Humans of Harker: The peaks of life

Elvis Han balances the joy of personal achievement and shared success through volunteering and backpacking


Nicholas Wei

“When you’re hiking, you can meet complete strangers, and you’re both super tired, but you’re headed for the same goal, and you get to share stories. Hiking really taught me that it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. Every experience is better when it’s shared,” Elvis Han (12) said.

Elvis Han (12) remembers feeling a rush of independent pride as he stood upon the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in the summer before his sophomore year. Billowing clouds draped the surrounding landscape as he looked out from the peak, snow swirling around him and crunching beneath his feet. Despite the bitter cold and the haze of altitude sickness, Elvis had finally reached the peak. A surge of solitary contentment surged through him.

During the arduous ascent, Elvis recalls being placed at the very back of the hiking team that he was climbing with rather than walking at the front of the pack, where he typically stayed during his previous backpacking trips. In spite of the physically draining task of hiking eight hours a day while assiduously matching the pace of the slower hikers towards the back, Elvis grew to cherish the experiences of connecting with his fellow hikers.

“Being able to talk to the people in the back allowed me to experience a specific joy that was different from that solitary happiness that I got from personal achievement,” Elvis said. “Even if you’re not the first to get to the top, that’s a much better experience. You’re able to take comfort in the fact that that solitary happiness that I might have felt at the top I was able to give to other people.”

Having participated in several backpacking trips since seventh grade, Elvis treasures the sense of community that he has built with his fellow hikers during his various journeys.

“I took joy in other people’s company rather than the sense of pride that I had in my own achievements,” Elvis said. “I was able to spend those weeks with those people being able to talk, share their stories, eat the same food, experience the same culture and get to the top of the mountain, celebrate together the idea of a community that we were able to build.”

Drawing inspiration from his experiences of accompanying others as they achieve their own peaks in life, Elvis sought other opportunities to connect with others in various communities through volunteering. Now, in the nonprofit student-run organization Nanoseed, Elvis helps impoverished rural Chinese students receive scholarship grants in hopes of breaking them out of the cycle of poverty.

“One of the coolest things I was able to do was interviewing the people who were applying for a grant,” Elvis said. “We usually give 6,000 yuan to each family, which would be a lot for them. What was very empowering was that they were all students who had the same ambitions as us even though they were from a different culture.”

Seeing how the Chinese students whom Nanoseed aims to support share the same core values of hard work and enterprise, Elvis cherishes being able to see how Nanoseed’s target students have benefited from his volunteering work.

“Reading their texts, having calls every so often, seeing a smile and the excitement in their voices, we’re able to see how their lives have been able to change because these grants allow them to go to school,” Elvis said.

Through his volunteering experiences with Nanoseed, Elvis witnessed firsthand how he could contribute to helping others towards their goals.

“Ultimately, it was really rewarding to see that there were people who were actually getting help, seeing their joy after being able to climb their way from where they started to a better position,” Elvis said. “I knew … that I was able to enable these positive experiences … seeing [these students] achieve their own happiness.”

Close friend Emily Tan (12) observes that Elvis brings the same positivity to day-to-day interactions. Emily believes Elvis’s confidence and optimism easily spreads to others.

“What’s really notable about him is that he has so much confidence in himself that he can be comfortable in pretty much whatever setting he goes to, or at least appear comfortable,” Emily said. “That mentality of not caring what other people think and valuing the time that we have in the moment is really infectious and spreads to other people.”

Moreover, Emily notes that Elvis dedicates himself to representing the best possible version of himself in order to help and comfort others.

“[Elvis is] also really empathetic and willing to take time for the people that he cares about,” Emily said. “He feels an obligation to all the people that he’s close with to give the best side of himself, to spend time with them and to give them the care and attention that they need regardless of who they are. So that’s something I really respect.”

Moving forward, Elvis hopes to find ways he can help combat injustices in the healthcare system, combining his love for volunteering with a passion for medicine. He notes that pursuing a line of work such as healthcare policy requires a clear vision of one’s goals and adherence to values.

“A lot of the stuff that I might want to do might not make a lot of money, [but] my motivation is to be able to continuously reach out to communities and create systemic change,” Elvis said. “I’m going to have to reach out to different communities to see what the problem is, I’m going to have to do field research, I’m going to have to travel to specific communities that I want to help. It’s about motivating yourself to continue a path that you choose to follow.”

Reflecting upon his reasons for embarking on various forms of volunteer and activism work, Elvis observes that what drives him is not a yearning for individual success but a strong and selfless desire to help others.

“Compassion and open-mindedness: those are the big pieces,” Elvis said. “I want to talk to people who genuinely have a motivation to help people not for the sake of pride, not for the sake of any personal gain but just to make the world a better place.”

It is this mentality of a mutual, shared happiness that spurs Elvis to continue pursuing his various endeavors, whether it is volunteering or backpacking.

“When you’re hiking, you can meet complete strangers, and you’re both super tired, but you’re headed for the same goal, and you get to share stories,” Elvis said. “Hiking really taught me that it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. Every experience is better when it’s shared.”