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Community welcomes back one of its best and brightest
Dhaliwal grad pic1
Amrita Dhaliwal returns to her Turlock home on Sunday after graduating from optometry school to find a surprise party that included dozens of guests, including former teachers from Osborn Elementary School and Turlock High. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER / The Journal

Thousands of students this month will be donning academic regalia and taking part in graduation ceremonies. Most of those receiving higher education degrees will take their expertise to the highest bidder in a very competitive job market. Very few will bring their talents back to the communities where they are needed most.

Amrita Dhaliwal, however, is one of the few who wants to give back to the community that helped her achieve academic success.

The Turlock native graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. with a doctor of optometry degree on Saturday; on Sunday, she made the trip back to the Central Valley to begin her professional life.

Amrita was looking forward to being home, and after a short plane trip and a car ride from Sacramento, the new graduate was glad to see her own neighborhood. As her car turned onto Nikki Ann Way on Sunday, she was greeted by a sign in the yard of every house on the block that read “Welcome Home Dr. Rita.”

When “Dr. Rita” finally made it to her own driveway, she was met by dozens of family members, friends and former teachers from Osborn Elementary and Turlock High School. This outpouring of support was a complete shock to Amrita, as her father orchestrated the surprise homecoming party.

“Thirty-four years and six months ago, on Nov. 19, 1977, we moved to this country, and on May 19, 2012, she graduated from medical school,” said proud father Rajbrinder Dhaliwal.

Rajbrinder was not only proud that his daughter graduated from optometry school, but her future intentions also bring him joy.

“In 2008, she heard Michelle Obama on T.V. saying that a lot of kids get a good education, but don’t return to their own community. She said to me, ‘Dad, I will come back to my community, my Turlock,’” Rajbrinder said.

And that is exactly what Amrita plans to do.

“I’ve had the greatest experience, the best teachers; and they got me to where I am,” Amrita said of her Turlock education. “I definitely feel like there’s a responsibility to this place and I’ll do the best I can.”

Amrita’s expertise is badly needed here in the Valley. All eight of the San Joaquin Valley counties have been designated as “Medically Underserved” by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Amrita’s advanced placement history teacher from Turlock High School, Wayne Hinds, was one of the well-wishers present on Sunday.

“She is brilliant, kind, sweet, worked hard and was disciplined, all the characteristics you want in a kid,” Hinds said of Amrita. “I taught her dad in adult education when he first came to this country and I taught her brother.

“Often the best and brightest leave the Valley because we don’t have jobs for them. It’s great that she’s staying,” he said.