Humans of Harker: Dueling with duality

Neil Ramaswamy drives progress, both onstage and behind the scenes


Ryan Guan

"The more serious side, people will never see. You'll never see who's behind one of these websites that people may be using," Neil Ramaswamy (12) said. "Several freshmen have approached me like, 'hey, you're the really funny guy at school meeting' and I'm like 'hey, yeah, nice to meet you' and at the same time they might be using an application that I've written not knowing that it's me. I kind of get that personal satisfaction knowing that there is a serious side to me, you just don't know about it."

“Period six starts in 45 minutes at 10:50; may the exodus commence.”

A momentary confusion sweeps across the crowd of students and faculty at this unfamiliar deviation from his trademark line, before delighted laughter and the usual chatter break out once more.

From finding alternative ways to deliver the classic school meeting closing to performing magic tricks at Hoscars that leave the audience stunned, Neil Ramaswamy (’19) always keeps a surprise or two up his sleeve.

In fact, although most people on campus know Neil as the 2019 ASB president, there is a dual side to the gregarious, effusive personality that he brings to student council—a more “behind-the-scenes” side that others don’t often have the chance to see. This aspect of Neil’s personality largely manifested in his work with HarkerDev, which creates programs for students and faculty to facilitate school functions.

“The more serious side, people will never see. You’ll never see who’s behind one of these websites that people may be using,” he said. “Several freshmen have approached me like, ‘hey, you’re the really funny guy at school meeting’ and I’m like ‘hey, yeah, nice to meet you’ and at the same time they might be using an application that I’ve written not knowing that it’s me. I kind of get that personal satisfaction knowing that there is a serious side to me, you just don’t know about it.”

Neil was first drawn to programming because of its ability to implement far-reaching, beneficial changes within his community.

“I just became completely mesmerized by the world of programming, how something that I write in my room – maybe a few thousand lines of code that I write – can distribute and scale to about one thousand users, in the case of Harker Pay,” he said.

Neil has since led multiple initiatives with HarkerDev, from Harker Pay to the “Tinder-like” volunteering platform that was recently released at a school meeting.

“He’s very invested in the project in terms of getting everyone on board in motivation and getting new features on it. He’s become the primary propulsion for the project,” said Ryan Adolf (’19), a member of Harker Dev who has worked with Neil on the Harker Pay project.

Neil’s involvement with the upper school community didn’t stop at HarkerDev either: Beyond ASB and programming, he was also an active member of the performing arts community, as he played the drum in jazz band, performed in the annual dance show and even put on a magic act at the annual talent show, Hoscars. From student government to coding to performing, Neil has found so many outlets to express all the different aspects of his personality that it’s hard to find any one word to describe him—even for himself.

“Says-things-before-thinking-unless-in-public-setting-where-will-be-scrutinized,” he said, laughing. “Maybe whimsical is the word. But when I get serious, when I have a goal that I set for myself, I will do whatever it takes to get, mostly, to that goal, maybe tenacious is a good word to use.”

For instance, that very whimsy can been seen in his mastery of magic tricks. However, as fascinating as it is to watch Neil make a card disappear into thin air without so much as a flick of the wrist, Neil has realized that magic tricks don’t entirely satisfy. the tenacious, ever-curious aspect of his personality. As a matter of fact, math teacher Anthony Silk, who has known Neil since his sophomore year, remembers Neil once said that the reason he doesn’t practice much magic anymore is, as Silk recalls Neil saying, that “When I practice music, I’m making music, but when I practice magic, I know it’s a trick, and so it’s not exciting.”

This very realization reflects Neil’s growing introspection, which Silk has also noticed over the past few years.

“As [Neil] has grown, he has maintained his enthusiasm, his energy, but he has these moments of introspection that he didn’t have when he was younger. He has a better sense of who he is and who he wants to be,” Silk said.

As much as Neil has achieved throughout his four years in high school, he wants to see lasting impact from the initiatives that he has implements, not just the fleeting triumphs of an accomplished goal or a momentary success.

“I want to be remembered not by my name or for a joke or for the personality that most people see, but rather by the initiatives that I’ve helped start. It would be much more gratifying to me if I could show that more serious side of me on campus,” he said. “Bringing back Valentine’s Grams and seeing it persist, or seeing Harker Pay being used at the snack bar when I come back in five years using some code that I wrote eight years ago, or seeing maybe in five years the Student Council using the notes that were created this year: that would be truly amazing.”

In fact, the primary drive behind Neil’s insatiable curiosity about different subject areas ties back to the reason behind his love for computer science—that is, his mission to figure out how he can make the most beneficial impact on his community.

“I like exploring these various fields [and] questions like how do I play better jazz? I can’t just do three things and get better at jazz—it’s open ended. How do I enable people to do more in student council? It’s very open ended. What can I create technologically that will make this world a better place? That’s the multi-billion dollar question!” Neil said.

Neil’s insatiable curiosity leads him to find inspiration everywhere—even in the least exciting things.

“Boredom inspires me. I don’t know to what extent, but I am most happy when I am actively doing something,” he said.

Neil’s active personality not only finds inspiration everywhere but inspires everyone around him as well, and his leadership always seems to keep everyone else on their toes.

“His personality very quickly became evident in class: very gregarious, very funny. He’s not afraid of anyone, and that’s the charm. It’s always good to have him around to keep everybody on their toes,” Alex Rule (’19), a fellow member of jazz band who released a music album with Neil, said. “I’d say that he gives me the freedom I need to create something that I want to hear, and then he interprets it in a really artistic way that I would never have thought of. He’s extremely lyrical, very smart about his delivery and the rhyme scheme.”

Looking to the future, Neil hopes to continue on the path of community service, introspection and curiosity, improving in all aspects of his personality.

“I try my best to develop in ways that I haven’t before. One thing that I recently started was to keep track of the way that I live through Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues, like not getting annoyed at small things, or making sure that when you put your mind on one thing, you stay on that one thing,” Neil said. “Those are things that I try to do to develop myself more as a person.”

Whether it be behind the scenes or in front of an audience of a thousand, Neil will always find a way to leave an impression.

“Starting off as a freshman, I never thought that I could have a palpable influence on this campus, and I’m really glad that several of the things that I’ve done have affected so many students. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of,” he said.