Humans of Harker: Batting into the light

Uma Iyer evinces positivity within both sports and the school community


Medha Yarlagadda

“Why would you go through life being disappointed? If you go through it with positivity and happiness, things will work out for the better. Everyone should be empathetic and kind. I like the idea of getting stuff done [and] making tangible difference instead of just saying it,” Uma Iyer (12) said.

Uma Iyer (12) recalls stepping slowly on the soft, green grass to the diamond, her softball teammates starting to cheer and chant her name. She picks up the bat; her eyes concentrate on the ball, and all ambient noise fades away. Time and the ball seem to slow; just in the nick of time, her bat swings to meet the ball, sending it arching across the sky. She has just earned her team a double play.

Uma initially started playing softball at Harker during her sophomore year hoping to try a new activity, knowing little about the game and having no prior experience. However, through her dedication and commitment to the sport, she put in extra time and effort to train and work out in order to improve and grow stronger. Now, she competes in the Harker varsity softball team.

Upper school softball coach Raul Rios, who coached Uma through her sophomore and junior years, noticed Uma’s growth both on and off the field to becoming a leader.

“Her confidence levels have come up a long way,” Rios said. “[At first] she’d be scared and timid about trying things, but now she wants to get up there. She wants to be the one that leads the workouts and have extra training in the weight room. She was setting that up without anybody telling her.”

Uma’s love for the sport largely developed from her appreciation for the softball team’s emphasis on self improvement rather than winning. She believes that the success of the team lies not in the score but in the team spirit and the camaraderie on the team.

“Every single girl feels valued and included and is a valuable member of the team and comes back to play because it’s the best time,” Uma said. “We created a really close knit sisterhood that uplifts one another and focuses on having a really fun time and learning something new rather than trying to constantly try to win.”

Constantly cheering on and supporting her teammates, Uma contributed to the positivity of the team as a whole while also being a dependable teammate, role model and morale booster.

“She’s a very caring person about her teammates and about everything that she does, whether it be sports or activities,” Rios said. “I’ve seen her do other activities that she believes in, and she goes all out to try to make things happen and work out and she’s a go-getter. She’s got a great, winning attitude, and that’s going to take her a long way in life.”

The leadership skills Uma gained from softball, as well as her positivity, carry over to her work as the co-leader of the Student Diversity Coalition (SDC), which she co-founded in her junior year to support minority students and solve issues like discrimination on campus.

Among the many initiatives Uma led was Challenge Day, an event intended to encourage understanding and inclusivity among students. In addition, SDC organized Culture Week, which seeks to honor the variety of cultures at Harker and commemorated the Muwekma Ohlone tribe by installing a land plaque on campus.

Just as the softball team encourages mutual respect among the team members, SDC’s core principles revolve around giving students a sense of belonging and inclusion. Uma hopes that she can positively impact the atmosphere within both the softball team and the school community.

“It’s really valuable to create a platform for students who will voice their opinions around these issues,” Uma said. “That feeling of belonging and enjoyment, even if you’re not the best, really resonates with the SDC.”

Though Uma’s involvement in the SDC focuses on benefiting the community as a whole, her inclusive spirit also impacts those closest to her. Close friend Madeleine “Maddie” Hansen (12) admires Uma’s ability to lead and take action about the issues that she cares about and has increased her own advocacy for diversity and social justice as a result.

“She made me a more empathetic person towards a lot of issues,” Maddie said. “I see how she interacted with all these different types of people and how much of a leader she was. That really inspired me … Because one thing that she does really well is when there’s something that she’s really passionate about, she can do it extremely well and be a leader in the environment.”

Madeleine also points out Uma’s ability to acknowledge people, a trait which has helped her significantly in SDC. Having joined Harker as a freshman, Uma brings a different, fresh perspective to the coalition, as Assistant to Assistant Head of School and SDC adviser Tyeshia Brown points out.

“Her strength is her exceptional way of seeing human beings besides how you look or what you are supposed to be like in stereotypical ways,” Brown said. “She sees past that and she sees a person, and that’s going to help her throughout life completely.”

In addition to a new perspective, Uma also brings leadership and balance to SDC. Uma utilizes these skills, as well as teamwork, cooperation and organization, to better SDC and, as a result, benefit the community.

“Having five different [SDC members] bring you ideas and dump it on the table, she’s able to be like, ‘Okay, let’s do this, let’s bring this, let’s put this one here,’” Brown said. “So her leadership and organizational skills and her strength and confidence in what she’s doing is doing something for someone.”

Uma has also grown significantly herself through SDC. Reflecting on Uma’s changes over the years, Brown, who met Uma the summer before high school, describes her growth in confidence and her increasing desire to support others.

“I watched her blossom, becoming a young woman,” Brown said. “She was a little more reserved coming into a new setting, but I always saw that willingness to speak up for other people, and it became so much more organized and structured and confident.”

Many of these character traits and skills come from the role models in Uma’s life. Uma learned about the importance of staying positive from her mother, who she admired for her steadfast optimism in the face of cancer.

“She stayed so positive and happy the entire time,” Uma said. “I realized a shift in attitude can really change a person’s life and make them happy, and the empathy, kindness and positivity comes from her.”

Uma also learned from Natasha Yen (’21), who mentored Uma in softball and SDC. When she joined the softball team, Natasha took Uma under her wing, and Uma learned a lot under her guidance. The two also worked together to form SDC.

“The way that [Natasha] commanded herself around others and gained respect from people and was so kind, so thoughtful and so hard working made such an impact,” Uma said. “Everything that she was a part of, I can only aspire.”

The traits which Uma embodies — kindness, leadership, positivity and determination — carry over to her day-to-day life and form the foundation for her values.

“Why would you go through life being disappointed?” Uma said. “If you go through it with positivity and happiness, things will work out for the better. Everyone should be empathetic and kind. I like the idea of getting stuff done [and] making tangible difference instead of just saying it.”