Humans of Harker: Laughing and leading

Rahul Goyal finds unique leadership style through team efforts


Katherine Zhang

“I’m definitely not the person who’s a stickler for rules and who’s all about being strict—I like to get to know the people I’m leading. It’s a lot more interactive when you’re working with other people. You’re able to have a good time but also be productive. It’s just more enjoyable to be able to share an experience with someone else. You get to share stories and jokes and just have fun,” Rahul Goyal (12) said.

Leaning back into the teal cushions, Rahul Goyal (12) spins a pair of plastic goggles in his hands, a placid smile etched on his face as he contemplates what to say next. It’s an odd place to be in — sitting on a couch meant for six underneath the stairwell in a silent, empty Nichols Hall — but this doesn’t bother Rahul, whose laughter echoes across the atrium as he takes a breath and gets ready to speak.

This is Rahul at his most relaxed, outside the bustling robotics lab and fast-paced jazz band rehearsals. A wide grin spreads across his face as he talks, promising to “act serious” but inevitably dissolving into laughter once more.

But even when he dons the red hat of robotics or straps on his baritone saxophone, Rahul doesn’t feel the need to lay down the law with those who see him as a leader.

“I’m definitely not the person who’s a stickler for rules and who’s all about being strict— I like to get to know the people I’m leading,” Rahul said. “It’s a lot more interactive when you’re working with other people — you’re able to have a good time but also be productive. It’s just more enjoyable to be able to share an experience with someone else — you get to share stories and jokes and just have fun.”

Back in the lab, Rahul stops mid-conversation to help a freshman member dig through a cabinet for a missing tool and freely jokes with his teammates even as sparks fly out of his drill. At six feet tall, he towers over some of the younger members of the team — but in no way is he intimidating or unapproachable.

“The very first way I knew him was as a very strong leader,” said fellow teammate Finn Frankis (11), who has worked with Rahul for three years. “The instant he joined the team, he rose up with his charisma and dedication and became one of the most active and committed members of the team.”

Rahul truly settled into robotics during his sophomore year, when the upper school robotics team qualified for the world championships for the first time since 2005.

“Qualifying for worlds — I never thought that I would be able to do that because we hadn’t even come close before,” Rahul said. “It was a great feeling to have almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience, at least as a club.”

But for Rahul, the fundamental reason why he has participated in countless weeks of build seasons — and why he encourages new members to stick around and do the same — lies in the people, both on his team and off, that he has been able to meet through competitions.

“You get to interact with your own club in a new way. You’re a lot closer when you go on trips,” Rahul said. “I get really close with our drive team especially because we spend literally eighteen hours together within three days. You also get to meet new people and meet teams that you look up to.”

Since joining robotics, Rahul has branched out and pursued several STEM-related experiences both inside and outside of school, from volunteering to teach younger children Lego robotics to tutoring students in Java programming. But at the same time, Rahul finds it essential to make time for another, very different pursuit that has been a substantial part of his life — music.

“I do music because it’s like a way out. It’s the one thing that I do that isn’t STEM-related, which I really enjoy,” Rahul said. “I listen to a lot of music, and to be able to play music that inspires you is a really good experience — and [jazz band] became my first exposure to jazz as well.”

Rahul’s decision to play the saxophone came on a whim — it seemed like a “fun” instrument, with its shiny brass exterior and Nike-swoosh-like shape. But from first picking up the instrument to joining the lab band in freshman year to now working on a performance for the Senior Showcase, it’s helped him find a balance between self-improvement and simply enjoying himself.

“Rahul’s always been very musical, but some things didn’t come easy for him in middle school,” said upper school orchestra and jazz band conductor Dr. Dave Hart. “What I’ve loved seeing is that he never gave up, and now, he’s just holding his own,” If there’s something new, he’s willing to take some risks and keep learning, and you can see the improvement in six years — it’s pretty incredible. He’s by far the best [baritone saxophone] player that I can remember in Harker history.”

Much like his experience with robotics, Rahul has both forged bonds with other members of jazz band and watched senior members come and go, experiences that have pushed him to reflect on his own impact within the group.

“For the sophomores and freshmen who I know, hopefully to them, I’m someone who is able to have a good time while being able to be serious at the same time,” Rahul said. “And that makes sense for jazz band, where literally in the concert, Dr. Hart will be like, ‘Yeah, that was nice!’”

And to those in jazz band who have watched him grow over time, Rahul has become an easygoing, dependable friend.

“Rahul is one of those friends who you can always count on to cheer you up and see the positive in things,” fellow jazz band member Kelsey Wu (12) said.

More personally, both robotics and jazz band have contributed inextricably to his growth over the last four years of high school.

“I definitely have become a lot more organized. I’m a lot more efficient with my work because I know what I have to do,” Rahul said. “Like in jazz band, I know when to stand out, when to blend in, and it’s improved me musically. And in robotics, I feel like I’ve grown a lot more independent. I used to really like other people telling me what to do, but now, as a senior, you’re the one leading other people.”

But for those who Rahul has come into contact with over time, his message is simple.

“I guess I’m a person who’s just lighthearted, having fun,” he said. “Just having a great time while trying to excel at what you’re doing.”