Photo courtesy of Bala Vishwanath

Fifteen-year-old Aashika Vishwanath, a rising sophomore at Issaquah High School, was recently named the winner for grades nine through 12 for the 2018–19 Washington State PTA Men’s Essay Contest. The contest asks students from kindergarten to 12th grade to write about men who have made a difference in their lives, stating, “When male figures are involved with students’ schooling, they enjoy school and perform better in and out of school.” 

Vishwanath’s essay, titled Moves That Matter, focuses on her relationship with her father and the life lessons he has taught her through the game of chess. 

“My dad started teaching me chess when I was 5 or 6,” she said. “He was a chess champion in college; when I was little, it was a way for us to connect and for me to spend time with him.” 

The essay explores the way that chess shifted from a fun game to a platform through which her dad taught her lessons about life. 

“You never lose; you either win or you learn,” the essay opens — one of many pieces of advice from Vishwanath’s father, Bala, who always insisted that chess symbolizes life. 

“As in chess, when your opening move determines how the game progresses, in life, it is important that you open strong,” she remembers him telling her. Vishwanath recounts in the essay how he taught her about selfless sacrifices through the role that each chess piece plays in a game — how each supports the others, and how they must work together to be successful; she writes about how chess and life are both challenging and require hard work and persistence. 

“At times while playing chess, I have complained to my dad that the game is incredibly hard,” she writes. “My dad used to patiently tell me that failures are stepping stones to success … He has shared stories of his childhood growing up in a small town in India and wanting to settle in the U.S., so he could raise his family in the great country of boundless opportunities. From the early years of his schooling, he worked tirelessly, rose to be a national rank holder in India, and received full scholarship to study in the U.S.. ‘I am living the dream today, but this path to success has been all but smooth,’ he has often reminisced. I have learned that setbacks are to be expected, and that, in fact, with each setback, I only get stronger.”

These lessons and others like them, Vishwanath said, have been invaluable to her throughout her life so far. She said she is grateful that her dad taught them to her, and that he did so through the game of chess. 

The teen was honored at an award ceremony this spring. On top of being a talented writer, she loves math and hopes to go on to be a computer or data scientist who works in robotics.