Harker Magazine Spring/Summer 2023

Page 1

Hello Summer!



Pam Dickinson

Office of Communication Director

Catherine Snider

Managing Editor

Jane Snyder

Photography Editor

Jennifer Maragoni

Copy Editor

Zach Jones

Rebecca McCartney

Staff Contributors

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Certified Business of Santa Clara County. As part of our many sustainability efforts, Harker Magazine is printed on partially recycled paper.

On the cover: Ishaan Babel, grade 2, enjoys summer camp.

On this page: Middle schoolers soak up ancient art on a trip to Greece.

On the back: Emily Mitnick, grade 10, and Finnley Chu, grade 3, enjoy their Eagle Buddies day together.

All photos by Jane Snyder.



Harker’s Strategic Plan

An update from Head of School Brian Yager.

The Harker Summer Soundtrack

Eight programs blend academics and fun.

Learning to Tell Their Stories

Lower school students learn narrative writing.

The ‘I’ Perspective

How affinity groups are increasing inclusivity.


Photo highlights from the past semester of athletics, visual arts and performing arts, as well as a look at end-of-year activites and graduation. 14, 24, 32, 36, 38

Passion & Impact

Alumni following their dreams and making a difference in the world. 16, 26, 40

Face Time

Up close and personal with teachers and staff. 22, 23, 34

18 28
Head of School Brian Yager’s graduation address. 2 Top Stories Highlights of significant stories from Harker News. 6 Gallery
Notes Alumni news and photos. 42 18 8 28 1 HARKER MAGAZINE l SPRING/SUMMER 2023
Staff Kudos Happenings in the professional lives of our faculty and staff. 35 Class

About Harker head lines

From its early beginnings in 1893 – when Stanford University leaders assisted in its establishment – to its reputation today as a leading preparatory school with graduates attending prestigious universities worldwide, Harker’s mission has remained constant: to create an environment that promotes academic excellence, inspires intellectual curiosity, expects personal accountability and forever instills a genuine passion for learning. Whether striving for academic achievement, raising funds for global concerns, performing on stage or scoring a goal, Harker students encourage and support one another and celebrate each other’s efforts and successes, at Harker and beyond. Harker is a dynamic, supportive, fun and nurturing community where kids and their families make friends for life.


Harker Magazine is published biannually, in December and June, to showcase some of the top news, visionary programs and inspiring people of the greater Harker community. This magazine and its predecessor, the Harker Quarterly, have been recognized with CASE silver and bronze awards, and three gold and four platinum MarCom awards.

Don’t Borrow Trouble and other advice to live by

Editor’s note: This is edited from the address Brian Yager gave at graduation on May 18.

How many of you have read a book by John Steinbeck?

When I was in high school, we read a book by Steinbeck every year from grade 9-11: “Of Mice and Men,” “Cannery Row,” “The Grapes of Wrath.”

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He was a poignant writer; he wore well the coat of human suffering and also human triumph. And he could be witty. The last piece he penned before his death was an account of his journey circumnavigating the United States, beginning and ending at his home in Maine. The travelogue was published under the title “Travels with Charley: In Search of America.” The title reflects the fact that Steinbeck was joined on his journey by his dog, Charley, a standard poodle and his good friend. As he notes in his writing, Steinbeck set out to determine the essence of America. While the book details his adventures and discoveries throughout his journey, one line in it has always captured my attention. After leaving his home in Maine and traversing through the Great Lakes region, Steinbeck finds himself in Montana, and he quickly falls in love. In describing the state to a friend, he writes: “Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.”

Having lived in Texas and Montana, I can attest to the veracity of his statement. Most Texans love Texas, and their fondness for their home state can lead to a great deal of embellishment. Montana, on the other hand, is everything a Texan might claim, and more.

However, in terms of his quest, Steinbeck found more of America in Texas – both the good and the bad –than anywhere else. And he spends a great deal of the narrative in “Travels with Charley” sharing wisdom he gleaned from the people and the adventures he met there. For my part, I have had the same experience. Woven into the tall tales shared by my friends who call the Lone Star State home, I have found much wisdom. There are two sayings that I associate with Texas that I would like to share today, one from a real person and one from a literary character.

The first comes from Rhonda Durham, the former head of Trinity School in Midland, Texas, who went on to serve as executive director of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest. As director, Rhonda coordinated all of the governance activities of a collection of over 100 independent schools across six states. There was one piece of advice that she shared on more than one occasion that has stuck with me. Sometimes, when discussing a situation in which it was clear that an individual staff member or parent was not going to be content with an outcome or a decision

Remember, our job is to water the grass, not the rocks.

made at one of our member schools, Rhonda would advise, in her Texan drawl, “Remember, our job is to water the grass, not the rocks.”

This phrase has become a mantra I repeat whenever I feel as though I am directing too much of my energy – personal or professional – toward something that will bear no positive return. The second saying I picked up from a Texan comes from a character in a book by Zane Grey. In Grey’s novel “West of the Pecos,” the protagonist is a character named Rill Lambreth. When Rill’s father dies on the way to their new life as Texas ranchers, Rill is left to settle the homestead by herself. Its location? West of the Pecos – the river that traverses western Texas on its way to connect with the Rio Grande. Rill enlists the aid of the cowboy and gunslinger Pecos Smith. Pecos gets his name from the river basin where he has spent his entire life.

There are several occasions during which Pecos gives Rill advice about managing this new ranch on the range. Understandably, Rill is apprehensive about all kinds of things on the frontier: Will there be enough rain to keep the cows alive? Will there be too much? How can they protect their herd from cattle rustlers? Whenever Rill’s preoccupation with these concerns begins to bubble unproductively, Pecos resets his friend’s temperament with one simple line: “Don’t go borrowing trouble.”

Worrying about things that might happen is a natural thing to do. It is part of our survival instinct. Yet, we also seem to be able to worry about things that are unlikely to impact us and/or to misjudge the actual extent of any negative outcomes that might result from a given situation. We can also wear the troubles of others, even when we ourselves have no connection to them. Today, there are many ways in which many of us tend to borrow trouble. In fact, many industries are built to take advantage of this propensity. The insurance industry is an obvious example. It

literally profits from fear. Don’t get me wrong, it is prudent to seek insurance in our lives and to prepare for the risks we face. However, as the abundance of advertisements for insurance products suggests, there is a lot of money to be made off of our fears. Many other industries use fear as powerful motivator. Media outlets attract the attention and allegiance of their viewers by focusing on the things they fear, and so too do some politicians. To a certain extent, all of our actions can be viewed as a response to some form of fear or other, with many behaviors reduced, ultimately, to a response to the fear of missing out, and this is an especially pernicious aspect of the impact of social media. But the wonderful thing about being human is that we can know ourselves and respond accordingly. The opposite of fear is hope, and we can choose to approach our decisions in life with a lens that sees positive opportunities in the future rather than all of the prospective pitfalls. While it might be simply a question of semantics and perspective, surely life is better if we seek the light, rather than avoid the dark.

Circling back to Steinbeck’s journey in search of America, one of the episodes he recounts is of his visit to New Orleans where he observes a group called the Cheerleaders. This band of older women stands outside a recently desegregated school and hurls insults at the children as they enter. It is an episode that deeply disturbs Steinbeck, and one that shakes his belief in America. He notes that the Cheerleaders are a group whose actions are solely based on the fear of the unknown – on the trouble they have borrowed. They believed that desegregation would negatively impact their life, and they acted on their fear. Conversely, in the many instances in which Steinbeck found good in the America he observed, it was often because he found people watering the grass and not the rocks.

At last week’s baccalaureate, Dyllan Han gave a wonderful speech in which he suggested that while clichés have a bad reputation among writers and scholars in general, they can often Dyllan’s thesis by finishing my remarks today with another cliché. Graduates, you have experienced many things in your lives, and the future holds many unknowns. While you cannot predict or control the world around you, you can control your reaction to it and the lens through which you observe it. Your future will be much brighter if you choose to water the grass and not the rocks, and if you heed, as much as possible, Pecos Smith’s admonition not to borrow trouble.



Major Themes for Strategic Plan:

Ensure ongoing programmatic excellence. Prioritize a safe, nurturing, inspiring environment. Relocate and create a new middle school and Boynton campus. Build endowment and fund strategic plan.

The 125th Anniversary Gift Initiative will be coming to an end on Dec. 31, 2023.

Your gift/pledges to the capital fund as a part of your 125th Anniversary Letter of Intent will be matched by Neil and Jasheen Mehta up to $5 million. Please contact Joe Rosenthal, Kim Lobe or Jun Wang to help you complete your Letter of Intent before Dec. 31, 2023 to double the impact of your support.


n Alumni Scholarship Endowment established by Andy Fang ‘10

n Chen Lin Family Endowment for Faculty Professional Development

n The Dickinson Visual Arts Endowment

n The Endowment in Support of Inspiring Passion for Economics Education

n The Endowment in Support of the Upper School Library

n The Endowment Fund for Excellence in Debate and the Humanities

n The Griffiths Chen Family Endowment in Support of History and English Education

n Mehta Endowment in Support of Scholarship and Entrepreneurship

n The Mohammed Family Endowment for Creative Opportunities for the Upper School Humanities and Journalism Faculty

n Rothschild Family Financial Aid Endowment Fund

n The Wei Family in Support of Faculty Professional Development

n The Zhang Family Endowment in Support of Teacher Professional Development

n The Zhu Family Endowment in Support of the Humanities

The Alumni Scholarship Endowment Fund was established in 2021 with a $10 million gift from DoorDash co-founder Andy Fang ‘10. The fund will create a permanent legacy at the school to provide need-based financial aid to students who qualify for admission but otherwise could not afford tuition and fees. It will support Harker’s commitment to diversity at the school for generations to come. Fang named this fund the Alumni Scholarship Endowment to encourage his fellow alumni and others to join him in designating their gifts to this important cause.

The Mehta Endowment in Support of Scholarships and Entrepreneurship was established in 2022 by Neil Mehta ’02 and his wife, Jasheen. This endowment provides financial assistance in the form of scholarships to qualified students who otherwise could not attend Harker. It also establishes the Harker Venture Investment Initiative, creating a venture investment pool for business and entrepreneurship students, who will be selected and named Mehta Scholars, to work with experienced venture investment professionals and entrepreneurs in the Harker ecosystem to make early stage investments in alumni founded companies.

The Harker Venture Investment Initiative, made possible by contributions earmarked for early-stage investments in alumni-founded companies, is making its first investment in a startup. Diffuse Bio, founded by Namrata Anand ‘10, is building push-button software for drug design, driven by breakthroughs in AI.

The following endowments strengthen programs for students and faculty in perpetuity and have been established during the 125th Anniversary Gift Initiative in support of Harker’s Strategic Plan:
Thank you for your part in making our 125th Anniversary Initiative so impactful for our students! Contact advancement@harker.org to still be a part of the 125th Anniversary Gift Initiative.

Top Stories

Recent stories reprinted from Harker News online.

Harker News publishes stories online about our students and faculty, highlighting accomplishments and celebrating successes. Top Stories highlights a few of the most significant stories posted on Harker News since the last issue of Harker Magazine (fall/winter 2022) went to press. Visit news.harker.org to see full stories and hundreds more articles noting the truly remarkable efforts of our Harker students and faculty.

Harker once again reaches National Econ Challenge finals

May 5, 2023


For the second consecutive year, Harker reached the finals of the National Economics Challenge. Juniors Vardaan Ghai, Alex Guo, Andrew Smith and Cynthia Wang headed to New York City for the national finals in May. Harker won last year’s NEC and went on to China’s team in the international quiz bowl.

Junior wins top award at Int’l Science and

Engineering Fair

May 22, 2023


Junior Kaitlyn Wang received the George D. Yancopoulus Award in the Regeneron International and Engineering Science Fair, the largest STEM competition in the

world for pre-college students. The award, which includes a $75,000 prize, is one of the top honors in the competition. Wang’s project was to develop a method for identifying exoplanets that are in close orbit to their stars. She used her algorithm to discover the smallest of these planets that is currently known.

Upper school debate wins

Lincoln-Douglas nat’l championship, named Leading Chapter

March 28, 2023


Seniors Muzzi Khan and Rahul Mulpuri and juniors Ansh Sheth and Panav Gogte were declared the National Speech & Debate Association’s Lincoln-Douglas co-champions this week,

making Harker the national Lincoln-Douglas champion for the third consecutive year. In another exciting development, Harker was presented with the NSDA’s Leading Chapter Award for consistently being the top program over the last decade, spanning 2012-2022.

Harker journalism wins

two Gold Crowns at CSPA

Spring Convention

March 20, 2023



Harker journalism students visited New York City for the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s Spring Convention at Columbia University, where they were presented with two CSPA Gold Crown awards for the student news website Harker Aquila and the

top stories

Winged Post newspaper. The convention included workshops given by student journalists and an awards ceremony for this year’s CSPA Crown winners.

junior Maya Cheshire were selected to be featured in the 2023 ArtNow exhibit hosted by New Museum Los Gatos. This annual exhibit features pieces by Bay Area high school students, giving them the opportunity to gain real-world experience by including their work in a juried exhibition. The theme of this year’s exhibition is “Unarmed Truth,” showcasing original pieces that “reveal a personal or universal truth.”

Students receive 256 awards in Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Feb. 23, 2023


Grade 1 donation drive delivers hundreds of goods to animals in need

March 14, 2023


In March, first graders sent more than 500 items and more than $300 to the Humane Society Silicon Valley to cap off its annual donation drive. The effort ran from Feb. 28-March 10, collecting food, linens, toys and other goods for the many animals in HSSV’s care. “Our team was thrilled to receive the donations,” said Kristi Mack, HSSV’s human resources director. “Our team loved meeting all of your amazing first graders and their teachers. What a fun way to start a day learning about helping animals!”

Last month, Harker middle and upper school students received 256 regional awards in the 2023 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, comprising 107 awards for art and 149 for literature. All of Harker’s 30 Gold Key winners are eligible for national awards, which will be announced in March. A national ceremony to honor all of this year’s national award winners will take place in June.

Senior Sally Zhu named Regeneron finalist

Jan. 23, 2023


Today, senior Sally Zhu was named one of the top 40 finalists in this year’s Regeneron Science Talent Search. Zhu’s project, titled “On the Smoothness and Regularity of the Chess Billiard Flow and the Poincaré Problem,” was chosen by a jury of professional scientists. Zhu will attend the final stage of the competition, to be held in Washington, D.C., in March.

Student art to be featured in ArtNow exhibition

March 9, 2023


Pieces by senior Claire Kampmeier and

Harker takes second place at DOE Regional Science Bowl

Feb. 17, 2023


Harker seniors Jeremy Ko and Rohan Bhowmik, juniors Ethan Liu and Arnav Swaroop, and sophomore

Jason Shim took second place at the U.S. Department of Energy Regional Science Bowl, held at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University. The team was coached by upper school chemistry teacher Mala Raghavan.

Harker DECA performs well at Silicon Valley Career Development Conference

Jan. 19, 2023


More than 120 Harker DECA members attended the regional Silicon Valley Career Development Conference (SVCDC), held Jan. 6-8 at the Santa Clara Marriott. SVCDC officially kicked off this year’s competitive season and consisted of testing, roleplay and written presentations, as well as speeches from the state officer team and the election of this year’s California DECA vice president of Silicon Valley.


The Harker Summer

Eight programs blend academics and fun


annah Joy Sachse, grade 6, was given a prompt, guidelines and some feedback. When her Creative Writing class at Harker’s summer camp last year was complete, she had a poem that meant something to her.

“I was really proud of my piece,” she said. She keeps it still.

It begins:

I am from the bushes of flowering roses

From the singing of choirs and the chanting of Torah

I am from the cozy, close family and the warmth of laughter

More students go through Harker’s summer program than are enrolled at Harker during the school year, because the camp is open to non-Harker students as well. They each leave with something lasting. Perhaps it’s a friendship, a piece of knowledge, a new move on the court or more confidence.

Those moments or revelations are the byproducts of the work that takes place to pull it all off each year.

When Cindi Gonsalves feels overwhelmed managing Harker’s 2,500 summer students, 300 staff and untold behind-the-scenes hiccups, she goes for a walk. She doesn’t escape the activity, she walks into the middle of it. From her office on the lower campus, Gonsalves sits down and watches – not to evaluate, but just to enjoy the children.

“It just reinforces why I do this,” said Gonsalves, Harker’s summer director for 25 years. “They’re running around, they’re playing with their friends and engaging with staff members. Just watching them laugh and smile and have a good time … that makes me feel like my hard work has paid off.”

With the addition of Speech and Debate, Harker Summer now consists of eight programs, including those for kindergartners, and elementary, middle and upper school students, plus the English Language Institute, Summer @ The Conservatory and Swim School.

“Summer is a different vibe. There’s just a freedom and lightness and carefreeness.”
– Laura Lang-Ree, Summer
@ The Conservatory director

The soundtrack to the Harker summer experience comes from the yelling reverberating off the lower school gym’s walls during “Color Clash.”

“Red! Red! Red!”

“Blue! Blue! Blue!”

Dozens of kids, dressed in team colors, erupt in an exuberant end-of-the day competition of silly games and serious team spirit.

What makes Harker Summer unique is the passion instructors bring to the classes they teach. Investigating Untold Histories, taught by middle school history teacher Arturo Perez, is one such example, focusing on overlooked events and characters.

In Engineer It!, middle school students take on engineering challenges and solve problems. In Adulting 101, high school students learn life skills like how to change a flat tire, save money and prepare for a job interview.

Offerings range from the fun (Sweets, Treats and Yummy Eats) to the mysterious (Fantasy Fiction) to the academic (Honors Algebra 2/Trigonometry). Some are reviews of school-year academic classes. Others are based on the

imagination of the classes’ creators. For example, the course description for the middle school class You’re Wrong! Here’s Why reads, “By the end of this course, students will be able to make a convincing case for whatever they desire, whether at home or in school!”

“We’ll look in our community and see what classes our students need,” said Alison Ung ’10, summer middle school co-principal and summer school alum. “Our most basic and unchanging curriculum is our math, but other classes are teacher-passion driven, whether it’s entomology based around Pokémon, or sewing or manga drawing. That’s really our community coming together and saying, ‘I really want to teach this.’”

Daniel Green, grade 6, a Harker summer camper since preschool, works with his parents to blend academic classes with ones that follow his own interests. Last year, his parents chose Ramp Up Your Reading and Pre-Algebra for his first summer session. A fan of Japanese anime, Green chose Manga Art and Build Your Own Podcast for his second session.

“You actually make a podcast,” he said. “It was really fun. You partner up and say what you want to talk about. Then you edit the podcast and share it with your teacher.

“We talked about news around YouTube and social platforms. We had three episodes of about 15-20 minutes each. On the last day, we would get to listen to everyone’s podcast. I think they thought ours was really cool.”

Through Ramp Up Your Reading, “He learned to enjoy reading and not to make it a chore,” said Green’s mother, Sparkle Jones. “He learned to comprehend what he was reading and not just put in the time.”

As for pre-algebra, Green said he moved up a math level this year, and the summer class was among the building blocks that allowed him to get there.

“It’s a nice blend of academic and what you think of as quintessential summer,” said Julie Sachse, whose four children were Harker campers. “People send their kids to Harker Summer because they want them to keep one foot steeped in academics so they don’t have a summer slide. But they do it in such a way that’s learning-based and not pressure-filled.

Photo by Mark Kocina

“And, in the afternoon, it’s pure summer, from archery to swimming to theme days to water fights. It’s just super fun. They make it magical for those kids.”

I am from the taste of melting cheese tortillas and the mushy, saucy pizza

I’m from the touch of smooth hugs and kindness of others

I’m from “How was your day?” and the sight of familiar, smiling faces

Hannah Sachse’s words were inspired by the prompts of her Creative Writing teacher, to consider senses and imagery. It helped her to meet a friend in the class named named Ynez. They sat next to each other and shared ideas and laughed at each other’s jokes.

“We collaborated really well together,” Hannah said. “That’s how we became friends.”

Diversity of schools represented by the students is a summer goal. Friendships are made and renewed each summer with students who don’t attend Harker during the school year.

“I’ve made a lot of friends through summer camp,” said Green, a Harker student. “Making new friends actually helps me make so many more, because that one friend will introduce me to way more people.”

Julie Cheng’s children, Trevor and Isabel, from Los Gatos schools, always look forward to their Harker summers.

“I enjoy the variety of classes they offer,” Julie said. “Trevor took the History of Fashion last summer. He picked a topic of the fashion history of SpongeBob SquarePants. Kudos to the teacher who dealt with my son’s wacky sense of humor. She was very accommodating and made it work.

“I’m not looking for purely academic,” she added. “I’m looking to have a balance. I love the quirky classes that my son and daughter have done over the years. Everyone has to find their own niche, what they feel their kid wants or needs at that time. It’s really up to them.”

Once the students step onto the Harker campuses, it’s not just about classes for the parents. It’s about safety and security, knowing that their children will be taken care of physically and emotionally.

“As a helicopter mom, it takes a lot to be able to trust when I drop off my children,” Julie Sachse said. “But knowing that they were in such capable, kind, caring and compassionate hands … I can’t even tell you.”

“I’ve made a lot of friends through summer camp. Making new friends actually helps me make so many more.”
– Daniel Green, grade 6

“What I appreciate as a mom is that it’s a very secure school,” Jones said. “Staff opens your car door. You see security out front. It just makes you feel secure knowing that they really do take the child’s safety seriously.”

The staff, including junior staff and counselors in training, seek to connect with every camper.

“There are children who are going to be loud and happy,” Gonsalves said. “But there are also children who are introverted. One of our goals is that everybody feels like they belong here. If we see a child off by themselves and not really connected with other kids – maybe they’re new to the camp –the staff members and teachers need to make sure that those connections are made.”

Many come to Harker only for the summer and are welcomed back as old friends.

“It’s their summer family,” Gonsalves said.

English Language Institute students come from China, Japan and Korea. Connections, especially through language barriers, are vital.

When ELI principal Joe Chung needed a quality teacher for a three-hour online class with Japanese students on Friday evenings (to line up with Saturday mornings in Japan), Karen Glovka, a longtime Spanish teacher in the lower school, came forward. After that introduction to the summer program, she is now among three ELI teachers administering full in-person classes this summer.

“The first couple of days can be overwhelming as they learn to navigate campus, eat new foods, play new games and make new friends – all in English,” Glovka said. “However, by the third or fourth day, we are settling into our new routines and the kids are having so much fun they protest when it’s time to go home.”

Glovka said a highlight was teaching a fourth-grader who arrived with significant learning differences. Customization was required for everything.

“Since we have so many great resources here at Harker, it was doable, and he had a great summer,” Glovka said. “His parents were very appreciative.”

For Laura Lang-Ree, Harker’s performing arts director, the summer program offers a chance to work more intensively with those as young as fourth grade.

“Summer is a different vibe,” Lang-Ree said. “There’s just a freedom and lightness and carefreeness behind a whole lot of fantastic theater education that we can have because we get them all day, as opposed to just an afternoon or a 40-minute class period.”

She wanted to develop a summer program that matched what her own children experienced with such organizations as the Peninsula Youth Theatre and the now defunct Children’s Theatre Company.

Rather than do the day-to-day teaching herself, Lang-Ree assembled a team so experienced and skilled in teaching that she settles more into the planning. This allows her to be there every day for the students and “just to get to know them and have fun with them,” she said.

Pulling together a musical theater production in three weeks, as the Intensive high school group will do, borders on the unthinkable, but “they nail it,” she said. “We’re very much


envelope pushers in terms of the content of the performances. We love to push the envelope. … These kids are rock stars.”

In the summer program planning stages, Gonsalves and her team continually ask: “Can we pull this off?”

The first response usually is “Yes.”

For example, “We offered a new class last year called Becoming a Social Media Marketing Mogul,” Ung said. “The idea sounded really cool to start with.”

Then, the teacher proposed this idea: “I wonder if I can get someone from a local company to evaluate their final product?”

Ung agreed to try it, and the result was a partnership with Philz Coffee.

“Philz had the kids try to create an advertising campaign,” Ung said. “They sent over a bunch of coffee and the kids worked on different angles. … Of course, the entire room smelled like coffee. It was something we didn’t know was possible until we tried it. And it was amazing.”

Creative thinking combined with trial and error streamlines the curriculum the students are offered.

Gonsalves attends all the Conservatory’s summer productions, and cries at the lower school’s end-of-summer slide show. Her work doesn’t end when the last tear falls. There’s cleaning up classrooms, finalizing payroll and taking care of loose ends.

“I don’t relax until September or October,” she said.

By then, the new school year is in full swing. But the Harker Summer memories remain, sometimes in the form of prose through the pen of a young student.

I’m from the dancing of flames and the smell of baking desserts

From coolness of summer pools and triumphant cheers

I’m from the wild wind howling and the rain with more water than the oceans, budding into who I will be and who I am.

David Kiefer is a freelance writer and former journalist at the San Jose Mercury News. Photo by Mary Cheung
Photo by Keith Tharp


Michael Chang, grade 11, shown on left page, and the boys varsity basketball team reached the CCS quarterfinals. Girls soccer reached the Central Coast Section playoffs and finished fourth in the West Bay Athletic League. Girls lacrosse finished 12-0 in league play with senior Kyra Hawk scoring over 100 goals. Boys volleyball became CCS Division 2 champions for the third time in five years and advanced to the Northern California regionals. Swimmers Ashley Hong, grade 11, and Kyra Cui, grade 10, qualified for the state championship meet in Fresno. Track and field seniors Andrew Fu and Armaan Thakker and juniors Andrew Smith Anjali Yella reached the CCS playoffs, as did the boys relay team. Middle school girls volleyball and water polo played well and the lower school girls basketball squad showed promising improvement. In April, nine Harker seniors pledged to participate in various athletic programs at their colleges of choice at a special signing ceremony. For more photos and details of these achievements, see our spring 2023 athletics photo spread and story at https://news.harker.org/gallery-spring-2023-athletics/.

Photo by Keith Tharp Photo by Keith Tharp Photo by Keith Tharp


Alum using artificial intelligence to streamline our daily lives

When Denzil (Sikka) Eden ’09 signed up for a summer Algebra Honors 2 course at Harker after seventh grade, she didn’t realize the impact it would have on her future. While taking the class, summer school principal Bradley Stoll encouraged Eden, then a student at another school, to apply to Harker.

“I’m not exactly sure what led to a conversation between us but even as a young girl, she was incredibly confident in her abilities and super outgoing. It just felt like she’d be a good fit here,” remembered Stoll, who went on to teach her AP Calculus when she was a sophomore. “What I most remember about her was her kindness and thoughtfulness; she had a really tight-knit group of friends.”

Eden did apply to Harker and was one of a handful of students to join in eighth grade – a decision she is grateful for to this day. She embraced new friendships as well as the many opportunities Harker offered, becoming an Intel STS semifinalist, Presidential Scholar Candidate, National Merit Finalist and AP National Scholar.

Her success at Harker opened many doors to her. From Harker, she went on to attend MIT.

“It’s so funny because when I was a senior [at Harker], I applied to multiple schools but didn’t know where I wanted to attend,” remembers Eden, who received acceptance to many top-notch colleges. “But when I visited MIT for [Campus Preview Weekend], my entire perspective changed when I met the coolest people, saw the most amazing research and had a great time. It was an instant fit.”

She received her bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering and a master’s degree in engineering. While at MIT, she did a research project on NORA (No One Revises Alone), a precursor to Slack, which she tested in the classroom. Her entrepreneurial instincts were budding, but she decided to accept a full-time position at Microsoft upon graduation rather than pursue NORA as a business.


She moved back to the Bay Area, where she explored various career options, including working in finance, patent law and teaching at Foothill College. It was during this time that she realized she wanted to get an MBA to hone her business skills.

She attended Harvard University and her world opened up in new and exciting ways, including finding inspiration for Smarty, the startup she runs today.

As a student, she often felt overwhelmed even though she was on top of her academics. It was all the life tasks that were weighing her down, from booking flights home and working on end-of-semester projects to juggling the five clubs she was president of and figuring out life after graduation.

with Pear VC, who became a mentor to Eden.

“Denzil was a go-getter and super committed to her project of increasing productivity using AI. She is one of the hardest working people I know.” said Hershenson, who was the first investor in Smarty. “When she was preparing for our accelerator demo day, she had to give a four-minute presentation. We went through more than 30 revisions in two days. I thought she would give up after so many iterations and feedback, but she took it all in stride and with a big smile. I was so proud of her when she presented to 400-plus people and was able to raise her seed round.”

Smarty: How does it work?

Today, more than half of your time is wasted on easily automatable tasks. That’s because we’re stuck in a hub-and-spoke model. You are the hub surrounded by online apps with a spoke connecting you to each one. None of the apps talk to each other so you are constantly moving your data from one service to the next. But every service you’re using online has an Application Programming Interface (API), which allows us to disrupt the hub and spoke model. The vision for Smarty is to be the hub instead of you. You tell Smarty what you’re trying to do and it uses the existing APIs to figure out how your online applications should work together in order to achieve your goals in real-time and instantly deliver results.

“As the action items built up, they became more daunting. I needed a better plan to execute on these very achievable tasks,” said Eden who understood the potential in technology. “My entire career at that point had been helping people be more efficient at work by using software and AI [artificial intelligence]. I knew that existing technology could easily automate over 25 percent of my workload and that’s when I decided that I would build a software solution for myself.”

So while a student at Harvard, she started building an AI-powered assistant chatbot, which would become Smarty. This was when she met Mar Hershenson, managing partner

Smarty has raised an undisclosed amount in seed funding from several investors, including Pear VC and Amplify. LA. Eden is grateful for support from her investors, her mentor and her family and friends and excited about the future of Smarty and the impact it will make in the world.

“I remember feeling overwhelmed and I believe that Smarty’s technology and vision of a conversational internet operating system will change our relationships with software online, improving our user experiences and make our lives easier, streamlined and more balanced,” she said. “I want to spend time on the good stuff like bonding with my family, reading and playing piano, and I know that Smarty will help open up gaps in my calendar so I can intentionally fill them with happiness.”

“I knew that existing technology could easily automate over 25 percent of my workload and that’s when I decided that I would build a software solution for myself.”
– Denzil Eden ‘09
Photo provided by Denzil Eden ‘09 Photo from Harker Archives


Lower school students have something to say and Harker is giving them the tools

When Avi Gupta began the fifth grade, he wasn’t sure he liked writing. But early in the year, his class studied personal narrative writing for a few weeks. That’s when something shifted.

“The personal narrative unit was where everything came together,” said Gupta, now in grade 7. “It’s where I learned how you want to structure your sentences, structure your paragraphs. It made me understand how writing really works.”

“Avi is a natural storyteller,” said his mother, Tanu Aggarwal. “The process in the elementary school was amazing, because they started in the younger classes with something like, ‘first you brainstorm, then you write a rough draft, you edit it, you get it reviewed, you get it peer reviewed.‘ All those things help. Because of that, his writing has definitely improved.”

The lower school has always had a strong writing program, one that focuses on academic writing: structured essays, exposition and text analysis.

This year, that writing program got even better. A new personal narrative curriculum was integrated into language arts classes for all students in kindergarten through grade 5. Nearly a decade in the making, English teachers have been studying and training in ways to teach the subject, and piloting it in their classrooms. As of this year, the program has been fully implement-

ed in the lower school.

“There’s almost no skill that’s more important than writing,” said Jennifer Gargano, assistant head of school, academic affairs. “When you put yourself out in the world, people determine your education level based on how you write and how you speak. Our students are extremely bright in so many areas. For them to be taken seriously, they have to be able to communicate their knowledge and their skills.”

Significant changes

The difference has been remarkable for students and teachers alike. Learning to describe their personal experiences improves a student’s writing overall. Hearing each other’s stories has made students more empathetic toward their classmates. Teachers get to know their students better when they hear their stories. Teachers also share the writing with their colleagues, which makes them even better teachers.

“Each year, they’re learning a new technique, a new strategy, a new way to make their narrative that much richer,” said Heather Russell, grade 5 English teacher and chair of the English language arts department. “It’s not just telling the story. It’s showing that there’s a deeper meaning, that there’s a significance of why this was a memory. Why did you choose this moment? What does this moment tell us about you, as an individual?


“That’s why I think it’s so valuable. It’s really about hearing the voices of our students, the diversity of our students. It’s giving them a venue to express challenges and loss and how they navigate change. Helping them discover their voice.”

The personal narrative origin story

For nearly a decade, grade 4 and 5 English teacher Annamaria Smitherman has endeavored to bring personal narrative writing to Harker students in a more meaningful way. She has long wanted to do something to help students discover and develop their unique voices.

“I was certain that we could celebrate the diversity of our students while also connecting them through common themes around growing up: facing challenges, loving friends and family, loss of people and things we love, navigating change and the like,” she said. That’s where personal narrative comes in. “Sometimes, young children have a hard time talking about themselves or their experiences,” said Kristin Giammona, elementary division head. “The way the program scaffolds has definitely helped them with their prewriting, their writing, their editing, all of it. It gives us so many resources to use

to get the best writing that we can out of our children.”

The Vegesna Foundation’s Teacher Excellence Program at Harker has supported Smitherman in this exploration since 2015, when she visited a private school in Maine that has a strong writing program. Funding from the Vegesna program enabled her and some of her colleagues to observe at the school. They learned that the methods it was using weren’t quite right for Harker, so they kept looking.

Things really fell into place when Smitherman was awarded a Vegesna grant to visit the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, under the leadership of Lucy Calkins. What she found

was a spiraling writing curriculum that would allow her and her fellow teachers to do what they take pride in – connect with students and coach them individually as they practice a series of specific skills, which are taught sequentially.

“We wanted to allow students to discover their own perspectives on the events of their lives,” Smitherman said. “I piloted the program for one year, and then a few colleagues asked to jump in, and word spread. And, as they say at the Reading and Writing Project, off we went!”

Several more teachers trained with Teachers College, in person and then virtually

“The personal narrative unit was where everything came together. It made me understand how writing really works.”
– Avi Gupta, grade 7

during the pandemic. Then in fall 2022, a trainer from Teachers College came to Harker and taught the curriculum to all lower school teachers.

“We went into this very intentionally and very thoughtfully,” Gargano said, explaining that the overall goal was to have common vocabulary around the K-5 reading programs, and the Harker faculty didn’t want to rush the process. “We were continually meeting and reflecting and saying, ‘We know there’s good stuff here. But how do we make it really accessible and right for The Harker School and for our language arts program?’”

“A sense of pride”

Fine-tuned to Harker’s specific requirements, the classes today are based on students studying both personal and fictional narrative. The units are four to six weeks at the beginning of each fall. “We agreed to do it at the beginning of the year, because we felt it was so foundational to all the other writing that we do,” said Russell, adding that each year builds on the previous year.

“It really starts at the beginning of understanding the story structure, the story arc,” she explained. “We’re teaching them how to tell their story in a way that keeps drawing the reader in and doesn’t give it away in the beginning - things like flashbacks, flash forwards and a lot of other writing techniques. Every year they build on the craft of narrative writing.”

The unit uses a workshop approach, which means students are given short lessons and lots of time to write. The teachers confer with them and then the students make revisions to their work. There’s a lot of conversation about their writing and a lot of individuality. They also read their work to each other.

That moment can be very moving, said Smitherman, and it’s an important aspect of a Harker education.

“It is so important for our students, as they head out to make a difference and a change in the world, that they come from a place of empathy, a place of understanding that everyone has a story to tell, and everyone deserves a place at the table to tell their

story,” she said. “To know that their first idea may not be their best idea, and that all ideas need revision and refining; to develop the patience and the energy to do that work; to be inclusive, in terms of the stories that they want to hear and the stories that they need to tell us – all of that is so important.”

“They have a sense of pride when they share their stories,” said Russell. “It’s the unfolding not only of what happened on the outside, but what was happening on the inside for them. Having a voice and a venue for that is really empowering. It helps them feel heard and seen and known.”

Everyone is trying to find their own voice, said Gargano, especially adolescents, especially fifth graders.

“Increasingly every year, we’re noticing students wanting to share their thoughts on certain topics, and wanting people to hear their voice as it relates to whatever topics they’re passionate about,” she said. “The personal narrative project is wonderful because we want our students to be able to make impacts in the world. And in order for that to happen, they have to be able to develop their own voice.”

Sasha Nyary is a writer and editor living in Maine whose work can be found at sashanyary.com.

“It is so important ... that they come from a place of empathy, a place of understanding that everyone has a story to tell.”
– Annamaria Smitherman, English teacher
Photo by Annamaria Smitherman

When the upper school opened its doors in 1998, Donna Gilbert came here from Boston with her puppy, Chloe, to teach history. The pets have changed (she now has mini schnauzer Rain and bichon Skye), but Gilbert is still going strong, teaching AP European History and AP Art History, and advising the Near/Mitra program and the FEM Club. She and her wife of 20 years, Grace, live in Campbell, and when asked what she loves most about her life, it’s her wife, home and dogs that top the list. She also confesses to a love of Wordle, Pinterest and British crime dramas, and says that mac and cheese and onion dip are foods that make her feel like a kid.

What do you dislike that everyone else loves?

Roller coasters and snorkeling.

What do you love that everyone else dislikes?

Abstract and minimalist art.

What is the one thing in the world you would fix if you could wave a magic wand?


What one piece of advice you would offer anyone who asks?

Never be afraid to be authentically you.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

It would be nice to be impervious to criticism.

Brag about something.

I have climbed 41 out of 48 4,000-footers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

What is something you would happily fail at?

A wine tasting competition!

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Donna Gilbert

For middle school Pre-Algebra A, Pre-Algebra

A Support and Algebra Honors teacher Kathy

Pazirandeh, travel is an important part of life. Her own journey started in Tehran, Iran, but she also lived in London, Iowa and Berlin growing up. She immigrated to Ottawa, Ontario, with her husband and son in 1995, and after five years there, made her way to California, where they settled. She is now the mother of two sons, both out of college. All that moving hasn’t squashed the travel bug, though. When asked what she’d do with $100 million in the bank, Pazirandeh said she’d travel, and she’s happiest when on a trip with her husband. That said, her favorite place to escape to is home, where she enjoys cooking Persian food, hosting friends and reading.

When did you first really feel like an adult?

I felt like an adult very early on, maybe around 12, because my mom was the first child of her family, and I was the first grandchild. I was a very reliable person, so a lot of responsibility was put on my shoulders like babysitting the younger cousins, doing house chores and cooking.

What do you love most about your life?

All the experience I have and the life lessons I have learned.

What is something you would love to do so much that you would be OK with failing at it?

Learning another language.

What is your most treasured object and why?

My mother gave me a ring that belonged to my greatgrandmother.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

Don’t compare your life with others.

What one piece of advice you would offer anyone who asks?

Always be honest and trustworthy.

What gives you a reason to smile?

A good night’s sleep!

Why do you do what you do? Because I care.

Kathy Pazirandeh



visual arts

Stellan Lindh & Saahithi Koneru Grade 8 for “Swept Away” Performance Ruby Johnson Grade 11 “Bethany” Ayla Guvendik Transitional Kindergarten “Bird and Flower”
Laurel Davies Grade 11 “WELCOME TO AMERICA” Connor Campbell Grade 2 “Sumo Cat” Zachary Davidson Grade 8 “22” Tall Flower Pot” Liam Peng Grade 1 “Year of Rabbit Project” Aria Iskra Grade 3 “Foil Elephant”

Alum pushing for change in K-12 education

WhenZarek Drozda ’16 arrived at Harker in eighth grade, he had already lived in six states.

“My dad worked in corporate mergers and acquisitions, so we moved a lot; but my parents were very good at helping my brother and me look at each transition as a new opportunity – and it helped me enjoy change,” said Drozda from his apartment in Chicago, where he lives with his partner and their two cats. “That being said, I was grateful when I joined Harker and got to stay because it is such an incredible school.”

Drozda made the most of his time at Harker. He was a John Near endowment scholar, debate captain, stage manager, theater technician and Middlebury Institute CIF researcher in addition to juggling a rigorous academic load. He enjoyed all his classes but particularly took to economics.

“As a student, Zarek was a voracious learner coupled with a positive demeanor and a great sense of humor. He loved to explore new ideas and theories, not for a grade or a test, but for the joy of learning and discovery itself,” said Samuel Lepler ’96, an economics teacher who also mentored him as a Near scholar. “I am not surprised that he has been so successful in college and beyond, and that he is giving back to the community with his current work. He embodies what school should be about: the joy of discovery, embracing and overcoming challenges, and laughing all the way.”

Drozda enjoyed economics so much that he went on to study it at the University of Chicago, graduating in just three years. He was very involved in the school, serving as treasurer of the university’s Inter-House Council; ambassador with the Institute of Politics; a member of the Transportation & Safety Advisory Board and Campus Catalyst Board; and co-creator of two student organizations: The Paul Douglas Institute and Global Student Policy Alliance.

His work with The Paul Douglas Institute led to his first job after graduation at the Center for RISC (Radical Innovation for Social Change) at the University of Chicago. While Drozda was at RISC, he worked with economist and “Freakonomics” co-author Steven Levitt, who released the podcast “America’s Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up.” The podcast went viral and the team realized they had hit a nerve.

“Nearly everyone believes that math education in America is messed up. Too many kids, even if they’re good at math, opt out of the topic at their first possible chance,” said Jeffrey Severts, co-founder of the Center for

“If a math revolution happens and kids in K-12 classrooms start learning more about data science, it will be in large part because of Zarek’s efforts.”
– Jeffrey Severts, co-founder of the Center for RISC
Photo provided by Zarek Drozda ‘16 Photo provided by Zarek Drozda ‘16

RISC, who is a mentor to Drozda and describes him as incredibly dedicated and selfless. “Through Zarek’s tireless efforts, more and more students, teachers and administrators are starting to question whether today’s math fits with the modern world full of computers and data.”

It’s been an eventful ride for Drozda, who worked with the U.S. Department of Education before being tapped to be director of Data Science 4 Everyone, a nonprofit based at the University of Chicago, that is helping lead a national coalition for incorporating data science education into K-12 curriculum. There are now 14 states with data science education pilot programs across the country, driven by Data Science 4 Everyone and its national partners, and their work is extending across school subjects. In California, several schools and districts have adopted these programs:

• San Diego Unified is rolling out data science to 120,000 students across TK-12 mathematics learning, with current opportunities in high school and soon to reach students as young as fifth grade with more foundational “data literacy.”

• Khan Lab School in Mountain View is piloting an advanced second-year data science course that will introduce machine-learning and advanced statistical methods in the context of “big data.” The

school is also re-scoping the traditional Algebra 1-Geometry-Algebra 2 sequence to allow for more modern content.

• Los Angeles Unified and researchers at UCLA developed a course under a National Science Foundation grant and have since expanded to 17 California school districts plus other districts in Idaho, New Jersey and Oregon.

And this is just the beginning.

“The importance of teaching students data literacy and data science techniques cannot be underestimated; did you know that every second we create enough data to fill 50 new Libraries of Congress?” asked Drozda with an urgency to make change. “Our vision is that people become more comfortable understanding, manipulating and using data.”

His work to modernize the curriculum could impact the face of education in profound ways.

“Zarek has quickly become one of the nation’s leading voices calling for change, “ said Severts. “If a math revolution happens and kids in K-12 classrooms start learning more about data science, it will be in large part because of Zarek’s efforts.”

Vikki Bowes-Mok is
a freelance writer and editor.
Photo provided by Zarek Drozda ‘16

How Affinity Groups Are Increasing Inclusivity


or all the laudable goals of diversity work, the people at the center of it – whose lives it is meant to improve – still encounter stresses unique to their experiences as marginalized people – stresses they sometimes grow tired of explaining. For these people, affinity groups have become a place on campus to alleviate these pressures.

“Affinity groups, for any culture, offer a safe space for those who identify under them to share experiences that outsiders may not understand completely,” said Makayla Aguilar-Zuniga, grade 12, a member of Harker’s Latinx Affinity Group. “Additionally, they bring a sense of belonging to people who struggle with connecting to their identity.”


Affinity groups, which have existed on university campuses since the early 1970s, are essentially spaces open only to people of specific, usually marginalized, identities. “Affinity groups are spaces for people who can speak from the ‘I’ perspective about their individual identity,” said Brian Davis, Harker’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). “It’s a space where you can learn a little bit more about who you are or your history.” During meetings, which are attended by faculty advisors, students in these groups discuss topics that affect them and others who share their identities and develop ways to approach the wider community with their ideas and concerns.

These forums differ from other campus advocacy organizations such as the Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA), which is also open to allies who do not identify as LGBTQ+. “Our school has the incredible privilege of having a Gender-Sexuality Alliance, but even this space can sometimes feel intimidating to students who wish to have an escape from the stresses of discourse,” said one non-binary student leader of the Transgender Affinity Group who wished to not be named. While they said allyship is a key aspect of diversity work, affinity groups can function as support groups that are “meant to give students a breather and an area where they are not required to explain how or why they experience something.”

Senior KJ Williams, a member of the Black Student Union (Harker’s first officially recognized affinity group, established in 2020), found that the experience of meeting and talking with other Black students made him feel more valued at school. “It made me feel more comfortable at Harker and made me feel, because the school let us have this space, that they valued my presence here,” he said. “When you have that support system, wherever you are, it makes you feel more welcomed.”

Students of other affinity groups also have found them to be a space where they can openly discuss topics related to their identities among people who share their lived experiences. Senior Ayla Apsey of the Middle Eastern Student Association said Middle Eastern students are hesitant to discuss concerns “because they might feel judged or don’t want to offend anyone else,” she said. “So it’s more of a safe space for us to just discuss how we feel.”

Reza Jalil, grade 11, a member of the Muslim Student Association, found that being in the group was another source of learning about his faith. “I felt like I couldn’t connect to anyone about this,” he said. “But now … I’m able to connect and learn more about our religion.” In turn, he says, this enabled him to talk about Islam with others more confidently. “I’ve been reached out to by teachers who I don’t even know on campus,” he said, “and they ask questions that I can honestly answer and teach them about our religion.”

“Having those spaces allows everyone in the community to feel comfortable, not just the majority.”
– KJ Williams, grade 12

Likewise, the Jewish Affinity Group enables students to meet and celebrate their heritage with others they don’t usually see at school. “We celebrate the holidays with any Jewish kids around campus, and it’s honestly just been super beneficial to have that community without it being super structured,” said junior Sarah Westgate, a member of the group. “It’s really nice to be around people who fully understand your identity, and we have little inside jokes that we understand, even if we didn’t go to Hebrew school at the same place.”

Other groups have had similar experiences, finding that discussing issues specific to their communities enables them to share their knowledge and concerns more comfortably with the wider Harker community. In one meeting, Apsey said, “we talked about Ramadan, because a lot of Middle Eastern students are fasting, and we had an open discussion about how difficult it is for people who are fasting during the day.”

Aguilar-Zuniga recalled one incident in which a Salvadoran dress she wore during Harker’s Culture Day was incorrectly referred to as a Mexican huipil. “Usually, I would have pointed it out to a few people but ultimately let it go since it was a common occurrence,” she said. After discussing the matter with the Latinx Affinity Group’s advisor, math teacher Jeanette Fernandez, she devised a way to communicate her concerns to the other party. “Since then, I have not faced a similar issue. With the help from the Latinx Affinity Group, I felt supported in ways that I had never been and I know that many in the group share the same sentiment.”

Another positive outcome of affinity groups, Williams said, was seeing more students willing to share aspects of their

heritage with the Harker community. “When someone talks about their culture to you, or someone shares something with you, it’s easier to feel comfortable enough to share your identity, your truth.” He cited this year’s Culture Day, which grew exponentially over the previous year, as evidence. “Last year we had a decent number of booths,” he said. “But this year, we had way more because people realized, ‘oh wow, this is really cool that people are showing their heritage.’”

Discussions in the Latinx Affinity Group led to the decision to give a special dance performance at Culture Day. “We were unsure if we wanted to perform at all, because of the difficulty of the dance, but we decided that the benefit of showcasing our culture would outweigh the struggles,” Aguilar-Zuniga said.

In anticipation of others expressing misgivings about af finity groups being exclusionary, students in these groups maintain that their goals are quite the opposite. “Affinity groups aren’t meant to make other people feel excluded,” Williams said. “Their main purpose is to make those that are excluded, or feel excluded, feel more included in the community. Having those spaces allows everyone in the community to feel comfortable, not just the majority.”

“Affinity groups are spaces for people who can speak from the ‘I’ perspective about their individual identity.”
– Brian Davis, Harker’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion
Photo provided by Reza Jalil, grade 11

performing arts

The middle school performing arts department staged one of its largest-ever productions this past semester, the spring musical “The Addams Family,” shown at left. Lower, middle and upper school singers gathered for the 2023 United Voices concert, and this year’s In Concert highlighted upper school vocal groups. Dancers from multiple campuses were showcased at dance productions at the lower, middle and upper schools as well as the annual Just Dance show. Kindergarten homeroom students delighted audiences at this year’s series of kindergarten shows, and middle and upper school instrumentalists were featured at the annual spring orchestra concert. For more photos, see our spring 2023 performing arts photo spread at https://news.harker.org/gallery-spring-2023performing-arts/.

Photo by Susan Harding Photo by Mary Cheung

Larissa Weaver teaches first grade, which means her lessons run the gamut from homeroom, math, language arts and creative writing to character development, social studies and handwriting. A conversation with Harker Magazine quickly reveals a few of her favorite things: working out (she has completed several triathlons, centuries and half-marathons), hanging at the beach and her family (she’s married with two daughters). She is also an active volunteer, working with Stanford Blood Center (“because donating blood can save lives”) and Westgate Water (“because everyone should have access to clean water”). Her perfect day includes coffee in her garden, a great workout, beach time with a friend and a backyard barbecue with her family.

Why do you do what you do?

I teach because I greatly enjoy seeing students grow and develop both emotionally and academically.

Where is the one place in the world that you like to escape to?

The perfect hideout for me is the island of Culebra in the Caribbean.

What is the biggest risk you have ever taken in your life?

Leaving everything and everyone behind in Puerto Rico and moving into a completely new culture. This risky move is closely followed by learning how to ride a motorcycle in 30 minutes before cruising the hills of Tuscany.

What is the one thing in the world you would fix if you could wave a magic wand?

I would give every child equal access to a good education.

What is the best compliment someone can give you?

“Thank you for listening to and encouraging me.”

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

I would most definitely choose teleportation as my superpower.

What do you dislike that everyone else loves?

I can’t stand the sight, smell or texture of marshmallows.

Larissa Weaver
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staff kudos

Professional accomplishments of our faculty and staff.

Longtime primary division head Sarah Leonard retired in June. Her 41 years at Harker included time as a teacher, department chair and summer principal, and she led the primary school for 25 years. Leonard’s two sons attended Harker: Lifer Michael ’04 and Eric ’94, who currently teaches at the lower school. Harker thanks Leonard for her incredible service and wishes her the best!

In January, longtime upper school art teacher Pilar Agüero-Esparza was among the 12 most recent Bay Area artists to join the Fleishhacker Foundation’s Eureka Fellowship Program, which has provided funding to local artists since 1986. A national panel of arts experts evaluated the work of each of the 123 artists nominated by local nonprofits. Agüero-Esparza will receive her award of $35,000 in 2025 as part of the program’s three-year cycle. For more on this story, visit Harker News: https://news.harker.org/ art-teacher-receives-prestigious-eureka-fellowship/.

Charles Shuttleworth, upper school English teacher, appeared at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara to discuss “Desolation Peak: Collected Writings,” a compilation of the writings of Jack Kerouac written during his time as a fire lookout with the U.S. Forest Service. Shuttleworth edited the volume, which was published in fall 2022. A devoted Kerouac scholar, Shuttleworth teaches a class called Kerouac and the Beat Generation as an upper school elective.

In March, speech and debate coach Greg Achten was inducted into the Emory University Barkley Forum’s Gold Key Society, which was founded in 1964 to honor successful high school debate coaches. Existing members of the society select coaches to be inducted, which takes place at a ceremony during the Barkley Forum for High Schools Tournament. To date, 204 coaches have been inducted, including Harker coach Jenny Achten in 2007.

Brian Davis, Harker’s diversity, equity and inclusion director, was a speaker at the 2023 Equity Conference in January, hosted by the San Diego County Office of Education. Titled “Transinstitutional Equity: A Framework for Equity and Justice in K-12 School Settings,” the workshop informed attendees on how to establish DEI departments at their institutions and how to advance learning processes to help schools meet their goals.


end of year

Graduation events began in May with the annual brick ceremony, where soon-to-be graduates were joined by their families to place bricks bearing their names into Graduates’ Grove at the upper school campus, commemorating their years as Harker students. Later, at baccalaureate, the seniors formally welcomed the juniors into their new role as leaders of the school for the 2023-24 school year. That evening, the graduates who had attended since kindergarten enjoyed the annual Lifer Dinner at the lower school campus. Parents of the Class of 2023 gathered the following week at the Moms and Dads of Grads Celebration. In late May, just days before the end of the year, the grade 5 promotion ceremony celebrated the lower school students who will be starting next year at the middle school. On June 1, the final day of the school year, the grade 8 promotion ceremony honored the students who had completed the middle school and will start the next year as upper school students.

Photo by Susan Harding Photo by Deborah Lord Photo by Deborah Lord Photo by Deborah Lord

The 2023 graduation ceremony at the Mountain Winery was a grand send-off for the Class of 2023. Valedictorian Jack Hsieh, Maheen Kaleem’ 03 and head of school Brian Yager shared heartfelt words to the graduates as they prepared to take one of the most important steps of their lives. Music was provided the 2023 Graduation Chorus and the Harker Chamber Orchestra. After receiving their diplomas, the newly minted graduates excitedly threw their caps into the air and watched a flock of doves symbolically take flight.




Engineer effects change through social impact work, cartooning

Zareen Choudhury ’14 was very focused on STEM as a high school student at Harker, most often drawn to science and math courses; but she also enjoyed the humanities.

“When I think back to the time we spent together in Honors American Literature, I remember her enthusiastic engagement with all creative activities,” said Brigid Miller, English teacher, who recently invited Choudhury to come back and speak to her class.

“Zareen’s ‘From Tech to Toons’ presentation was engaging, thorough, interactive and perfectly aligned with key concepts we learn about in the Graphic Narrative class. I will be forever grateful that Zareen took such time and care to explain her career path and answer questions from my curious students.”


Choudhury’s career journey started with her decision to attend MIT, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and a master’s degree in engineering. She interned at NASA, Facebook and Yelp and, upon graduation, landed a job as a software engineer at Samara. While at Samara, Choudhury decided to explore her creative side by taking a class on Patreon with New Yorker cartoonist Amy Kurzweil. It was during this time that she learned about another cartoonist, Jeremy Nguyen, who was offering to mentor four young artists.

“Zareen expressed an interest that I really resonated with. She talked about how she was pivoting from the tech world after experiencing burnout, and she was exactly the kind of person I wanted to see thrive as an artist,” said Nguyen from his Brooklyn studio. “She didn’t have an art school background but was eager to learn, very open to a new way of thinking, and soon she was ready to go off and navigate her career independently.”

Choudhury’s experience working with Nguyen and other artists propelled her to leave her job and start exploring other areas, such as teaching and cartooning. This helped her realize two things: 1. She loved the education space but didn’t want to teach full time and 2. She loved cartooning but wanted to do it on the side to keep it fresh and fun.

She got a job as managing editor of Children of 1971, a nonprofit that connects the Bangladeshi diaspora through storytelling, and started volunteering with the App Inventor Foundation, which was incubated at Google and MIT and is now a nonprofit.

“I am passionate about social impact work at the intersection of education, storytelling and community building,” said Choudhury, who is now the communications manager of the App Inventor

Foundation, which empowers people across the globe to create apps that improve their lives and uplift their communities.

There are 15 million people across 200 countries who have built 68 million apps with App Inventor. This job offers the perfect blend of technology, education and social impact for Choudhury. But it also affords her the opportunity to follow her other passion.

“I am also passionate about creativity, including cartooning, which I began doing in earnest in 2021,” said Choudhury. “It started in isolation but then bloomed into the world.”

When Choudhury began cartooning, the world was still deeply impacted by the pandemic and she found the work quite isolating. But then she found a community of creatives in the Bay Area and has been exhibiting at showcases and galleries.

Choudhury was thrilled to get her first cartoon – Grand Reopening – published in The New Yorker in 2022. Her Instagram post with the cartoon read: “It’s surreal to see my work alongside other cartooning legends.”

She has also had her cartoons and comics published in The Nib, San Francisco Examiner and Awry Comics. It’s a dream come true for the young girl who used to love reading cartoons in The Mercury News.

She is grateful to have found a balance among all her passions and plans to continue making change through her day job and nurturing her creative side through her cartooning.


is a freelance writer and editor.
“Zareen talked about how she was pivoting from the tech world after experiencing burnout, and she was exactly the kind of person I wanted to see thrive as an artist.”
– Jeremy Nguyen, cartoonist

class notes

Keep up to date on the lives of your classmates.

Alumni from all classes through 1997 are listed under the years they would have completed grade 8 at The Harker School, Harker Academy, Harker Day School or Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA). For all classes after the Class of 1997, alumni are listed under the class years they would have graduated from high school, regardless of whether they completed high school studies at Harker. For unlisted classes, we invite you to email alumni@harker.org if you are interested in becoming a class agent or would like to nominate a classmate. All photos submitted by the subject unless noted.

For a list of Harker Academy class agents for the Classes of 1972-97, please contact alumni@harker.org.


Jeff Carnes – 1950-2022

Earlier this year, the Harker Alumni Association learned that that Jeff Carnes, a graduate of Palo Alto Military Academy, died in the summer of 2022. Mr. Carnes moved with his family to Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1967, where they lived ever since.

“He always spoke of his days at Palo Alto Military Academy and how he enjoyed them,” said his wife, Tina. “He was from an old Palo Alto family and cherished growing up in the Bay Area.”



Akhsar Kharebov axarharebate@gmail.com

Yasmin Ali yasminfali@gmail.com

Isabella Liu isabella.a.liu@gmail.com

arts chair Laura Lang-Ree. Both were performers at the event: Ann was part of an ensemble that sang a medley of 1960s folk songs, while Lang-Ree performed a solo rendition of “See What it Gets You” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle.”



Erika N. Gudmundson erika.gudmundson@gmail.com


Dr. Shalini Bhambani, a cardiologist, visited the upper school in February to deliver a guest lecture to science students. She offered insight into her profession by sharing fascinating case studies and answering questions from students.



Julia N. Gitis juliag@gmail.com

Maheen Kaleem maheenkaleem@gmail.com


CLASS AGENT: Jessica C. Liu jess.c.liu@gmail.com

At South Bay Musical Theatre’s 60th anniversary celebration, Ann Lucena caught up with Harker performing

Casey L. Near caseylane@gmail.com

Meghana Dhar meghanadhar@gmail.com

Jeffrey Le Jeff87@gmail.com

Forbes’ Steven Savage published a story in March featuring Tara Chandra’s company, Here We Flo, as one of three women-run companies selling plant-based consumer products to help reduce the use of plastics. Tara and co-founder Susan Allen established Here We Flo,

class notes
See photos from the Class of 2002’s 20th reunion on page 46!

a feminine hygiene product company, in 2017 after meeting while pursuing master’s degrees at the London School of Economics. Here We Flo launched in the United States in 2020 and currently has three product lines.



Cassandra Kerkhoff cass.kerkhoff@gmail.com

Audrey L. Kwong Audmusic@gmail.com



Senan Ebrahim sebrahim@fas.harvard.edu

Stephanie J. Syu ssyu363@yahoo.com

Paul Christiano, a former key member of OpenAI and now the founder of the Alignment Research Center, was quoted in Ezra Klein’s New York Times opinion piece, “This Changes Everything.” One of his quotes reads: “The broader intellectual world seems to wildly overestimate how long it will take AI systems to go from ‘large impact on the world’ to ‘unrecognizably transformed world.’”

In December, Natalie So’s story, “Aristocrat, Inc.,” was published in The Believer and has since been nominated for a National Magazine Award. The piece chronicles how several Silicon Valley tech companies – including one run by her mother – were targeted by a massive panAsian crime organization.

Grace Hudkins was honored as this year’s Life in the Arts inductee at the 2023 Senior Showcase in May. See the sidebar on right for more.

Life in the Arts 2023 Inductee: Grace Hudkins ‘08

At the 2023 Senior Showcase, Grace Hudkins was honored as this year’s Life in the Arts inductee. Grace was deeply involved in the performing arts during her time at Harker, performing in four fall plays and three spring musicals as well as directing “The Important of Being Earnest” for the 2008 Student Directed Showcase. After graduating with a Harker Conservatory certificate in theater, Grace attended Mount Holyoke College, receiving bachelor’s degrees in both psychology and education, and religion. She went on to teach at Chadwick International School in Songdo, South Korea, where she would work for seven years. Her many accomplishments there included expanding the drama program to include every grade level, increasing the number of yearly theater productions from just one to three divisional productions and growing a student technical theater crew of 80 members. After receiving her second master’s degree from the University of Northern Colorado in theater education, Grace relocated to Vietnam, where she taught drama at Hanoi International School. There, she was instrumental in expanding the school’s theater program to include all secondary grade levels (6-12). The first production she led in 2021 “led to an explosion of interest in our second production in 2022, with over 40 percent of the student body involved onstage or behind the scenes,” Grace said. 2009

CLASS AGENTS: Stephanie J. Guo stephanie.j.guo@gmail.com David Kastelman davidksworld@gmail.com

Shelby Drabman, now an artist in Los Angeles, received a visit in May from upper school art

Pilar Agüero-Esparza, who was in town to see Shelby’s work on display for the ArtCenter College of Design’s MFA Open Studios event. Jennifer Remenchik of the online art magazine Hyperallergic said Shelby’s “text-based textile pieces carry an edgy, feminist bent and highlight her eye for color.”




Adrienne Wong adriee@gmail.com

Kevin J. Fu kf800@yahoo.com



Hassaan Ebrahim hassaan.e@gmail.com

Moneesha R. Mukherjee rani.mukherjee18@gmail.com



Will Chang thewillchang@gmail.com

David Fang david.fang75@gmail.com



Kathir Sundarraj kathir.sraj95@gmail.com

Nick Chuang njchuang@usc.edu

Nikhil Panu guruhounddawg@gmail.com

Samantha Hoffman is currently in Harvard Medical School’s M.D./ Ph.D. program and recently became engaged. Previously, she earned top biology honors at Stanford, where she led a service sorority and worked for the Red Cross.

Although he wasn’t a computer science student at Harker, Jacob Hoffman went on to work at Neuralink, where he has had leading roles on several large projects, including the creation of a robot that has many useful applications in neurosurgery. He previously was an honors student at Stanford, where he played shortstop on the baseball team.



Adith Rengaramchandran adithram@gmail.com

Nithya Vemireddy nithya.vemireddy@gmail.com

Connie Li connieli32@gmail.com



Katy Sanchez ktlynnsanchez@gmail.com

Nikhil Reddy reddnikhil@gmail.com

David Lin david.lin210@gmail.com

Jeton Gutierrez-Bujari jetongutierrez@gmail.com

In late 2022 Murali Joshi ’12 and Michael Sikand ’17 were named to the 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 in the venture capital and media categories, respectively. Murali, a principal at ICONIQ Growth, has been involved in 55 investments in 17 companies, including Datadog and Procore, helping source or lead more than $2.02 billion in capital. Michael co-founded the Our Future podcast in May 2020 to reach younger people (commonly referred to as “Generation Z”) with business-focused content. It later pivoted to YouTube and has since spread to other platforms, receiving more than a billion views across YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.



Stephanie Huang stephaniehuang17@gmail.com

Grace Guan guanzgrace@gmail.com

Michael Zhao michael.zhao@gmail.com

Mary Najibi mary.najibi@gmail.com

Edward Sheu edwardsheu.ca@gmail.com

Kurt Schwartz kurticus100@gmail.com

Selin Ekici is in her second year at University of Colorado’s eight-year Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), a federally funded M.D.-Ph.D. program in which students graduate with both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees with the goal of solving mechanisms underlying disease, combined with their passion to treat patients in a clinical setting. Selin’s doctorate will be in neuroscience. She loves living in Denver, and enjoys hiking and skiing in her free time.



Emre Ezer emre.ezer10@gmail.com

Alex Youn ahsyoun@gmail.com

David Zhu david.zhu@gmail.com

Maile Chung mailchung.pb@gmail.com

Haley Tran haleyktran@gmail.com



Amitej Mehta djamitej@gmail.com

Melissa Kwon mwjkwan@gmail.com

Gloria Guo gloria.jx.guo@gmail.com

Dolan Dworak ddworak@umich.ed

In January, the upper school varsity cheerleading squad welcomed Olivia Long for a full day of cheerleading skill building. While studying at UC Santa Barbara, Olivia spent five summers teaching with the National Cheerleaders Association and was eager to share her expertise back at home, using her hands-on approach to teach stunting and tumbling classes. Being a former Harker student and cheerleader, Olivia led with the intention of teaching Harker students how they can continue to integrate the cheerleading sport into the school, remain safe in progressions and work as a diverse and unified team.



Matthew Hajjar matthew.hajjar@gmail.com

Olivia Esparza oesparza@poets.whittier.edu

Mahi Gurram mgurram@colgate.edu

Riya Gupta gupta2001riya@gmail.com

Kelsey Wu kelseywu@college.harvard.edu

In April, Jason Huang was among 12 Space Force and Air Force cadets chosen to intern at the Pentagon. “After I graduate and am commissioned as a second lieutenant, I will spend several months working for the Secretary of the Air Force in International Affairs before reporting to intelligence training,” he said. He is set to start at the Central Division where his duties will be “foreign military sales, education and training, and cooperative research and development with our partner forces and countries in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility.”



Lauren Beede 20blauren@gmail.com

Chloe Chen chloe.chen@bc.edu

Grace Hajjar gracehajjar@g.ucla.edu

Bennett Liu bennett.c.liu@gmail.com

Anika Tiwari anika.tiwari@gmail.com

In December, Simar Bajaj earned the Foreign Press Association’s Science Story of the Year for a piece he penned for The Guardian in August about pigto-human heart transplants. See the sidebar below for more details.

Simar Bajaj ’20 wins Science Story of the Year

Late last year, Simar Bajaj ’20 received the Foreign Press Association’s Science Story of the Year award for a piece he penned for The Guardian in August about pig-to-human heart transplants. Simar, who currently attends Harvard University, traveled to London to receive the award in person. The FPA is the world’s oldest press organization, dating back to 1888. Simar is the youngest awardee in the organization’s history. He was also the alumni speaker at the 17th annual Harker Research Symposium this past April, where he spoke on the importance of storytelling in passing beneficial scientific policies. “The reality is that there was never a policy in the history of our country that would just pass because it was a good idea,” he said in his keynote. “They pass because they’re able to open someone’s eyes, someone’s soul, to the impact, to the purpose.”

Simar began pursuing science journalism during the summer of 2022, publishing pieces in Smithsonian Magazine and The Washington Post in addition his story for The Guardian. He has written extensively on systemic inequities in the medical field, which was the subject of papers he co-authored for Nature Medicine and the New England Journal of Medicine. These and other writings can be found on Simar’s website at www.simarbajaj.com.



Kristin Tong kristintong@gmail.com

Olivia Guo olivia.guo@pepperdine.edu

Helen Zhu helen.c.zhu@gmail.com

Jason Lin, currently at Stanford University, became a viral sensation in April after he and some collaborators created a motorized couch and posted a video of them driving it on TikTok, where as of press time the video has 2.3 million views and nearly 300,000 likes. Stanford caught wind of the project, which was later posted to Stanford’s official Instagram account, garnering more than 14,000 likes as of press time.



Alexa Lowe alexa.lowe@gmail.com

Gigi Chan gc449@cornell.edu

Irene Yuan irene.d.yuan@gmail.com

Zachary Hoffman is in his senior year at Stanford University and will graduate with a degree in electrical engineering this year. He will continue his studies in the master’s program at Stanford, while also serving as co-captain of the men’s lacrosse team.

Class of 2002 reunites for 20th anniversary

Members of the upper school’s inaugural class got together on campus in December for their 20th reunion. “It’s not like your 20-year high school happens all the time,” said Isabella Liu ‘02, who helped organize the event. The alumni met with longtime faculty members and visited some of the campus facilities that have sprung up since they left. “I have such warm memories of my entire Harker experience that I made a point of coming back for the reunion,” said Alex Janofsky ’02. “Now that I have school-age children, I am increasingly refleccting on my own grade-school experiences to share with them.”

class notes
Photos by Susan Harding

Class of 2002

“Now that I have school-age children, I am increasingly reflecting on my own grade school experiences to share with them.”
–Alex Janofsky ’02

Alumni Meetups in New York City and Pittsburgh

East Coast-based alumni enjoyed connecting and reminiscing with classmates at recent meetups in New York City and Pittsburgh. Several Harker staff also joined in the mingling, including Brian Yager, head of school; Kristin Giammona, primary division head; and Sam Lepler ‘96, economics teacher.

Lexi Ross ‘09, Sophie Newman ‘09, Saumi Mehta ‘22, Josh Field ‘22, Ysabel Chen ‘22, senior directors Harper Brada and Samvita Gautham, Laura Lang-Ree, senior directors Aastha Mangla and Zubin Khera, Joel Morel ‘20, Shyl Lamba ‘20 and Richie Amarillas ‘22

Alumni directors attend Student Directed Showcase

Alumni directors graced the Patil Theater to support the Student Directed Showcase performances this past weekend! Graduates from as far back as 2009 joined this year’s student directors on stage with Laura Lang-Ree, who teaches the SDS semester-long course. What fun!

class notes
Pictured from left to right:
• 72nd annual Family & Alumni Picnic • Homecoming • Games and activities for the little ones • Student performances • Sports exhibition matches • Food trucks • Community service fair • Athletic Hall of Fame • Just hanging out! Watch for emails in August with more details. It will be a great day to be an Eagle and celebrate our community! Want to help? Contact advancement@harker.org HARKER MAGAZINE l SPRING/SUMMER 2023 49 See you on Harker Day! Save the Date! Sat., Oct. 7, 2023 Upper School Campus A day for our families and alumni – and this year’s reunion classes –to come together to celebrate the spirit of Harker.

final frame

Preschool I Summer Programs www.harker.orgThe Harker School 500 Saratoga Ave. San Jose , CA 95129 NON PROFIT ORG. U.S. POSTAGE PAID SAN JOSE, CA PERMIT 2296 O of C: 6/23 (BHDG) 7,886
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