It is indeed a cause for pride for Mother Lanka when one of her own daughter’s achieves recognition. Nilushi Ranaweera, having gained prominence as an Assistant Attorney General in the state of Minnesota, USA has indeed made her Motherland proud and her story is inspirational.
Give us a glimpse of your childhood?
I led an idyllic life in Batapotha, Madelgamuwa in Gampaha with my parents, retired Labour Commissioner Sarath Ranaweera and retired Teacher, Indrani Ranaweera and two older sisters, Vidushi and Mahishi. I studied at Holy Cross College, Gampaha. Being the youngest in the family was an added advantage as my parents did not burden me with many chores or expectations.
In retrospect, what was your childhood ambition?
I did not have grandiose ambitions for myself. I used to watch the ladies who were employed in the adjacent cashew factory walk by our home with much gaiety and laughter and aspire to be like them, as in my view they seemed so carefree.
What altered the course of your life and aspired you to achieve more?
It was a word of encouragement and the belief that a complete stranger, Manjula Sandirigama had in me that changed my perspective about myself, instilling an ambition that seemed unattainable. When I was eleven we attended a wedding and Manjula ‘(aiyya) asked me what my ambition was and I in my naiveté informed him about wanting to work at a cashew factory to which he responded in shock and disbelief and told me that I can study hard and give myself more options in life instead of settling for something less than my potential. Those words were like seeds that were planted in my heart and mind as I could not fathom the vision a stranger could have for me, it was an epiphany and thus began a life-long bond and a correspondence in which he, like an elder brother and mentor would always encourage me to pursue a career and dedicate myself to my studies.
In retrospect, I understand that encouragement and motivation is like honey to the soul. Most often we see the negative effects criticism or non–encouragement can do to a child. Therefore it is necessary for parents and teachers to spur a child’s ability to dream bigger.
Thereafter, it felt like my way was illumined by some magical aura which compelled me to strive for the best. My Ordinary Level examination and Advance Level examination results were astounding to all who knew me and I was able to choose my career path and obtained my degree from the Colombo University in 2005.
Were there moments when you felt like quitting?
One was a feeling of disillusionment which almost stopped me from pursuing my career in a field I had chosen, which was Law – The first few days I started interning for a prominent lawyer in Sri Lanka and accompanying him to court was disheartening as I saw how callously people were treated. I vowed not to be part of such a profession and I opted to do Accountancy instead.
What made you revive your career aspirations for your present profession?
After marriage, my husband, Eranda Liyanapathirana and I migrated to USA and thereafter we became proud parents of two children, Akane and Krishan. Life was proceeding as usual but with time I felt a stirring in my soul to my affinity towards Law which had come to a grinding halt but I could not forego my familial responsibilities.
It was at this crucial juncture that my mother-in-law stepped in to take care of the children when I needed extra help in order to resume my studies and follow my dream to become a Lawyer. I felt that I needed to accomplish what had laid dormant for years especially to help those in need of a voice.
Subsequently, I entered Hamline University in Minnesota State in 2006 to read for my B.A. degree in Law and won the postgraduate degree in Law from Mitchell Hamline School of Law, located in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2016. Thereafter, I furthered my studies under the supervision of a government judge and was appointed as Assistant Attorney General on August 23, 2019, in Minnesota State.
How challenging was it the second time around?
Life is challenging, yet we must face the hurdles with a determination to overcome and succeed. Help does come in an unexpected manner and we have to be filled with gratitude for those who are willing to support you. We need to have a dream that benefits society as well as yourself and your family and leaves a strong impression in the world we live in – if not it is futile to merely to exist for oneself.
What is the scope of your work?
I am managing our Statewide Expungement Program. We help people to seal their criminal records as in in US when you have a criminal record it is very hard or impossible to find a job, house or good education. Yet, by sealing a criminal record it helps a person to restore his/ her life. It is a very effective program and this work aligns with what I believe – that everyone deserves a second chance in life.
How best can you describe yourself and what has moulded you into the person you are today?
In a nutshell – I think it is my determination and hard work which brought me to where I am today. I like to challenge myself albeit to push myself out of the comfort zone. Surmise it to say, I believe when you challenge yourself you will realize how strong and how capable you are.
I have overcome so many life challenges. Until I was about nine or ten years old, I had seizures and was constantly on medication. One of the side-effects of those medications was memory loss. Due to that my parent never pushed me in my studies as they knew it is unfair for me with my condition and they were constantly worried about me. I am not the smartest but if I set my mind onto something I will work hard until I get there.
Who has helped you in your astounding journey?
To my husband, my children, parents, siblings, Manjula aiyya, who became a constant source of inspiration, uncle Gunasiri Silva and aunt Anoma Liyanapathirana and the former school Principal of Holy Cross College, Gampaha, Rev. Mother Nelly Helen and Saddha Abeysekera and former Principal of the Yashodara Girls School who instilled self-confidence in me.
What is your message to the world?
Dream big and work hard – compete with you not with others. Challenge you not others. Be humble all the time!
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