Humans of Harker: Infinite possibility

Avi Gulati (12) embraces a down-to-earth pathway to the zenith of success

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Saloni Shah

“If I have to consider the most significant contributions I have made at Harker, I struggle to respond. I can’t think of a specific project or event because, to me, the well-being I bring to my community lies in the small moments: the openings of doors, the smiles, the conversations, the simple delight of bringing joy to the people around me,” Avi Gulati (12) said.

He grips onto the blue-green colored fence, holding his upper body steady and hoisting one leg over the top. As he balances in limbo, hovering over the curved edge of the rusty gate, he releases a breath and swings his other leg over the barrier. Gently jumping down onto the dirt trail, he picks up his water bottle and begins to jog along the path that overlooks Silicon Valley. 

Avi Gulati (12) welcomes the rush of unrestrained freedom from his morning runs. While other students are just beginning to get out of bed and rush into the car to reach school, Avi enjoys savoring the carefree and magical moments during his morning run; he feels one with himself and the world without worry for the assignments or deadlines that lay ahead. 

“Every day, my morning run instills in me a sense of infinite possibility. The problems that face our cities and our world are so significant that I will have to be bigger and bolder than the person I am to solve them,” Avi said. “And when I’m running and I can see the Silicon Valley, I feel like I can rise to any challenge.”

Since fifth grade, you have inevitably seen Avi with his large grin across campus in various capacities from opening doors with Student Council to engaging in deep conversation to dancing to Bollywood songs. He embodies courage and character as a leader who works tirelessly to ensure the welfare of the Harker community and embraces encouraging and vital conversations about who we are as a culture and as a community. 

“If I have to consider the most significant contributions I have made at Harker, I struggle to respond. I can’t think of a specific project or event because, to me, the well-being I bring to my community lies in the small moments: the openings of doors, the smiles, the conversations, the simple delight of bringing joy to the people around me,” Avi said.

As the Associated Student Body (ASB) President, every four days at school meeting, Avi opens his arms and, gripping onto the microphone, welcomes his audience of over 900 students and faculty. Leading the student body, Avi has multiple roles to fill, from the spirit of support to the beacon of resilience in the community to the shoulder for anyone to cry on. This role is amorphous due to the changing needs of the community. 

“I enjoy serving my peers because their desires constantly change. I encounter new challenges every day from a lack of political discourse on campus to a need for better WiFi in the library. My role is never fixed, it’s always in flux. And I love that,” Avi said. 

A charismatic leader, he is widely respected and has led Harker to new heights. While Avi was sophomore class president, tragedy struck at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, and the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting rocked the nation. As the whole Harker community struggled to cope with the aftermath of the shooting, Avi too felt lost. In those trying circumstances, he rose as a leader and organized a vigil to bring the student community together and mourn the victims.

“It felt like we came to school with our minds, but our hearts were left at home. And so we were repressing our emotions at school,” Avi said. “The way that I respond to challenges is by bringing people together and basking in the connections that we can forge with one another.” 

Due to Avi’s efforts and leadership, Harker transformed from a place of muted grief to one of solace and solidarity. 

Avi also exemplifies his persistent effort through speech and debate. Training and discipline are two important qualities to embody, and Avi has illustrated both in his illustrious career. With a singular focus, he has won national titles in speech and debate from the prestigious Tournament of Champions in Kentucky to the Stanford Invitational. While Avi is most known for original oratory, he has won accolades in different events like congressional debate, extemporaneous speaking, world schools debate and impromptu speaking. 

Avi’s speech and debate coach Scott Odekirk describes Avi as someone who thrives in the face of pressure and presents himself with courage and ambition.

“Avi’s known as the nicest guy and the kindest competitor. But he’s also one of the most fierce competitors I’ve ever had, who aspires to be the best, and wants to prove it over and over,” Odekirk said. “And from a teacher coach perspective, you love teaching that and coaching that because you know that all you need to do is help them get better and give them your feedback and give them your suggestions … You never have to motivate them to improve. You never have to explain to them the right way to compete. They’re always just right there, and we can be so content focused … He’s a real once in a generation kind of student.”

Yet, Avi keeps his feet on the ground and focuses on his experiences and personal growth. Reflecting on his seven-year journey with the speech and debate program, Avi is grateful that speech has helped him discover who he is and who he wants to be in this world. 

“I feel like persuading somebody is perhaps one of the hardest tasks in the entire world. [You have to] convince someone of a viewpoint that’s different from their own. And in order to do that, you need to be certain in yourself first. Speech and debate has given me the platform to discover a voice that is unabashedly and unapologetically my own,” he said.

The speech and debate team has become Avi’s second family. They travel together for tournaments, learn more about one another through games, take photos together and share their disappointments and successes with one another. As a team captain, Avi is an inspiration for the new members and along with his friends, he is proud of his contribution to grow the program from four to thirty students.

Odekirk appreciates Avi’s leadership and ability to cohesively “fire up” the team whether it be on an early morning or after a long competition.

“The reason why he’s our student body president is because of the energy – that thing that he exudes to everyone else. He’s like, ‘I got all this, I have this huge battery pack here. So everybody else kind of take from it and let’s all just expand together.’ He does the same thing on the team,” Odekirk said.

Close friend and fellow speech and debate participant Tiffany Zhao (12) recounts a tournament where Avi chose to coach his two underclassmen roommates rather than spend time with his senior friends at one of their last tournaments.

“Avi dedicated his evening to helping these two underclassmen working on oratory instead of hanging out with his friends which I honestly think most second semester seniors would not do,” Tiffany said. “So I think that really just goes to show what kind of personality he has that really cares about charity, helping others, connecting with others … He just wanted to have this memory of spending this night with these two underclassmen at a tournament and that’s exactly what he said afterwards, he was like, ‘I’m so glad I chose to do that … I’ll remember it forever.’”

While Avi has definitely made his mark on campus, family always comes first. Supported by loving parents and raised with two siblings, Avi looks forward to his brotherly “fights” in the evenings. Going out for ice cream, playing together with their dog and watching Criminal Minds are just some of the activities Avi and Aaditya Gulati (10) enjoy together. 

Whether it be boy scouts or speech and debate or school or his Indian community, Avi does his best to connect and forge bonds in all his activities.

“I think across all my passions and my interests, there’s an unfettered desire to bring life and enthusiasm to what I study and who I am or what I’m interested in to really be effervescent and enthusiastic in the pursuit of my passions,” Avi said. “I think I can be interested in anything as long as I’m interested. I think I can invest myself in anything as long as I can see it through the lens of something exciting and meaningful.” 

Close friend Rani Sheth (12) appreciates Avi’s “natural charisma” and his ability to push boundaries to encourage personal growth.

“Avi’s so honest with you, and he’s not afraid to give his opinion if it means that it helps you for the better,” Rani said. “He’s one of the only people I know where I’m so confident that he’s going to have a successful future and continue to impact people.”