Humans of Harker: Connecting through conversation

Catherine Feng excels in all avenues of discussion


Tiffany Chang

“Pretty much anyone, given the right circumstance, has the ability to learn, but the willingness and openness to learn and discuss new things and change their views on something [is what I value],” Catherine Feng (12) said.

Around campus, you might find Catherine Feng (12) engrossed in a History Board editors meeting, designing and editing pages for their publication. Or you might find her in upper school English teacher Christopher Hurshman’s classroom doodling on the whiteboard. She tends to use the blue marker. More often than not, you’ll find her engaged in an active discussion of politics with friends. But regardless of where you find her or what she’s doing at the time, one thing remains the same: she’s always eager to jump into the conversation.

Catherine’s passion for historical research ignited early on in her childhood when her mother once borrowed a set of books and audiobooks for her from a local library. She read the books in their entirety and, captivated by history’s progression through time, proceeded to listen to the entire set of audiobooks as well.

“[Studying history] has provided me with a lot of entertainment because there’s so much to be learned about history,” Catherine said. “It’s a lot like reading novels in a sense, where you’re reading these stories and you’re learning about how things happened, how things might happen, how things could happen in the future.”

Reading this set of books was only a starting point. Catherine’s interest in history grew to encompass a wide variety of subjectswhether it’s the history of the Supreme Court or the Industrial Revolution, Catherine will readily peruse existing literature on the subject and hold open discussions with her classmates regarding the events.

Catherine further involved herself in historical studies by joining the History Board, which oversees the production of the History Journal at Harker. She now serves as the managing editor of the History Journal. For Catherine, facilitating historical research for others is a meaningful way to give back to a subject that has provided her with so many valuable insights.

“We want to try to encourage historical scholarship within the community and especially foster them within the younger years,” Catherine said. “As someone who really loves history, I think learning about history is important and participating in research is important to develop a lot of skills—not only becoming better at that sort of research, but being better at sourcing, looking critically at sources and media literacy.”

Aside from history, Catherine finds interest in a variety of subjects ranging from government to biology to civics, and she will gladly discuss any of the topics with her peers and classmates. Part of what helps Catherine thrive in a discussion-based setting is her ability to hold true to her values: being inquisitive and willing to learn. Close friend Josh Field (12), who met Catherine through shared classes this year, appreciates her open-minded attitude toward discussion.

“We’ve been talking a lot—mostly about politics, constitutional law, free speech, linguistics,” Josh said. “I think she is a person who has strong opinions, but those opinions aren’t necessarily final. She continually thinks about her opinions and reevaluates them, but she is still very strong and forthcoming. She’s a very great person to talk to in general.”

Alyssa Tomberg (12), who has been friends with Catherine since lower school, has also noticed these qualities, such as the ability to maintain her own ideas in conversation while also being accepting of others’ ideas.

“She’s good at keeping her individuality,” Alyssa said. “She’s willing to debate things and discuss things. When she encounters a difference of opinion, she is able to handle it and not get upset and continue the conversation and have a nice back and forth.”

Catherine also has a certain boldness about her, a fearlessness that allows her to eagerly join in on conversations without holding herself back. Hurshman has witnessed this aspect of her in her day-to-day interactions within his classroom.

“I like the fact that she’s quirky and offbeat; she doesn’t really say the expected thing,” Hurshman said. “She doesn’t apologize for her curiosity about things. She’ll jump into conversations, even if they don’t involve her at first at all, or even if she doesn’t especially know the people who are having them. She’s willing to launch herself into a discussion if it triggers her curiosity.”

Through engaging in open-ended conversations—such as those she holds with Josh, Alyssa and in Hurshman’s classroom—Catherine hopes to meet others who share her passion for learning, people who can shape her opinion.

“Anyone, given the right circumstance, has the ability to learn, but the willingness and openness to learn and discuss new things and change their views on something [is what I value],” Catherine said.

She finds that curiosity is a driving factor behind the connections she builds with her peers and that constant change becomes especially integral in long-term friendships.

“A willingness to learn about the world is great for coming up with conversation topics and very necessary to not get sick of a person after a while,” Catherine said. “There’s nothing more boring than someone who hasn’t changed in the past five years because, no matter how interesting someone is, give five years of friendship and you will exhaust all possible conversation. I think [constant change] makes connections between people.”