Humans of Harker: Speaking from the heart

Meha Goyal uses speech to spread kindness and to help others in her community


Lavanya Subramanian

“You can learn everything you want in the world, but if you’re not going to use it to do anything for anyone, I find [that] disappointing. What we can do is make little steps to take what we do in the classroom and really help other people with it. In general, trying to think about the impact that your actions can make … is really important, and it’s really empowering,” Meha Goyal (12) said.

Meha Goyal (12) smiles as she recounts her first speech showcase. Heart racing and palms sweating, she walks onto the stage in Nichols Auditorium. The audience quiets as she makes her way to the center of the stage. Taking a deep breath, Meha begins the extemporaneous speech she had been practicing only minutes before. As she concludes her speech, applause rings out from the audience. Adrenaline rushes through her as she scans the crowd and takes a bow. There is only one way she knows how to describe it: “thrilling.”

“I remember going on there and my mom was sitting in the auditorium watching me … There were a few errors here and there, I’m not gonna lie,” Meha said with a laugh. “But I think it’s the first time where I really gave a speech in front of such a large audience. I had a tendency to rush off the stage … but I remember this speech, I made a point to finish off strong … I felt really proud of myself [because] it’s never something I thought I could do.”

Upper school speech and debate teacher Scott Odekirk acknowledged how brave it was of Meha to perform at the showcase.

“Usually this [event] is [for] juniors and seniors who’ve … learned a lot and have a lot to show. But she was still learning, she was in her very first year of the activity, and it was so courageous,” Odekirk said. “It was this pressure-packed moment, where she was surrounded by other amazing speakers who had all this experience, and she really held her own. And I don’t think she would’ve been able to do that without uncommon courage.”

Although Meha is now confident and comfortable in her speech abilities, she felt a lack of guidance and mentorship when she first began learning speech in middle school. As she’s progressed through Harker’s high school program, she’s found that speech has many rewarding aspects to it.

“One of my favorite parts … would be learning that what you say actually impacts other people,” Meha said. “[Recently,] I gave a speech on one of Nelson Mandela’s quotes … and the judge actually told me [in] my ballots, ‘I’m going to tell my children never to give up.’ It was really nice to see someone else connect to what I say.”

Close friend Tessa Muhle (12) has also noticed how Meha’s involvement with speech has helped her gain confidence in herself and her abilities.

“[Speech] is a great way for her to … talk and get out there and think about things that she normally wouldn’t think about,” Tessa said. “It’s definitely helped her with her writing … and forming an argument, and I think it’s also made her more confident.”

Throughout high school, Meha has lived by one of Nelson Mandela’s quotes, “the greatest glory and living lies not in ever failing, but in rising every time we fall,” which has motivated her during tough times.

“The reason that [this quote] is important to me … is because coming to high school, it’s not like I succeeded everywhere I went. My speech seasons haven’t always been the most successful, or perhaps I haven’t always gotten the best grade,” Meha said. “There were times where I really could have let it get me down. [But] keeping [the quote] in mind and … learning how to move forward, take advice from other people and grow from every failure I’ve had really contributed to my successes later on in high school.”

This quote has been especially helpful to Meha in regards to her speech career. Since the beginning of her freshman year, her mindset regarding setbacks in tournaments has changed dramatically.

“Coming into high school, I was really set on getting through every tournament [and] never looking back,” Meha said. “The way this quote resonated with me was that instead of never looking back, [I should acknowledge] the fact that it didn’t go as well as I wanted it to, but then also [be] willing to take the feedback I got from the judges there and from the fellow competitors there and [apply] it towards making my next experience better.”

Odekirk has observed Meha’s determination and persistence over the past four years and notes that these are two of her most remarkable characteristics.

“When she first started in speech, I think she had a lot of unanswered questions in her mind about how she could do,” Odekirk said. “But rather than having to feel like she was good to compete, she instead said, ‘I’m going to compete as much as I can so that I can get there.’ For a lot of students that’s tough; they want to be good at something right away. But she had a different approach: she was more about committing than being good right away, and that was a really amazing trait.”

As Meha advanced further in speech, she reflected back on her earlier years and realized that she wanted to help out other students who, similar to her, may not have a lot of initial guidance in the discipline. During the summer after her sophomore year, she decided to start her own nonprofit, Speech for Change, to do just this.

“[Speech and debate] is so incredibly useful. I love speech and I love teaching. I know how hard it is to grow in speech and debate and to experience all of the amazing things that speech and debate has to offer if you don’t have any mentorship,” Meha said.

Through Meha’s experience founding and growing Speech for Change, she has matured and become more of a leader. Natasha Yen (12), another one of Meha’s close friends, observes how this change has positively benefited Meha during high school.

“Seeing her [start Speech for Change], I was really impressed and really glad to see that she was trying to help others as well, and I think that shows how she’s grown to become a mentor and a leader,” Natasha said.

Meha’s reach to help others doesn’t stop at her nonprofit. In her freshman year, she and her friends co-founded the Random Acts of Kindness club, which aims to positively impact the school community through small arts and craft projects.

“[My friends and I] were all part of these [groups] that were all aiming at making the community better,” Meha said. “And so we decided that we could combine both those ideas and do [a] creativity project, but to help improve the Harker environment, [which led to] Random Acts of Kindness club.”

Since Random Acts of Kindness is a very hands-on club, the transition to a virtual learning environment posed some challenges for them. Meha realized that although the change was difficult, it actually motivated club members to do more for their community.

“Once COVID hit [and] we had to move online, we did a Teacher Appreciation project where we all made digital cards,” Meha said. “While it was harder to do some of the activities because it wasn’t what we were used to, we did have a lot more that we wanted to talk about and a lot more that we wanted to express gratitude for.”

Ultimately, whether it’s through her nonprofit or Random Acts of Kindness, Meha has learned the importance of helping others in any way possible, even if it’s with one small action.

“You can learn everything you want in the world, but if you’re not going to use it to do anything for anyone, I find [that] disappointing,” Meha said. “What we can do is make little steps to take what we do in the classroom and really help other people with it. In general, trying to think about the impact that your actions can make … is really important, and it’s really empowering.”