Humans of Harker: The magnificence of mystery

Benjamin Gicqueau challenges social expectations with sensitivity and exuberance

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Anoushka Buch

“I realized that I’m sick of everyone and everything trying to be the same. My approach in life is to say something, do something, write something, that no one’s ever written, thought or done before. I’m outgoing, extroverted, silly, adventurous, but I really try to lean into the strangeness, the unknown, the mystery,” Benjamin Gicqueau (12) said.

When high school students describe their passions in life, having conversations with senior citizens probably wouldn’t factor into most of their lists. For Benjamin Gicqueau (12), this is not the case. Among his accomplishments, he lists assisting an elderly woman in Kansas City write a book on climate change, sparking an argument on Facebook about whether seniors are wise or not and connecting a volunteer in his program with a lesbian senior, in order to help them become more comfortable with their identity.

For most of Benjamin’s life, demonstrating compassion and showing understanding to others, especially to the elderly, has been extremely important. Growing up close to his grandparents, he learned how important connections with other people are to seniors, especially now during the pandemic, which is worsening the feeling of isolation some seniors already felt. He also realizes how his close relationship with his grandparents affected him growing up.

“I was a really sensitive kid growing up. I remember I cried every single day until seventh grade. There’s a softness that comes with grandparents, and [a] patience, that is very valuable. Especially as someone who’s really sensitive, they helped me turn that sensitivity, [and] rather than anger and shame for feeling so much, [they helped me] take those feelings, and feel them towards other people, like compassion,” Benjamin said.

His overall experience with the elderly as well as his drive to ensure their happiness inspired him to found Project ToLife, an organization where student volunteers can reach out to seniors and build relationships with them. Through building this program, Benjamin learned more about himself and how helping the seniors helped him grow.

“Finding the seniors and connecting to them opened a door, a door that I’ve been trying to open my whole life. The more I do it, the better I feel not just about myself, but about the other people around me in the community I’ve grown of seniors who I’ve been in touch with [and] who [I] have connected to,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin was always extroverted, but it wasn’t always easy for him to express himself truthfully. He struggled with insecurities in the past, and over time, he realized he felt untruthful in how he was behaving around others.

“I was so small and so self-conscious about it that I was like, ‘Okay, for people to overlook my height, my physical appearance, I’m going to be as big and loud as possible,’” Benjamin said. “And then I’d come home, and I’d be super depressed because I was using all my acting at school, and I didn’t have any energy. And when I started growing, junior year, I realized how I was not happy. I was growing, but I was not happy because I was still being [a] fraudulent person.”

This experience pushed him towards Harker Spirit, where he is currently the vice president. Spirit is a way for him to not only express his creativity for his community, but also a way for him to help others grow as well as accept themselves and their insecurities, as he did.

“You create these events and help other people and maybe help another kid who’s five feet and super loud because he’s insecure about himself. Why don’t you give him a space to embrace himself rather than be someone else?” Benjamin said.

Throughout high school, Benjamin found that conversation was something he strongly valued. He learned that being able to talk to others and learn from them is something he enjoys and is a significant step in becoming a better person.

“I’m a person who feeds off of other people. And so I feel best when I’m in conversation, when I’m talking to people, when I’m challenging them and they’re challenging me and it’s a game of Lego swords and fencing and fighting and dancing—I’m all for that,” Benjamin said.

It’s not just Benjamin who appreciates his ability to converse with virtually anyone he meets. Close friend Chloe Affaki (12) cites his conversational skills as one of his biggest strengths.

“He loves making jokes and having fun, but he’s also definitely the type of person that you will never have a conversation with him like you have with someone else. He always tries to take unique approaches to any sort of scenario, trying to think of connections between things,” Chloe said.

Benjamin’s friend Arusha Patil (12) also appreciates his good-natured personality and sees his hunger for information and drive to learn new things as unique.

“Ben is one of the most positive people I know; he’s also one of the most inquisitive. He sees the best in all of his friends. Something that exemplifies his curiosity is how he always listens to podcasts. He always has a podcast to recommend to someone [in] any topic you can think of because he’s always consuming information,” Arusha said.

English teacher Charles Shuttleworth elaborates on his enthusiasm and curiosity, describing some of his best qualities as a student.

“Benjamin is a really intelligent and thoughtful person, really determined to learn. He’s got a lot of energy about learning and exploring. It’s really fun to teach him because of that; he really gets enthusiastic and wants to know more,” Shuttleworth said.

Through his years at Harker, Benjamin has developed his personality, trying to take unique approaches to everything and embracing himself overall.

“I realized that I’m sick of everyone and everything trying to be the same. My approach in life is to say something, do something and write something that no one’s ever written, thought or done before,” Benjamin said. “I’m outgoing, extroverted, silly, adventurous, but I really try to lean into the strangeness, the unknown, the mystery.”