Humans of Harker: The puzzle of life

Rishi Dange maintains a happy-go-lucky approach


Vishnu Kannan

“I don’t want to be the person that just spent every day every second, just in office hours or like studying in the library. I want to be that type of person who is fun, who interacts with other people outside of the regime of studies. And [I want to be that person] who was able to connect with other people whether older or younger,” Rishi Dange (12) said.

Strolling through the Harker campus, Rishi Dange (12) exchanges greetings, laughs and high-fives with friends and teachers alike. Gripping his tennis racket comfortably in hand, Rishi bounces the tennis ball off the face and side of his racket with ease and accuracy, stopping to catch the ball on the racket face as he comes across one of his close friends, Nikhil Sharma (12). The broad, welcoming smile that forms on his face quickly transforms into laughter, as the two engage in an enthusiastic conversation while tossing the ball back in forth in a game of catch. 

To someone who doesn’t know him, Rishi might seem out of place: wearing a floral button-up shirt and brown khakis and holding his blue and red Head Radical tennis racket in one hand, while playing catch with a tennis ball in the middle of campus with the other. But those who know him will understand that this interaction exemplifies who Rishi truly is: a fun-loving, enthusiastic, and happy-go-lucky human being.

Rohan Cherukuri (12), who has known Rishi since pre-school, describes Rishi as a lively and supportive friend.

“He’s always had this energy and enthusiasm about him so if you’re a little bit down, or if you don’t have enough energy, he always has enough to go around and pick everyone up,” Rohan said. “He’s that guy who is like, let’s go play some soccer or let’s play football.”

Rishi has participated in a variety of competitive sports, including soccer, cross-country, and tennis. But he’s equally likely to take on a pickup-game of football or basketball with his friends. For him, athletics have taught him the need for a balance between mental and physical strength.

 “[Sports have] taught me this notion of mental strength that I don’t think many other things other than athletics can teach you. It’s that when you’re out there, you have to keep your mind in control. And that’s probably just as important, if not more important than keeping your body in control,” Rishi said.

In particular, Rishi developed a fondness for tennis, partly for the calming effect playing the sport gives him.

“When I go out there in the court, especially at night, and I can’t hear anything else but just me, the ball, my racquet swinging, that’s probably one of the most peaceful times for me. I really can be with myself and just think about things. I can just go out there and express myself,” Rishi said.

Now a 3-star tennis recruit, Rishi practices tennis every day of the week, either at his coaches’ clinics or private lessons or just with his tennis friends. Being more of a baseline player reliant on his speed, agility, and anticipation to return his opponent’s shots, Rishi feels that his approach to tennis is also applicable to his daily life.

“I’d say that aspect of anticipation somewhat relates to the way I try to put things one or two steps into the future so that I can duly anticipate what could happen in my life,” he said. “Trusting my speed to track down tough shots is also, I’d say, a depiction of my mentality that I have to trust myself and my abilities in whatever I do.”

Being someone who is so generally so outgoing and extroverted, Rishi appreciates not only tennis, but also DECA, an activity he began in 9th grade, for also bringing out the introverted side of himself. In his mind, both activities offer Rishi the best balance between “alone time and together time.”

“[In DECA,] I get to interact with a lot [of] people, interact with judges and all these adults, but I also get the time to be on my own and compete on my own as an individual,” he said.

Rishi believes that DECA has improved his conversational skills, noting that DECA has helped him with “[having] a fluid conversation with adults and being able to express [his] thoughts in an articulate manner in a one to one conversation.

Rishi credits his dad for getting him interested and involved in business and entrepreneurship and for being a great role model for him. Aside from admiring his dad’s work ethic and desire to succeed, Rishi looks up to his dad for decision-making abilities.

“[My dad] thinks in a very logical manner. And that’s something I definitely admire about him, because the way he makes decisions, he’s able to think about all the possibilities first, and that’s definitely something I want to be able to do. I want to be able to be that person who doesn’t omit any facts just because of emotions or something. I think my dad is definitely someone who’s really good at being very logical, [while] still being emotionally supportive.”

In addition to DECA and tennis, Rishi participates in many academic-oriented activities. From partaking in math competitions to doing research in scientific fields and more, Rishi’s academic interests span a wide variety of subjects and topics, and likely stemmed from his penchant for problem solving, which began at a young age with the puzzles in the sports section of the San Jose Mercury News. 

“Every morning, I would open the sports section of the newspaper because I was interested in sports, and when I started to find that there were always puzzles on the back of the pages, I started doing them, and I found that I was pretty good. I [started with] jumbled, where you had to unscramble words,” he said, “And then from there, I just went to Sudoku and then I started doing crypto quip or something of the sort.”

Rishi feels that there is a connection between his love for problem-solving and his love for tennis due strategy involved in both pursuits.

“One of the reasons why I love tennis so much is because it involves, not just physical activity, but also mental activity. It’s sort of like a puzzle out there on the tennis court. You have to react to whatever [your opponent] is doing, and strategy is involved,” Rishi said. “Same with the Sudoku puzzle. You see this number here and you’re like, oh, hey, now, what do I do with the next number? The next slot.”

While Rohan praises Rishi for his academic excellence, he truly believes that Rishi’s greatest strength lies outside the classroom: in his ability to maintain a fine tuned balance between having fun and remaining focused.

“His strength lies in being able to find that balance where he’s on one hand having loads of fun and being this outgoing force of nature that everyone wants to be around at the same time, not allowing that to distract and is still staying motivated and doing what he has to do,” Rohan said.

Rishi’s mentor outside of school, Mrs. Bonnie Raskin, who has known Rishi from an academic and personal standpoint through the Institute for Educational Advancement (IEA) program since 7th grade, describes Rishi as “not a one-trick pony academically” and appreciates Rishi for his willingness to help out.

“He’s always very helpful to new students coming in[to our program]. He engages when new students come to visit Harker as well. He’s there to show them around. So, I found to be just a really outgoing person in terms of really being present.

She also admires his ever-present enthusiasm, relating it to their annual three day introductory seminar for their program.

“Rishi is always one of the first to greet the new students, and if there’s an activity, he helps get everybody together and participate in it,” she said. “His enthusiasm always shows through a start to finish.”

In the end, Rishi wants to be remembered for being a balanced and impactful member of the Harker community.

“I don’t want to be the person that just spent every day every second, just in office hours or like studying in the library. I want to be that type of person who is fun, who interacts with other people outside of the regime of studies. And [I want to be that person] who was able to connect with other people whether older or younger,” Rishi said.