Humans of Harker: All fun and games

Montek Kalsi (‘20) finds enjoyment within the work


Jin Tuan

“You just have to go for it. You think, ‘In the future, if I think back and regret it, is that how I want to end up — or would I rather just try something and see what happens?’ Usually, it turns out well,” Montek Kalsi (’20) said. 

As music blares in the parking lot after school, a flurry of cards sprays into the air and scatters all over the shining roof of the jet black Mazda6 as Montek Kalsi (’20) — clad in an olive sweatshirt and gold-rimmed glasses — poses through the sunroof for his Humans of Harker portrait, a smile on his face.

Meeting Montek for the first time, he strikes you as someone shy — quiet, reserved, even self-possessed, immersed in a world of coding and gaming. Yet, as he opens up, an entirely new personality emerges — a hilarious friend, a strategic thinker and a supportive teammate. 

“Montek is not a person who talks a lot or actively reaches out. He’s more of a kind of keeps-to-himself kind of guy,” David Feng (’20), a close friend who met Montek in freshman year and has worked with him on Student Council, said. “He completely blew my expectations out of the water after I got to know him better. He’s a lot more than you think of him on the surface.”

Aware of his shyness, Montek has actively tried to seek opportunities to challenge himself throughout high school, building confidence and hurdling his fears. 

“Fear of embarrassment is what holds me back, but then I weigh the benefits versus drawbacks,” Montek said. “Sure, I might feel embarrassed, but what’s the worst that could actually happen? It’s probably not going to happen anyway.”

Weighing the possible outcomes and employing rational thought to overcome his fears emerges as a style of thinking influenced heavily by games — the strategic games that Montek enjoys (Coup, Resistance, Brawl Stars, just to name a few) to both connect with friends and satisfy a competitive itch. In learning from and playing these games, he has come to generalize his approach to other aspects of life as well. 

“You can treat a lot of things like games. I started taking game theory this semester just because I wanted to explore that. You start thinking in terms of what are the outcomes that you want, what do you know, and what can you do with what you think other people will do,” Montek said.  

Implementing this ideology to life, in general, has allowed Montek to conquer his fears, becoming more social and actively working to eliminate regrets. 

“Throughout high school, I’ve been putting myself out there through dances and performing violin,” Montek said. “I didn’t want to leave high school regretting not talking to people.” 

For instance, in serving as the senior class treasurer last year, Montek forced himself to assume a public position, creating the opportunity to meet and interact with individuals across campus. As a member of the food committee on Student Council, he helped coordinate one of the only successful food trucks of the year, bringing in crêpes and generating over $800 in sales — an event that necessitated him to communicate with various groups.   

“I was really proud of him for being able to organize this school-wide event because it’s not too easy to organize a truck that’s really popular, find the right days and go through the right logistics,” David said.  

Underneath his mission to push his comfort zone and interact with more people lies a simple desire: to make those around him happy. 

“I want to make people laugh. There’s a lot of people here in our grade who I’ve known since a long time ago, so I wanted to give back and help solidify friendships before I leave,” Montek said. 

He’s good at it, too. Ask his friends, his teachers, or even random classmates, and they all paint the same picture: a hilarious personality who uplifts those around him. 

“He’ll just randomly do or say something really funny and you can’t do anything but laugh. He’s always willing to put himself out there to make a joke,” Gabriel Chai (’20), who first met Montek in his kindergarten homeroom, said. “Whenever I’m feeling down, I know I can count on him to keep my spirits up. It’s helped me learn to always look at the bright side of things and be more optimistic.”

Even within larger groups, such as the around 100-person upper school orchestra, Montek’s vibrant personality shines through. Having played the violin in the orchestra since sixth grade, he approaches his music with cautious confidence that creates a comforting environment for those around him. 

“Life seems like a joy [to him]. I don’t know many students that seem to enjoy life as much as he does,” upper school Orchestra teacher Dr. David Hart, who has known Montek since middle school, said. “But the difference from middle school is [that] he’s grown up. Now, I think he feels the freedom and the comfortableness inside himself to express that without any fear.”

Despite this game-centric approach to life, Montek manages to strike a careful balance between light-heartedness and seriousness. With an internal drive for continual improvement, he finds fun within working closely with his friends. 

“He’s the ultimate team player. He’s doing a senior showcase, and he chose to do a duet instead of solo piece, and he wants to now involve piano too, so it’s a trio. He likes being a part of a group that’s working towards a common goal,” Dr. Hart said. “I get to witness how his social interactions have elevated the sense of feeling comfortable and willingness to take a risk.”

Even outside of school, Montek brings this same philosophy to coding, focusing on the fun of the challenge rather than the grueling task that lies ahead. Working with his peers at AlphaStar, a math and computer science camp, to prepare for computing olympiad problems allows him to feel that same sense of closeness, of fun within the work. 

“There’s so much you get to work on together. You have challenging problems, and you get to sit around eating chow mein and drinking Capri Suns under trees somewhere and just discuss those,” Montek said.

Ultimately, Montek lives as a strategic risk-taker, focused on making both himself and everybody around him happier by putting himself out there and enjoying life. 

“You just have to go for it. You think, ‘In the future, if I think back and regret it, is that how I want to end up — or would I rather just try something and see what happens?’ Usually, it turns out well,” Montek said.