Humans of Harker: Pictures for a purpose

Whether in the middle of the field or on the sidelines, Anna Vazhaeparambil bridges communities

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Esha Gohil

“Being able to report on my community from the sidelines has given me a platform to be able to do something with my voice, to find communities that we’re not covering and to connect with them, to form a bridge between, quite literally, the people who are on the gym floor playing that sports game and the people in the stands,” Anna Vazhaeparambil (12) said.

Anna Vazhaeparambil (12) remembers carving a small space for herself on the press stand, hands smoothly adjusting the lens of her black camera, as she takes pictures alongside journalists from some of the nation’s biggest publications at Bernie Sanders’ rally in San Francisco last March.

“[The rally] was a pivotal moment within my journalism career, understanding we are not limited to our campus gates. There’s so much we can do, and there’s so many important topics, and that includes national politics, that we can make local and bring home,” Anna said.

Anna has been involved in journalism ever since her freshman year. She has embraced the program as a means of connecting herself to the Harker community and exploring her interests. As she has grown through the program as a journalist, Anna has become a leader, serving as editor-in-chief of Harker Aquila.

Additionally, she has been named the 2021 California Journalist of the Year and a national runner-up for the program, which honors the strongest high school journalists across the country. Brit Taylor, one of the the Journalist of the Year award judges, highlighted Anna’s sustained and extensive dedication to the Harker Aquila staff.

“Getting that opportunity [in journalism] to do something so out of my comfort zone and find joy in doing it has been inspiring,” Anna said. “It’s given me a lot of purpose throughout the years and [helped me] finally find my place within the school.”

While reporting and taking photographs, she has found that she has an opportunity to observe from the sidelines, rather than being at the center of the attention or action. This opportunity has allowed her to watch, listen and be present in a new type of space and gain fulfillment in doing so.

“In journalism, we are not front and center: we are on the sidelines with the camera reporting on what’s happening. There’s so [many] negative connotations associated with that [as if] you should aspire to be at the front,” Anna said. “Journalism has taught me to have pride in being someone on the sidelines and to proudly wear that title because there’s purpose in what we do.”

Upper school director of journalism Ellen Austin, who has taught Anna in the journalism elective for four years, encourages her to hold her pride and purpose close to her and to anchor herself in her bravery.

“Never sway from doing what you believe and accessing that inner strength to propel you forward. The world needs you to do that,” Austin said.

Anna has been able to understand the importance of her voice when she is on the sidelines, talking and listening to the world around her.

“Being able to report on my community from the sidelines has given me a platform to be able to do something with my voice, to find communities that we’re not covering and to connect with them, to form a bridge between, quite literally, the people who are on the gym floor playing that sports game and the people in the stands,” Anna said.

Turning away from the sidelines and into the middle of the field, Anna serves as the captain of the lacrosse team, playing fiercely and cheering her teammates on while being front and center. In these moments, she is not thinking about facts or about capturing beautiful pictures of the game. Instead, her mind is focused on her body, the game and the people around her. Being both a journalist and an athlete means that Anna can see herself and the world around her in multidimensional ways.

“Sometimes I’m the one in the front and the center, and it’s cool to be able to have those different roles and to get both perspectives: to have the exhilaration, the rush and the emotions of being an athlete and internalizing that moment as a journalist,” Anna said.

Anna has also been involved in humanities research, and she finds joy in the topics she studies when she is able to understand and engage with the worldly impacts of her research.

“I’ve definitely found a specific focus in social science research because for me there’s so much real-world implication and so much tangible impact. When I was conducting immigration research, I was speaking to the people directly affected by my work,” Anna said. ”I could see the people and the faces that matched the work I was doing.”

Anna has maintained her drive, energy and focus in everything she does, which has inspired the people around her.

“Her commitment is something that I look up to: I’ve seen her grow with her hard work and passion,” Ankita Kundu (12), who has been friends with Anna since sixth grade, said.

As a friend, Anna is playful and kind. Even when she is busy with her activities, she always looks out for the people around her.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that she always has a smile on your face. Even when things are tough … she’s always very funny and she always has a really nice spin on things. I really look to her for her positive light,” close friend Sara Yen (12) said.

In addition to her friends, Anna values the support and solace she has always had from her family.

“I have a twin sister and a younger sister. So I grew up with my best friends. We’ve done everything together,” Anna said. “It’s been really reassuring to have that constant support.”

In the end, as a journalist, as an athlete and as a research scholar, Anna connects herself back to what she loves: engaging with true stories in various ways to learn more about the people and places around her.

“It’s not all about everything that’s in your textbooks [or] on your grade report. Learning is so much more than that, and what you can do with that education is so powerful,” Anna said. “Whether it’s through talking to people as a reporter or volunteering, being able to make those kinds of real world, tangible connections, [allows me] to form my own understanding of others and to get closer to the people around me.”