always wore flip-flops and shorts, was the second in his family to enroll at Claremont McKenna College. Older brother Aseem, who graduated last May, works in London as an Investment Banker. Aseem returned home after an urgent call from his father, who was too devastated at the time to tell his son why.
In lieu of flowers, the Vyas family requests donations be sent to benefit the Atul Vyas Scholarship Fund c/o the Claremont-based Uncommon Good organization. The non-profit group, which Atul participated in for two years by mentoring low-income kids ages 9 to 18, ensures the poor receive access to quality education, healthcare and legal services (http://www.uncommongood.org). [KBL]