Dr. Niraj Govil ’85 vowed to never return to Ranney after graduation. Yet 35 years later, his two children are Ranney “lifers” and he is an active member of the Ranney community, sitting on four committees and recently elected to the Board of Trustees. He shares how his views of Ranney School have drastically changed and why he is a vocal advocate for the school today.
What influenced your decision to “never come back to Ranney” after graduation?
Growing up, things were tough. I was bullied a lot. In 1978, when I was in fifth grade, something happened in our neighborhood that was pretty bad which fueled my parents’ decision to take me and my sister out of public school. They knew a colleague who sent their kids to Ranney and decided to send us.
But back then, Ranney was a different school than it is today. It’s like night and day. There were many things tolerated back then that I didn’t agree with. Mr. Ranney had what we called an “absolute rule” and if you didn’t agree with him, he would toss you out, whether you were faculty, administration, student, or a parent. In my opinion, we only had a few good teachers (nothing like the faculty we have now) who didn’t seem like they wanted to teach. Plus, I felt my class of 1985 was a tough group of kids. All of this soured me. Some of my classmates had a completely different experience, but for me, I just wanted to leave and go to college. For a while, I looked back on my time at Ranney with quite a bit of anger.
How did you end up sending your children to Ranney?
After I graduated from medical school and finished my residency, I returned to the area to start my practice with my father. When my oldest son, Ankur ’18, was ready to go to school, my mother suggested we send him to Ranney. I immediately replied “I’m not doing that! I’m not giving them any of my money!” But, my mother felt strongly about the decision and offered to pay for his tuition. Eventually, my wife and I agreed and enrolled him in Kindergarten.
Ankur thrived at Ranney. In fact, he ended up being the valedictorian of his class. He did so well, that I began to think I should change my opinion of the school. When it came time for Ankush ’23 to go to school, my wife and I decided he wouldn’t get the same quality of education if we sent him to public school, so we enrolled him at Ranney, too. And like his brother, Ankush has done amazing at Ranney.
What made you get involved as a parent and alumnus?
By the time Ankur was in high school, I knew Ranney was a completely different school from when I was a student. I didn’t get involved as a parent or an alumnus until 2018 when I was asked to join the Education Committee. Once I got involved, I really loved it. I never expected to love it as much as I do. That’s why I’m now on four committees and recently joined the Board. I enjoy working with this administration and the great parents on these committees who are committed to creating a thriving community.
In the 2021-22 school year, the Govil Cultural Learning Commons in the Middle/Upper School foyer was unveiled. How did that project come to be?
I proposed the project to Dr. Griffith as a counter-movement to the racist sentiments that were happening in the country. I faced a lot of racism in school and I think Ranney is better than that, which was the point of the project. I wanted kids to learn a different way of looking at the world, and not just highlight different races and ethnicities, but understand different sexual orientations and gender equality.
What’s it like to reconnect with your classmates as an alumnus?
To be honest, I wanted nothing to do with my classmates for many years after graduating. But after I was asked to join the Alumni Leadership Council (ALC), I decided to try to reconnect with my classmates. I have had success reconnecting with a few on Facebook and through phone calls during my commute to and from Washington D.C. It’s actually fun hearing from them and remembering there were good times and stories.
What advice would you give parents who want to get more involved in the school?
You get what you put into it. If you’re involved at Ranney, your kids will be involved, too. If you only see Ranney from a distance, you don’t get to appreciate all of the insight that goes into making decisions. I would recommend parents get involved in a committee, if for nothing else, than to be closer to the school. It’s just something that would benefit you–there is so much going on at Ranney, you can get involved with anything: education, diversity, marketing, fundraising, events, parent’s association, etc.
What advice would you give alumni who are hesitant to reconnect with their alma mater?
This is a different school than what you remember, especially if you were at Ranney in the 80s or 90s. It gets better every year and is poised to do great things. We could definitely use more alumni support. If nothing else, it’s sometimes fun–and cathartic–to walk down memory lane.
Dr. Niraj Govil is a flight surgeon for the United States Air Force. He earned degrees from Rutgers University and the University of Rochester. He is a member of Ranney’s Board of Trustees, Medical Advisory Board, Education Committee, Diversity Committee, and Alumni Leadership Council.