Humans of Harker: An intricate story

Sofie Kassaras (12) strays from the status quo of a Silicon Valley student


Rachel Ning and Lavanya Subramanian

“Over the years, I’ve learned how to manage my time more … and take advantage of teachers’ help, which has actually been really useful. But [I] learn[ed] that it’s okay to not be great at everything and it’s okay to ask for help when you need [it],” Sofie Kassaras (12) said.

Brows knitted together with intensity as she moves her pen from line to line, a growing smile forms on Sofie Kassaras’s (12) face as she writes on her slightly worn notebook covered with different lines of tape. Pen rarely stopping, ideas are thrown on to the page as she thoughtfully constructs her assignment for her Art of Poetry and Fiction course. Her blonde hair, painted with faded teal streaks, dangles in loose curls, swaying in the slight afternoon breeze. As she pauses to read her work, a small smile appears on her face.

Sofie’s love for writing began as a child when her parents told her innovative and intricate stories before bedtime. These stories were her first exposure to the world of literature and lead to Sofie’s passion for the arts.

“They were really dumb kid stories, but they really opened my creative outlook on the world,” Sofie said.

Her initial exposure to literature at a young age piqued her interest in the subject. As she was growing up, her parents were only two of the many people that helped stimulate her imagination.

“I had a lot of creative teachers in my elementary school who really fostered that creative growth in a person, so I would always take notebooks and scribble little stories on them,” Sofie said.

After fifth grade, Sofie decided to apply to several middle schools, one of which was Harker. Although her other options, like Girls Middle School and Castilleja, were very strong in STEM, Sofie wanted a better balance of both STEM and the arts.

“I felt like when I toured Harker, they had more of a focus on the humanities, and I really liked that,” she said.

Her first few weeks at Harker, although confusing, resulted in an unexpected and fateful incident.

“When I got to middle school, I happened incidentally on the art club, when I was trying to get to debate…I don’t know how I messed that up, but…I thought it sounded much better than debate, so I joined. We were making little clay pots and I was totally hooked instantly,” Sofie said.

Ever since, art has become one of her primary passions and enjoyments.

Despite her fondness for the humanities, Sofie still occasionally experiences times of confusion and self-doubt. Throughout her years at Harker, she has sometimes struggled with finding ways to express herself uniquely. Whenever she has needed guidance regarding the arts or school, former middle school art teacher Elizabeth Saltos and upper school visual arts teacher Pilar Aguero-Esparza are the first two mentors Sofie turns to.

“Silicon Valley is a very STEM-oriented place, so it’s really hard sometimes to approach things with a more creative outlook. Teachers like Saltos and Aguero-Esparza really allowed me to go outside my comfort zone…they let me play with the rules…which I really appreciated because it’s always hard to do something creative when you have boundaries,” Sofie said.

As someone who has had years of experience observing and educating budding artists, Aguero-Esparza expressed joy and satisfaction when talking about Sofie. She is especially proud of her student’s growth over these past four years, specifically regarding her bravery in submitting to the New Museum of Los Gatos (NMLG) competition.

“I was really proud, you know, whenever the students take the risk of submitting work to any kind of jury competition. It’s a hard thing to do because there were other students that didn’t get in the show. It is a process of rejection that could happen so I always applaud students who try and put their work out there to be viewed,” Aguero-Esparza said.

In her sophomore year, Sofie created a clay book with her own short story written in it as a project for her Advanced Ceramics class with Aguero-Esparza. Coincidentally, that January, the NMLG was hosting an art competition with the theme of perspective, and all highschoolers were eligible to enter. With the guidance of her teacher, Sofie submitted her clay book and story. Only one month later, she received the results.

“I went to the website but I couldn’t find the link to the list of accepted pieces. I searched the page for like an hour, [and] I was kind of freaking out; it was the first time I felt that moment of anxiety,” Sofie said.

As she recounts this memory, she also remembers the overwhelming sense of pride that she felt while reading her name on the top of that list. Surrounded by several of her privileged and accomplished peers every day, she sometimes fights the internal battle of feeling the need to do more, even when it isn’t necessary.

“I always felt like I was kind of overshadowed by the big achievements the kids here have because the kids here have a lot of achievements…I’ve always felt kind of weird, almost, because they go to robotics championships and go sit in on surgeries in Poland, things like that. Humanities kids don’t really get th[ose] opportunit[ies] as much,” Sofie said.

By taking a risk and putting her artwork up for thousands of people to see, Sofie gained newfound courage and knowledge that pushes her to take part in several other competitive arts programs today.

Sofie’s friends and teachers all independently agreed on one fact: humility is one of her most remarkable traits. Even through several outstanding achievements, she still manages to remain grounded and calm.

Sana Pandey (12), a close friend of Sofie’s, was shocked when she found out about the NMLG competition.

“I was blown away because she hadn’t told me she was applying, [and] she was super casual about it,” Sana said.

Sofie has the commendable qualities of not only humility but also the ability to think outside the box. Several of her peers and friends notice and appreciate the unique way she presents herself.

“Hair, creative, and genuinely unique” are three words that Eva Chang (12) uses to describe her friend of five years.

Sofie wanted to experiment with different ways to express herself artistically since she was young. After years of convincing her parents, she finally dyed a purple streak in her hair for the first time during the summer before 8th grade.

“I’d say over the years I’ve had at least 10 different hair colors,” Sofie said. “Purple, pink, blue, a magenta color, teal or and purple…and now my hair is blonde.”

In addition to changing her hair colors often, she also conveys her artistic nature with a quirky habit of collecting refurbished pocket watches. Four years ago, during a visit to Half Moon Bay for the pumpkin festival with her family, she came across Rewind, a small thrift booth that refurbished old pocket watches into jewelry.

“I knew pocket watches existed, obviously, but I had never realized you could make them look so pretty. I always associated [pocket watches] with the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland or something like that…it set me apart from other[s],” Sofie said.

Throughout her several years at Harker, Sofie has created a bold presence on campus by combining her artistic personality with unique forms of self-expression, ultimately paving a very successful path for herself.

“Over the years, I’ve learned how to manage my time more…and take advantage of teachers’ help, which has actually been really useful,” she said. “But [I] learn[ed] that it’s okay to not be great at everything and it’s okay to ask for help when you need [it].”