Humans of Harker: Rise to unite

Roma Gandhi (12) leads by inclusion


Kathy Fang

“Nothing is too crazy. Nothing is too much. Everything can be achieved if you just put your mind to it,” Roma Gandhi (12) said.

Wherever she is, whatever she’s doing, Roma Gandhi (12) is not one to sit quietly on the sidelines: She’s at the front of the bleachers, cheering on her classmates as they race across the gym floor. She’s out in the middle of the field, dancing to a track of “Singing in the Rain” as her classmates’ cheers drown out the song. She’s standing on stage with the microphone in hand and a smile on her face, presenting her newest idea to the class of 2020.

If she’s not at the center of the scene, then she’s leading organization efforts backstage or cheering on peers from the stands. She always wants to “be a part of it,” as she often says, and she’s never afraid to claim her seat at the table.

A glance at Roma’s resumé proves not only the success of her mission, but the impact that her voice has left on her community, as she pioneered initiatives that have become a part of her legacy as a student leader.

Roma doesn’t lead for her own benefit, though: She’s in it for the entire student body, fighting to benefit the lives of her peers.

As a freshman, Roma was still a new face to the class of 2020, but even though she had only been at Harker for less than a year, she already knew that she wanted to be a part of its legacy.

Her determination to make a positive contribution to the upper school led her to take up multiple leadership roles at the end of her freshman year, earning new responsibilities as assistant director and operations officer for CareerConnect and BeCon respectively, two business clubs that help students develop their professional careers.

This alone didn’t satisfy Roma’s ambitions: Roma also decided to run for sophomore class treasurer.

“In ninth grade, just sitting in the audience and seeing the impact student council can have on the student community, I really wanted to be a part of that,” she said.

After days of campaigning and hours of speechwriting, she won the election, inaugurating her career as a student council representative at Harker.

Roma had held other student government positions before and knew firsthand the central role of student council representatives in school decisions.

“I feel like I always want to be on the decision-making side of things. I really see myself as someone who always wants to make a change, a positive impact,” Roma said. “Being in a leadership role is the best way you can do that and the best way you can impact people’s school experience for the better.”

Once elected, Roma had no time to waste: She immediately dove into implementing the ideas and improvements that had initially fueled her campaign, including the sophomore fundraiser, which she reimagined as the first sophomore smoothie sale.

“I’m a person who really likes to take risks and try new things, and I always feel like we can do better than what we’re already doing,” Roma said.

She presented her plan for the smoothie fundraiser, detail by detail, at class meeting, asking each advisory to pitch in ingredients and participate in smoothie-making sessions, which Roma hoped would not only raise money but also foster class bonding and the spirit of inclusion.

That year, Roma faced her share of personal trials and obstacles, even from the start of her involvement with student council. Roma suffered a concussion and spinal cord injury in November 2017 that took her out of school for four months and confined her to bed rest — right around the time that the sophomore class council was planning the smoothie sales.

Although she couldn’t leave the house and suffered from headaches and sensory sensitivity, Roma did everything she could to help out and contribute her share in the organization process, including staying in touch via video calls.

“The smoothie sale was really like my baby, and I just really wanted to be a part of it even though I wasn’t at school,” she said.

Roma, a self-described “very social person,” also wasn’t used to being out of the loop with her friends, whom she couldn’t see for four months. Even after returning to school, she felt a gap between herself and her community.

The first day that she returned to school, in February 2018, was a class meeting day: as much as Roma had tried to stay a part of everything, she felt the effects of her prolonged absence.

“I remember the day I came back — we actually had class meeting, and I wasn’t on stage for that. I was sitting on the side and just listening to Avi and Alyssa were saying about the different events we’re doing now, and I was just like, ‘Wait, I missed so much’,” she said, her smile fading at the memory.

Although the accident proved to be a formidable obstacle to Roma’s mission, she persevered. Fueled by the support and encouragement of the community around her, Roma saw her idea for a sophomore smoothie sale to its realization and success.

“We actually made more money than the sophomore bake sale had ever made in the past, so I definitely say I’m really proud of myself for taking that kind of risk,” she said.

Roma’s experience overcoming the challenges of her injury and revolutionizing the sophomore fundraiser proved her strength of character, as Roma’s class dean at the time, Kelly Horan, observed.

“What I respect most about Roma is that that was a hard year for her and in that she showed a lot of strength and resilience in not dropping the things that she had committed to, even though she was working through some other things on the side that significantly affected her life,” Horan said. “Her sophomore year was not an easy year, and there would have been lots and lots of kids who would have tried to stop, but that girl, she’s got a lot of heart.”

After her accident, Roma learned to maintain a new balanced perspective on her life, drawing strength from her past experiences to overcome obstacles in her way.

“Obviously, I wish that accident never happened, but in some ways, it’s taught me a lot on how to manage everything,” she said. “Whenever I’m feeling stressed, [or] I have too many tests or too much work, I just think that how did I manage it back then, with so much pain? … This isn’t the worst of the worst situations. I’ve been through a lot worse in the past.”

That sense of perspective proved to be useful in the spring of her junior year when Roma faced yet another challenge during the height of ASB election season, when campaign posters covered campus in vibrant colors and rhythmic slogans.

Roma had her eye on the position of ASB Vice President. With two listed candidates, it was the only ASB race with more than one candidate on the ballot. Roma worked tirelessly on her campaign, crafting posters and perfecting her speech.

On election day, Roma was campaigning outside the journalism room and encouraging her peers to vote, when she overheard a disheartening comment made by two boys who claimed that Roma wouldn’t be as good as her opponent: She was a girl and couldn’t do the job as well as a boy.

“Just that one statement kind of made all that work seem almost useless,” Roma said. “I was really sad, but then that sadness turned into almost anger, a little bit. Like how can people still think this way, like how can our generation still think this way?”

Roma lost the election to her opponent. Although she knew there was still time to run for class council president, her defeat in the ASB elections and the gendered challenge that she had encountered led her down a path of self-doubt.

Her parents discouraged her from taking on additional responsibilities in senior year, but the thought of not being a part of student government made Roma realize how important student council was to her.

“I was just like, ‘No, I want to be part of it.’ I feel like I’ve put in so much throughout these years and I’ve enjoyed it so much, I honestly never found an activity that I’ve enjoyed so much,” she said. “I really just wanted to continue that and be a part of making a positive impact.”

Roma then decided that she would run for senior class president. As the only female candidate in the race, she faced another potential obstacle of gender norms. She knew that if her mission as a student council officer is to be the voice of her class and a representative of the student body, her campaign would prove not only to be a show of resilience to inspire her peers, but also to give the girls in her class a voice in student government.

After another round of campaigns and speeches, Roma won the race for senior class president, becoming the leader and the voice of the class of 2020.

“A girl definitely does have the potential to be an equally effective leader, and just being the female representative, I’m really proud of the fact that I am because I feel like I get to have a voice for the females in our grade,” she said.

She was elected with a new group of student council representatives — all male students — since her previous “family” of councilmates ascended to ASB.

“I’m proud of the fact that I can show people that a girl can be an effective leader and also that a girl can lead guys, and it’s not just the boy always has to hold that top spot,” Roma said.

Roma fights for the people whom she represents, and her inclusive leadership style brings unity to her class and her peers. Whether it be on the campaign trail or in the gym during spirit week, Roma pioneers a mission of universal inclusion, one that gives everyone an opportunity to, in Roma’s words, “be a part of it.”

“I feel like her leadership style is inclusive because she puts herself in the positions of other parties and tries to think through what they want and tries to empathize with them,” said Roma’s fellow class council representative of two years Alyssa Huang (12).

ASB president and fellow senior Avi Gulati agrees.

“Roma has a way of weaving unity into any fabric,” Avi said, reflecting on his first year working with Roma. “She really wanted everyone to be together, and she embraces the spirit of solidarity wherever she goes.”

Roma’s peers have also been a source of strength for her, teaching her how to be a true leader in the face of adversity and build a symbiotic environment for everyone.

“They’ve really taught me how to take an idea or a thought and really turn it into something because we’ve so many people who are so spirited about making things actually happen,” Roma said.

Roma’s high school experiences, from her first campaign, to her accident, to her many projects and accomplishments on council, have inspired her to always strive for better and rise above any challenge to bring her visions to realization.

“Nothing is too crazy. Nothing is too much. Everything can be achieved if you just put your mind to it,” Roma said.