Humans of Harker: Beyond perception

Maya Shukla (12) delves deep into her passions


Esha Gohil

“[Kickboxing] really just helps me clear my mind … It’s kind of a way to step back and also burn off some pent-up stress. It’s great to get exercise and build muscle, but it’s also really stress-relieving,” Maya Shukla (12) said. 

With each satisfying smack of the gloves against the punching bag, Maya Shukla (12) breathes in deeply and refocuses her eyes upon the large black bag. Although the sixty-minute kickboxing class begins and ends with a cardio and core-intensive full-body workout, Maya maintains her vigor throughout the session. As she brings the workout to an end by unwinding the damp strips of cloth from around her hands, she then steps out the gym doors with high spirits, sweat and a smile. 

Introduced to the sport when her lacrosse coach recommended a class, Maya decided to join a kickboxing gym that opened near her house. Using this activity as a way to destress, she can take a step back from whatever she is busy with at the time.

“[Kickboxing] really just helps me clear my mind … It’s kind of a way to step back and also burn off some pent-up stress. It’s great to get exercise and build muscle, but it’s also really stress-relieving,” Maya said. 

Known to most as the quiet girl who plays drums in jazz band, Maya generally sticks to those she’s comfortable with. Beyond this modest personality, nevertheless, is a different young woman.

Katie Chang (12), who has known Maya since eighth grade, is familiar with Maya’s loud side and can often be found walking around campus with her. Above all, Katie notes Maya’s ability to laugh at herself and return lighthearted banter. 

“Maya is a funny and chill person when you get to know her. She has an interesting fear of mushrooms, avocados, carrots … all vegetables, basically,” Katie said, laughing.

Even though Maya understands why she can be perceived as quiet, she wishes others recognized that reserved people should not be underestimated.

“The music I listen to, the instrument that I play, the stuff I do … the person that comes to mind is a lot more outgoing and exciting. I know that I come across as an introvert, but I … wish I didn’t,” Maya said.

Carolyn Lu (12) became a close friend of Maya’s in eighth grade and admires her for being extremely selfless and inclusive; She mentioned that Maya notices everyone in the room and respects them for their assets, no matter how small. 

“[Maya’s] a person who doesn’t want to hurt anybody, she’s very accommodating. She always finds ways for people to make themselves feel more comfortable and doesn’t make it super obvious,” Carolyn said.

In her free time, Maya visits upper school history and social science teacher Carol Green, who taught Maya U.S. History last year. Green’s room in Shah is usually packed with chattering students, but as Green describes Maya’s dedication to the class’s stash of strangely flavored coffee creamers, the crowd quiets. Former peers from across the room yell out their favorite flavor, laughing at the memories.

“She’s hilarious, and she makes hilarious jokes and observations. Maya has the most unique insight into things, and the more you get to know her, the more she is willing to open up and share things like that,” Green said. 

Maya’s easygoing yet lively personality blends with her love for children. Drawn to volunteer work, she has devoted herself to the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula (BGCP) for four years. In this youth philanthropy group, Maya served on the leadership board for two years, running meetings, inviting speakers, organizing volunteer events and leading service projects. During last year’s holiday season, she made and delivered gift baskets to underprivileged families. 

“Many of the children don’t have anything to call their own, so when you give, you’re giving them the ability to say, ‘This is mine.’ It gives me a new perspective,” Maya said.

In fact, one of Maya’s most rewarding experiences while working with her community was while she was volunteering at BGCP. She noticed a boy with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) having a difficult time understanding activities and connecting with those around him. For the next three days, she spent one-on-one time with him. 

“On the last day, I came in late and saw him sewing by himself without any problems. He was so happy and came to show me saying, ‘Look, I did it all by myself!’ Even though all the other kids finished long before him, he persevered. I was really proud of him and happy I could help,” Maya said.

Afterward, Maya took an interest in ASD and interned at Stanford’s Wall Lab, studying ways to diagnose kids with ASD before they reach four years old.  

“The disorder is challenging because there aren’t a lot of therapists for ASD these days,” she said. “The ratio between therapists and children diagnosed with ASD is really unbalanced, especially for the people who can’t afford the therapists.”

From kickboxing to volunteering, Maya invests herself in everything she does. Despite her quiet nature, she treasures the interactions that come from doing what she loves, even if it is something unexpected.