The countdown is finally over! The long awaited 9th KCCNA (Knanaya Catholic Congress of North America) Convention held at the Gaylord Texan Hotel in Dallas has come and gone, leaving everyone with one question in mind – ‘What’s next?’ This is especially true this year, with a record number of attendees and the vast majority of them actively participating in all festivities! As you can see, the Knanaya Community in North America is growing larger year after year, but we may fail to recognize that this growth also initiates increasing participation of talented youth across the board, making the playing field much more selective. Of all these competitors it was a fifteen-year-old girl from Houston, Texas, Rachel Neycheril, who took home the prized Kala Thilakam Award that many had eyes on. Rachel is the daughter of Thomas and Deepa Neycheril and the older sister of Rhea Neycheril. Rachel currently attends the Medical Academy at Hightower High School where she is involved in various school activities including the Speech and Debate Team, HOSA – Health Occupation Students of America, and Red Cross.
She earned this title by receiving the most number of points in her solo items, which consisted of 1st place in Classical Dance, 2nd place in Folk Dance and 2nd place in Elocution. Besides participating in these solo items, Rachel also competed in group competitions like western, classical, folk, and cinematic dance, in which she received two 1st places and one 2nd place.
When asked what it felt like to receive the award, Rachel responded, “It felt like lying down in bed after a long day’s worth of toil. I felt the same sense of comfort and satisfaction, and just like a good night’s sleep, it felt all the more better because I truly earned it with my hard work.” Not only was it the hard work of the few weeks or even months prior to the competitions, but it was all the collective experiences since a very young age, that contributed to her success. The countless competitions, performances and various other opportunities that she has utilized throughout the years have all contributed in significant ways. Among these include the 2009 Cleveland Aradhana Bharatanatyam Competition, the Kna Idol title, which she held for two consecutive years, the recent dance drama production (Panchatantra), in which she played a main role, etc. When asked what was next in her plan, Rachel said, “Well, this is only the beginning. With every experience I keep learning and growing because there is always more room for improvement, and this convention was no exception. The title itself hasn’t changed me, but participating in these eventful competitions has definitely taken me a step further, with so many more steps still lying ahead.”
On the fourth and final day of the convention, when Rachel was recognized for her accomplishment, she was given a few moments to speak. In her remarks, she said “I would like to first and foremost, thank the Lord Almighty who has showered me with countless blessings, letting me get this far.” Then, she thanked her parents for their unconditional love, support and tireless hard work from the very first day. She went on to acknowledge her guru Smt. Sunanda Nair who, in Rachel’s words, “has spent countless hours guiding and nurturing me, not only as a dancer but also as an individual.” Last, but not least, she left off by thanking the KCCNA executives for making this possible!