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Humans of Harker: Toy libraries, jazz music and “person of the people”

Kelsey Wu explores empathy in service and song

%22To+sum+it+up+in+one+word%2C+it%27s+empathy%2C%E2%80%9D+Kelsey+Wu+%2812%29+said.+%E2%80%9CI%27ve+always+been+very+interested+in+learning+the+stories+of+other+people+and+helping+other+people%2C+and+what+really+ties+everything+I+do+together+would+be+my+goal+of+empathizing+with+others+and+understanding+others.+From+a+performing+arts+perspective%2C+putting+yourself+in+a+character+is+obviously+a+very+empathetic+way+of+understanding+others%2C+and+then+in+a+student+council%2C+service+standpoint%2C+serving+other+people+and+really+digging+at+what+makes+them+happy%E2%80%94and+also+what%27s+bothering+them%E2%80%94is+a+really+good+medium+of+understanding+how+people+work.%22

"To sum it up in one word, it's empathy,” Kelsey Wu (12) said. “I've always been very interested in learning the stories of other people and helping other people, and what really ties everything I do together would be my goal of empathizing with others and understanding others. From a performing arts perspective, putting yourself in a character is obviously a very empathetic way of understanding others, and then in a student council, service standpoint, serving other people and really digging at what makes them happy—and also what's bothering them—is a really good medium of understanding how people work."

Kathy Fang

Kathy Fang

"To sum it up in one word, it's empathy,” Kelsey Wu (12) said. “I've always been very interested in learning the stories of other people and helping other people, and what really ties everything I do together would be my goal of empathizing with others and understanding others. From a performing arts perspective, putting yourself in a character is obviously a very empathetic way of understanding others, and then in a student council, service standpoint, serving other people and really digging at what makes them happy—and also what's bothering them—is a really good medium of understanding how people work."

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Many students in public service begin their careers in high school or even middle school, stepping first into positions of student government as advocates of later start times, increased snack options and the such. Kelsey Wu (12) began her career in the first grade.

It all started with a Word document and an ambitious campaign—for the rights of toys.

“In first grade, I went to school in Shanghai, and one of the things that all of us would bring to school that was prohibited were toys,” Kelsey said, smiling at the memory. “We’d bring toys and we’d hide them in our lockers, and eventually it got to the point where the teacher noticed.”

But instead of bowing to the rules, Kelsey chose to stand up for the right to bring toys to school, and she made a case to her teacher for a toy library, drafting and presenting her first “official” proposal at the age of seven.

“I didn’t want to be doing the wrong thing, and I thought other people could benefit from something that could be very easily done,” Kelsey said. “I wanted toys to be liberated.”

Two years later, Kelsey’s proposal came to fruition in the form of a scrapbook catalogue she made using Microsoft Word, in which students could enter a picture of their toy and document the check-in and check-out dates.

“Back then it was just a matter of I wanted toys at school and I needed a way to get access to them,” Kelsey said. “Now I realize that it inspired me to help other people and to find ways to help other people.”

Kelsey parted ways with the toy catalogue behind in fifth grade, when she moved from Shanghai to San Jose, a transition that marks a pivotal moment in Kelsey’s journey of public service.

“Moving here really helped me open up in that in China they don’t emphasize interacting with others that much,” she said. “The culture is more communalistic whereas here it’s more about following your passions and pursuing what you really want to do. I guess that inspired me to take charge.”

Kelsey made her debut as a public figure towards the end of fifth grade, when she decided to sing Adele’s “Someone Like You” at the annual lower school talent show.

“That was really empowering for me, just because I realized there was a way I could communicate with other people, even if I didn’t really understand everything about the U.S. at the time,” she said.

She then went on to run for class council in sixth grade, just a year after she moved, and to her surprise, she won the election for class president, a position she’s held ever since.

Kelsey devoted much of her tenure in middle school to issues of student wellbeing. One of her principle projects was Wellness Week, which is a week in the school year set aside to help students focus on their health and wellbeing.

“Initially I felt like that was something that Harker was lacking,” Kelsey said. “I thought since the school is created to serve students and serve education, health is a really important goal since it’s something that lasts with you through your lifetime.”

Complete with professionally-led yoga sessions and plenty of chocolate, Wellness Week proved to be a success among students and teachers alike, and it has become a middle school tradition since its introduction.

Kelsey has continued her mission of promoting student wellbeing into high school, where she serves as senior class president as well as a member of the Happiness Committee.

“What she brings to the table [at student council] is something that other people can’t really offer,” said ASB treasurer David Feng (11), who also is a member of the Happiness Committee. “It’s leadership, being able to motivate people to do work, and really being someone who’s helping everyone.”

Often found leading the class chant at rallies, Kelsey works ceaselessly to promote spirit and unity among her peers.

“Being part of the class or helping the class to be together is what she’s after. That’s very important to her,” senior dean Victor Adler said. “She drives a lot of the class spirit activities, and I’m just trying to keep up.”

In addition to her work on student government, Kelsey explores a different side of service onstage. From performing in the middle school musical “Honk!” to singing for the upper school jazz band, Kelsey’s passion for service has translated into a passion for humanity, especially through performance.

“What got me into jazz was putting myself in another character and really understanding other people, which is an overarching life goal of mine,” she said.

Kelsey’s philanthropic work and performance skills carries into her everyday relationships with people as well.

“She puts so much effort into everything she does, even the small things, and with people, she never fails to make sure that anyone around her feels very loved and heard and appreciated,” longtime friend Neha Premkumar (12) said. “We’ve been friends for almost over seven years now, and she hasn’t changed one bit in that way.”

From her role as a student council officer to her work as a performer, Kelsey strives to deepen her connections with people as a part of her mission to help others.

“To sum it up in one word, it’s empathy,” she said. “I’ve always been very interested in learning the stories of other people and helping other people, and what really ties everything I do together would be my goal of empathizing with others and understanding others. From a performing arts perspective, putting yourself in a character is obviously a very empathetic way of understanding others, and then in a student council, service standpoint, serving other people and really digging at what makes them happy—and also what’s bothering them—is a really good medium of understanding how people work.”

1 Comment

One Response to “Humans of Harker: Toy libraries, jazz music and “person of the people””

  1. Melissa Kwan on September 27th, 2018 3:43 pm

    Love!

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Humans of Harker: Toy libraries, jazz music and “person of the people”