Everyone who attended Harker at the same time as Sandip Nirmel (’17) knew who he was. From giving a speech at the class of 2020’s matriculation to running school meetings, Sandip led the student body with a characteristic smile and a baritone announcer’s voice.
However, people’s fondest memories of Sandip tend to be his small acts of kindness. His advisor, Mike Pistacchi, remembered how Sandip brought him boxes of his favorite childhood books in the last few days of his senior year. These books had sparked Sandip’s lifelong love for science, and he hoped they could do the same for Pistacchi’s young children.
“This was so typical of Sandip,” Pistacchi said. “In the crazy run-up to college, he still took the time to care for others, passing along those things that made his own life so special.”
Although this visit was one of the last times that Pistacchi saw Sandip, it was not the only legacy that Sandip left behind. After battling an extended illness, Sandip died on May 23 while a sophomore at Harvard College. A memorial event will be held for him this Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the Nichols Hall rotunda.
As a student at Harker from sixth to 12th grade, Sandip was a well-loved member of the Harker community. Friends and teachers remember him for his charismatic public presence, as well as the humor and compassion he exhibited in his personal relationships.
Sandip became a well-known figure at the upper school early on in his freshman year, when he delivered a campaign speech for class president. As he stepped to the front of the stage with a microphone in one hand and a stuffed bald eagle in the other, he seemed to transform before the audience.
“I had already figured out that Sandip was brilliant, but generally thought of him as a bit shy and reserved. The Sandip who walked on stage that day was bold, engaging, humorous and confident,” Pistacchi said. “The audience was absolutely captivated.”
Over the next four years, Sandip built off his ability to inspire a crowd by serving as class president in his freshman, sophomore and junior years, and associated student body (ASB) president in his senior year.
As a leader, he was never one to pass up an opportunity for change. Upper school division head Butch Keller recalled Sandip often striding into his office, saying, “Mr. Keller, I think we can do this better.” He always backed his grand proposals with detailed PowerPoint presentations, demonstrating a level of preparedness that he brought to ASB meetings as well.
“Nobody was ever exhausted after a meeting with Sandip,” Keller said. “He gave you a feeling of ‘he’s got it.’ If it wasn’t right, Sandip was going to find a way to fix it.”
For Sandip, student government served as an avenue for growth. He believed that student council helped him transform from a somewhat introverted middle schooler to an open and effective communicator.
“[Running for student government] was a good decision not because I won, but because it gave me more confidence in other activities knowing that I could present myself as a qualified person,” he said in a 2016 interview with the Winged Post.
His leadership ability shone through in his other activities as well. While at the upper school, Nirmel served as secretary-general of the Model United Nations team, a member of the debate team, a member of the research program, and a member of the Challenge Success team, which seeks to foster student wellness on campus.
Sandip approached all his commitments with a persistently positive attitude.
“Obviously [there is] a lot of academic stress [and] personal goals, and those are all real things. Whether or not I’m going to overcome it is through the same forward looking mentality that I’ve always had,” Sandip said in a 2016 interview. ”There’s some days where I get really frustrated, and getting frustrated isn’t going to do anything for me, so I just have to power through it.”
Keller remembered being struck by Sandip’s ability to never become flustered or upset. From knowing Sandip as a golfer as well as ASB president, Keller attributed Sandip’s skill in golf to his incredible calmness.
Golf was a way for Sandip to practice discipline and strive for personal goals, as well as to have fun with friends. He began playing at age seven, when his father introduced him to the sport. After that, Sandip practiced golf every weekend and joined the varsity team at the upper school.
Referred to as “El Presidente” by his teammates, Sandip left a lasting mark on the boys golf team. In addition to coining the Harker golf term, “when in doubt, clutch it out,” he was known, and jokingly teased, for his bread sandwiches, which consisted of two pieces of bread bookended by two more pieces of bread. After a successful match, he would shake each teammate’s hand and say, “It was nice doing business with you.”
Golf was also where Sandip met many of his best friends. Teammate Avi Kehmani (’17) recollected the fun they had while staying in Palm Springs for tournaments in their freshman year.
“Sandip and I would play ping pong for so many hours, just laughing constantly after each time we played,” Avi said. “Most people know him for his really hard-working, disciplined, respectful and accomplished side, but not many people know how funny he was.”
Similarly, coach Ie-Chen Cheng recalled how golf outings allowed Sandip to release a “wild side of him” less commonly seen by others. On highway 10, he and his teammates belted out tunes in voices almost loud and high-pitched enough to make coach Tom Vaughan pull to the side of the road. In addition to these shenanigans, Cheng remembered Sandip for being “the most efficient golfer” she had ever met.
“We all knew Sandip excelled in everything he touched,” she said. “Golf is a sport that demands a tremendous amount of time, yet he was able to play at a level few would and could dream of performing.”
Other teachers shared similar stories of what seemed to be Sandip’s many natural talents. In addition to golf, he displayed a particular affinity for musical instruments, picking up the piano, violin and trumpet at the ages of three, five and nine, respectively. When he joined the jazz band in seventh grade, he blew away music teacher David Hart with his trumpet-playing ability.
“He helped take the band to new levels,” Hart said. “His impact in just one year in the program was very meaningful, and believe me when I say he could really play the trumpet.”
In high school, Sandip added to his diverse set of hobbies by pursuing several academic interests, including oceanography, artificial intelligence and entrepreneurship. In addition to being a member of the Harker DECA chapter, he researched artificial intelligence solutions at Vertex Pharmaceuticals and at the Ocean Biogeochemistry Lab of the Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.
At Harvard, Sandip continued to expand his academic interests. He concentrated in Computer Science with a focus in Mind, Brain and Behavior; led a case team in the Harvard College Consulting Group; helped organize the campus engineering competition MakeHarvard and served as the Vice Chair for the Harvard Society for Mind, Brain and Behavior.
On May 23, students and administrators at Harvard mourned Sandip in a service led by the campus chaplain. Sandip’s family held a private service for him on May 28 in Massachusetts, where the family currently resides.
Sandip’s family has requested that donations for Sandip go toward the San Jose Animal Shelter’s Guardian Angel Fund. Sandip’s love for animals was apparent in his devotion to his dog, Captain, whom he referred to as “pretty much my brother” in a 2016 interview.
The upper school alumni office will deliver to Sandip’s parents any messages or memories students wish to leave for his family. Letters and cards can be dropped off in the alumni office, and photos and memories can be sent to [email protected].
Class of 2017 agents David Zhu, Haley Tran, Emre Ezer, Maile Chung and Alex Youn commemorated Sandip in a message to their peers.
“Whether as our President, a teammate, a classmate or a friend, Sandip was a role model not just through his accomplishments but, more importantly, in his humility, integrity, and kindness,” they wrote. “To have had the privileged opportunity to know this incredible young man is a true blessing, and his heart-warming spirit will forever be a part of the Harker community and, in particular, the family that is the Class of 2017. May you rest in peace, Sandip, a true leader and example to us all.”
As a leader, teammate and friend, Sandip lived by a simple motto: “Why not?” He described this motto on his LinkedIn page, and lived it through his many acts of courage and kindness. In the memories of his family, friends and teachers, his spirit of optimism lives on.