Senior Meena Venkataramanan, 17, holds a gavel she uses with the speech and debate team at Catalina Foothills High School. She plans to study government at Harvard in preparation for a career in public service.

Meena Venkataramanan, 17, does it all.

The Catalina Foothills High School senior serves as president of numerous clubs, including the nationally competitive speech and debate team, at her school and is a member of the Metropolitan Education Commission’s Tucson Teen Congress, all while excelling academically.

So it was no surprise to her parents or her mentor that she’d been accepted early into Harvard University.

“She’s just really involved and committed to everything,” said Adelita Grijalva, director of Pima County Teen Court, where Venkataramanan serves as a volunteer attorney and president of the teen court’s bar association.

The teen is a natural leader, Grijalva said. After meeting and talking to teens dealing with drug-and-alcohol abuse through the program, Venkataramanan took initiative to start a campaign called Project Clean, which includes a website, to raise awareness for youth drug-abuse prevention.

She also advocates for the cause as the chair of the substance-abuse committee on the Arizona Governor’s Youth Commission, which is a group of high school students appointed by the governor to solve youth-related issues in the state.

Venkataramanan was also selected for the United States Senate Youth Program, a week-long program that teaches students about the federal government. The program would also provide $10,000 toward her college education.

“Ever since I was young, I always had my sight set on Harvard,” she said.

The university, with its renowned government and politics programs, was the perfect fit for the budding politician, who says being a public servant is her passion.

It’s her work ethic and resilience that helped her achieve her goal of getting into Harvard, she said.

“There were times when I doubted myself,” she said. “But I just kept pushing.”

Venkataramanan said she’s excited to experience the intellectual vibrancy and academic rigor at Harvard.

She’s already begun her research on what opportunities would be available and talking to people who go there.

Her father, Nal Venkataramanan, said he supports her in whatever she does, but added that it would be hard to see her go off to college.

“It’s going to be hard, but we’ve got to accept the fact that she’s been accepted into one of the premier colleges in the country,” he said.

Contact: 573-4243 or On Twitter: @yoohyun_jung

Data reporter

Data reporter on the investigative team for the Arizona Daily Star