Humans of Harker: Jack of all trades, master of fun

Mathew Mammen bounces to the beat of life


“I don’t ever intend on letting the internal love of life that I have leave me. As I grow up and I maintain my love for the random things I do, I know I’ll be happy– and hopefully people around me will be, as well,” Mathew Mammen (’19) said.

Aside from hand-eye coordination, there is little that connects the elusive art of ocarina-playing with the fine motor skills that go into flipping a balisong, or butterfly knife. Pasta-making and woodworking both require creative flair, but one medium is pliable while the other is firm. Snowboarding and singing. Skiing and acting. Gaming and dancing. These activities are disparate from one another, encompassing a broad range of interests. Yet each hobby brings a smile to Mathew Mammen’s (‘19) face.

“With all the random things I do, people are like, ‘you should focus on something,’” Mathew said. “But that detracts from the excitement of doing all the random things that are out there. The more random skills you acquire, the more you can throw yourself into random situations and still have fun with them.”

Random talents aside, Mathew’s performing arts career lies at the heart of his high school experience. Mathew entered freshman year looking to round himself out as a performer, pursuing his passions for performance art and music theory. Most recently, he dove deep into dance, joining the dance show cast and learning moves from friends in Kinetic Krew.

“It’s fun whether or not you have an audience,” Mathew said. “But performance, sharing the nervousness and stress with others, is often pretty exciting. You draw inspiration from the people you see onstage– you see how much fun they’re having, the aura they command. You think, ‘I want to be that person, I want to command that aura,’ and you get into it. And when you’re done with it, it feels pretty great.”

Mathew affirms that there’s far more to performing than what’s visible onstage: the discipline that goes into memorizing each line and lyric and practicing every move and melody.

“The funny thing is, when you get down to the day to day grind of performing arts, it’s not actually that fun. It’s hard work. You have to drill things over and over again,” Mathew said. “It’s tiring when you’re onstage and trying all these different ways of conveying a character, and if it doesn’t work, it’s sometimes scary. But I keep wanting to practice and drill, I keep wanting to get back on stage. As stressful as it sometimes is, it’s also inherently pretty cool.”

Mathew’s passion for performance has deep roots in his past. He has been involved in music since elementary school, having joined choir for the first time in third grade.

“At the time, I was drawn to harmonies– it was cool to make interesting music with your friends,” Mathew said. “It’s an experience that was very different from other activities with friends– you can play a game with them, you can talk to them, but complementing them with harmonies and pitches and creating something that’s impossible with one person is something I’ve always been attracted to.”

The appeal of the group-oriented aspect of music compelled Mathew to become part of Downbeat and, prior to that, join the student acapella group formerly known as Guy’s Gig as a freshman.

With each passing year, Mathew took on an increasingly prominent role in the leadership of the choral club and, as a sophomore and junior, championed efforts for the group– which had previously only consisted of tenors and basses– to become gender inclusive. His advocacy paid off: in 2018, after twenty years as an all-male club at the upper school, the acapella group opened its doors to treble voices and was reborn as SUS4.

Mathew was president of SUS4 his senior year, and vocal music teacher Susan Nace, who advises the club, hopes that future leaders will perpetuate the inclusive culture he worked to promote.

“One thing that’s very important to him is fairness, to the point where no one is left out. He doesn’t discount anybody. He truly sees the human inside everyone,” Nace said. “I hope that [SUS4] will carry on that heart of fairness, that search for equality, which would be Mathew’s legacy.”

The collaborative energy Mathew exudes through performing arts extends to his personal relationships.

“There have been times when I felt like I was going through something, and just talking to him brings my spirits up,” Mathew’s close friend and fellow performing arts student Timothy Wang (‘19) said. “He’s gone through a ton in his life, yet he’s always there with positivity and optimism. The guy just has this infectious energy about him that no matter what happens, it never goes away.”

Many of those close to Mathew similarly admire his resilience in the face of hardship, particularly that which he underwent after losing both his younger sisters in elementary and middle school. Timothy recalls an interaction he had with Mathew in seventh grade following the death of Mathew’s youngest sister– a moment that, to Timothy, epitomized the essence of Mathew’s spirit and strength.

“I remember him coming back to school after this tragedy,” Timothy said. “He looked at me and gave me this smile, and I was just so taken aback by that.”

Nearly six years later, Mathew recognizes that time and contemplation have helped him contend with loss and move past his initial grief. Nevertheless, aspects of his sisters’ influences remain with him.

“Putting it in perspective helped me understand it, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. The length of time plus the perspective mostly brings me at ease with it,” Mathew said. “Intellectually, there are still elements of me that are from the influence of my two sisters. But I’ve processed all there is that needs to be processed.”

Mathew also acknowledges that hearing others share their struggles brought additional perspective to his own experience. Along the way, he developed an instinct for silent emotional support– a quality with which friends like Timothy and Wynter Chaverst (‘19) are familiar.

“Without Mathew, I don’t think I would’ve gotten through high school,” Wynter said. “He’s a great person to lean on and have as a support system, which comes from the fact that he knows what it’s like to need somebody to lean on, to need somebody who understands what it’s like. There’s nobody I know who understands loss more than Mathew.”

Nace, who has mentored Mathew since freshman year, has often witnessed Mathew’s ability to connect with others through various mediums, particularly his voice.

“I don’t think he’s realized how many people he’s touched. He cuts across anything that divides because he sees a person as a whole,” Nace said. “I just hope he keeps singing. Not just because of his beautiful voice, but because of his beautiful heart and soul. He will touch people regardless. He will break down barriers regardless. But music is a way to get to those people who are probably the hardest to break down barriers for.”

As he leaves the realm of high-school, Mathew plans to hold on to his passions while discovering new ones. And he hopes to touch some lives along the way.

“I don’t ever intend on letting the internal love of life that I have leave me,” Mathew said. “As I grow up and I maintain my love for the random things I do, I know I’ll be happy– and hopefully people around me will be, as well.”