Humans of Harker: Making her own way

Varsha Rammohan stays true to herself, finding self-confidence along her journey


Alysa Suleiman

“I’m a person who’s comfortable being by myself. But when I think of Jo, she was this headstrong, brilliant, determined, opinionated woman, and when I was younger, Jo was who I wanted to be when I grew up,” Varsha Rammohan (12) said.

“I intend to make my own way in this world.”

The independent and unapologetically defiant words uttered by tomboy Josephine “Jo” March, protagonist of Louisa May Alcott’s heartfelt, coming-of-age novel “Little Women.”

From a first glance, the differences between Jo and her younger sister, quiet and shy Elizabeth “Beth” March, seems incredibly vast. But beneath the former’s frenzied antics and the latter’s patient smile, Jo and Beth’s differences bind them as the closest of the four Match girls throughout the entire novel, caring and loving each other with a fierceness only sisters could.

In this dichotomy between Alcott’s fictional characters, Varsha Rammohan (12) finds a juncture of relatability and comfort.

“My favorite book of all time is ‘Little Women,’” said Varsha, who first read the book in second grade and made it a point to read again every year afterwards. “That book truly changed my life forever.”

Like Beth, Varsha isn’t the loudest person in the room. Varsha found entering a new high school incredibly awkward, and, at first, the transition to this unfamiliar environment proved a noticeable challenge.

“I’m a person who’s comfortable being by myself,” Varsha said. “But when I think of Jo, she was this headstrong, brilliant, determined, opinionated woman, and when I was younger, Jo was who I wanted to be when I grew up. ”

By reading, Varsha found her “perfect form of escapism.” The pandemic provided her the long-forgotten opportunity to dive back into the literary world because without the extra free time at home, Varsha would never have thought of picking up a book again.

During the summer of 2020, she spent hours reading with close friend Arushee Bhoja (‘19), delighting in reaching reading goals and discussing intricate plots and character arcs afterwards. Arushee sees a likeness in Varsha and many of their favorite characters: empathetic, thoughtful, kind.

“When you bring those qualities together, we always have really meaningful conversations,” Arushee said. “I can always go in more depth [with Varsha] because she’s such a reflective individual.”

Alongside reading, Varsha has also carried a genuine and longtime love for writing, another similarity she shares with comfort character Jo. Jo’s ardor, Varsha said, inspired her to explore more. Signing up for journalism in her freshman year did just that. Through journalism, she began finding her “own way in this world,” just as Jo did.

Since second grade, Varsha’s morning routine consisted of running down the driveway to get the morning paper and bringing it back to the breakfast table to read with her dad. This slow accumulation of knowledge, chipping away at the mountain of local, national and international news, became the foundation of her reporting skills and eventual leadership in journalism. Just reading the news each day gave her the yearning to learn more about the world outside her community bubble.

“It’s a practice that’s stayed with me since because I think there’s so much conversation and so much discourse that you can be a part of by flipping through the paper,” Varsha said.

A decade later, as a senior in high school, Varsha found herself staring at a Zoom screen filled with the faces of aspiring young journalists, some only freshmen journalism “cubs” who eagerly awaited her directions. On Nov. 3, the night of the 2020 presidential election, Varsha, one of the editors-in-chief of Harker Aquila, faced a long night and the mighty task of updating Aquila’s website with live coverage of the election. As the state votes began flooding in, a close mix of red and blue, Aquila’s coverage followed suit.

“This presidential election, especially since a couple other people and I have been covering since the primaries [in] March 2020, was a really rewarding time since we could watch everything come together as a staff,” Varsha said. “We live in such a politically charged environment, so speaking from a student journalist’s perspective, there’s always something to cover.”

Though she carried herself as a confident leader, Varsha started out like any other freshman joining the journalism program: eager to write, but a little nervous and completely unaware of the hectic world within the newsroom.

Through working closely with older editors, she began to find her rhythm as a writer and a reporter, and eventually, became a role model the incoming classes could look up to. In reaching that echelon, she credits the undeniable guidance and mentorship of her journalism family.

“The beauty of the program is that I learned so much from working with older editors, and that started from my freshman year,” Varsha said. “Having that support system of older editors and people from all different grades who I would never have talked to, if not for journalism, is what made me realize that this is something I really wanted to continue doing.”

Now in her last year of high school, Varsha hopes that she can pass on everything she learned to continue the cycle of mentorship that she feels so grateful to have been a part of.

“Now that I’m a senior and upperclassman, it’s really special to watch younger reporters and writers blossom into really talented reporters and editors,” Varsha said. “Such a special part of journalism is that there’s always that mentoring and teaching and learning aspect.”

Varsha’s extensive knowledge and sensitivity on topics allows her to empathize strongly with others, not only in her newsroom but with the communities she volunteers with beyond.

When she wanted to find a way to use her privilege to give back, her mother became one of her “biggest role models” to become more appreciative and aware of her surroundings and her place in the community.

“My mom has had a tremendous impact on me in helping me realize the power of volunteering and the power of community service,” Varsha said.

In first grade, Varsha’s mother would bring her and her brother to various volunteering events. Varsha’s earliest memory of volunteering emerged from the organization “My New Red Shoes,” which hosted back-to-school drives that donated volunteer-made school kits to low income people.

Then, since she was 7 or 8, Varsha and her mother would wake up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings, drive to a family friend’s house to make sandwiches and then deliver them to unsheltered populations in San Francisco’s Mission District, rain or shine.

“She’s really genuine, a very loyal friend, and she’s so compassionate and understanding,” close friend of four years Advika Phadnis (12) said. “That really shows in how much she cares about volunteering and giving back [to] the community.”

Throughout high school, Varsha grew into a confidence she never knew she had. Varsha harnesses the best qualities of both Beth and Jo: the humble, giving nature of the younger sister, and the caring, passionate self-confidence of the older one.

“She’s really grown a lot,” upper school English teacher Charles Shuttleworth, who taught Varsha during her freshman year as well as her senior year, said. “As a ninth grader, I was really impressed with her intelligence, but now, she’s also gained a lot more confidence, she’s so much more perceptive and thoughtful and she’s really blossomed over time. It’s been a pleasure to be able to see a student grow like that.”