Humans of Harker: Breaking the silence

Smriti Vaidyanathan (12) gleans knowledge through questioning

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Humans of Harker: Breaking the silence

“I think my curiosity is a combination of the environment I was brought up in and also the culture of Harker and the Bay Area. I always think of everything as something that can be questioned, regardless of whether it’s an established truth; that’s the only way you’ll get anywhere,” Smriti Vaidyanathan (12) said.

“I think my curiosity is a combination of the environment I was brought up in and also the culture of Harker and the Bay Area. I always think of everything as something that can be questioned, regardless of whether it’s an established truth; that’s the only way you’ll get anywhere,” Smriti Vaidyanathan (12) said.

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“I think my curiosity is a combination of the environment I was brought up in and also the culture of Harker and the Bay Area. I always think of everything as something that can be questioned, regardless of whether it’s an established truth; that’s the only way you’ll get anywhere,” Smriti Vaidyanathan (12) said.

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“I think my curiosity is a combination of the environment I was brought up in and also the culture of Harker and the Bay Area. I always think of everything as something that can be questioned, regardless of whether it’s an established truth; that’s the only way you’ll get anywhere,” Smriti Vaidyanathan (12) said.

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After the monotone of the pitch pipe, there’s a beat of silence; the room is holding its breath, waiting for the show to begin. Smriti Vaidyanathan (12) has never had a problem with breaking the silence. She takes the quiet in stride, her voice ringing out like bells to a filled theater. Similarly, in a silent classroom, her hand goes up without hesitation. 

When asked to define herself in five words, the first word she utters is “curious.” She attributes her drive to speak out to her inquisitive nature.

“In the classroom, I’m always that one kid who holds up a class because I ask so many questions, but I learn through questioning,” Smriti said. “I question everything, and that’s a form of curiosity.”

Smriti has brought this sentiment with her into her freshman year study of music class as well as Cantilena rehearsals. Susan Nace, vocal music teacher and the Cantilena choir director at the upper school, has been a mentor for Smriti since her freshman year.

“She was always asking questions that came from a very different place from most students,” Nace said. “[She had] a curiosity as she tried to make sense of her music world.”

Because Smriti’s father produces music, she has been exposed to music for her entire life, even being featured on movie soundtracks. Thus, music has had a large effect on the development of her voice and character.

“I remember her saying that her whole family was very musical,” Nace said. “I got the sense that she heard music differently from the way most students hear it because [it] had been such a part of her life.”

In addition to Cantilena, Smriti participated in a mentoring program with the Peninsula Women’s Chorus during her junior year. While rehearsing songs, she experiments, trying to expand on the music.

“With music, I always seek to improve upon myself. I do a lot of improvisation and spontaneous creation of music with riffing and things like that,” she said. “Every time I do it, I come up with more questions like ‘how can I change this’ or’ what would happen if I did this slightly differently.’”

Beyond her singing career, Smriti channels her curiosity through scientific research, specializing in biochemical studies. Throughout high school, she has participated in research projects and taken research classes, working on CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing technology, with graduate students at Binghamton University in New York.

“I got to design my own experiment [and] do [the research] myself,” Smriti said. “My grandmother has Alzheimer’s, [so] I tried to think of something that could possibly reduce the risk. I looked through some genes, and I found this protein which is responsible. There are three different variants, and you can change one letter in the whole gene, and suddenly, you have a 40 percent chance of contracting Alzheimer’s.”

When researching, creating the prompt is an essential step in the process.

“People like to think that questioning is completely analytical, but it’s just as analytical as it is a creative process. Coming up with the question is just as important as answering the question,” Smriti said. “My curiosity and creativity are essentially the same things.”

Throughout high school, she has challenged herself to get out of her head and refuses to let the fear of judgment inhibit her learning.

“I didn’t take into account that other people had different experiences from my own. [I’d like to be] more aware of what’s going on around me and be more involved with it. As I’ve grown up, I’ve met more people, and I think it’s easier to contextualize things,” Smriti said. “In ninth grade, I never used to participate. After I reevaluated myself and started liking my classes more, I began to ask more questions. I’ve started caring a little bit less about what people think of me.”

Ayesha Baweja (12), Smriti’s friend since freshman year, has witnessed this growth inside and outside of the classroom.

“As a friend, she’s always taking others’ feelings into account,” Ayesha said. “[As a student], she can express her opinions and think about things in a very critical way that I would have never thought of before. She really motivates me and inspires me to do better because she’s so driven and focused.”

These character traits that Smriti has developed reflect greatly in her actions, allowing her to voice her opinion in difficult or intimidating situations.

“I think my curiosity is a combination of the environment I was brought up in and also the culture of Harker and the Bay Area,” she said. “I always think of everything as something that can be questioned, regardless of whether it’s an established truth; that’s the only way you’ll get anywhere.”