Humans of Harker: Practical optimism

Gwen Yang maintains an positive and reflective outlook on life


Vika Gautham

“My mom says when life gives you lemons, you make lemon meringue pie. One of my strengths is definitely seeing the better side of situations. I make the best out of situations when things don’t go well. It’s about giving myself that room to breathe,” Gwen Yang (12) said.

Gwen Yang (12) recalls her intense focus as she carefully picked up spores of sordaria, a species of microscopic fungi. Pieces of the fungi lay strewn across trays, broken or popped from previous failed attempts at crossing the spores, yet her mistakes didn’t discourage her from continuing. She placed her last spore onto the tray, forming a cross-shaped pool of spores inside the sordaria. Gwen had finally created a crossed-rosette pattern, and a beam of pride spread across her face.

Gwen’s love for science blossomed in eighth grade after she visited her grandpa’s company in Houston, Texas. There, he showed her the company’s work on antibodies, and Gwen found her fascination with the field growing exponentially.

“After seeing that environment, it was something that I was really interested in pursuing,” Gwen said. “I like that you can work around other people but still have your own thing to do. Everything that you are looking for and discovering is [uncovering] the mysteries of life.” 

Her curiosity continued to flourish in high school, where Gwen enrolled in the Honors Chemistry and Biology classes in her sophomore and junior years. However, she found that her eagerness sometimes caused her to move too quickly, which proved to be a challenge throughout the courses.

Yet, through experiments, labs and lectures, Gwen took away valuable lessons. Embracing a growth mindset, Gwen viewed each failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.

“In biology, we learned about the history and how small we are in comparison to the universe, or the history of the world,” Gwen said. “That’s the takeaway. Sometimes I get really hung up on things, and I make mistakes. Realizing that in the big scheme of things, this is nothing — it makes you feel better about yourself.”

Gwen’s positivity stands out to close friend Samvita Gautham (12). Even when faced with circumstances that could derail her progress, Gwen’s open-mindedness and optimism empower her to persevere. 

“Gwen always tries to find the positive side of things, but she does it in a way that’s very realistic,” Samvita said. “Gwen’s a very practical person in the sense that she always has a hold on things. She’s the type of person who is always going to try to look for the positive, no matter what’s happening. She’s very resilient.”

Gwen’s approachability and energetic spirit have always been a source of comfort for close friend Ava Arasan (12).

“She makes people that she talks to immediately comfortable,” Ava said. “She’s a very honest person, and she’s very easy to talk to.”

Gwen approaches every obstacle that comes her way as an opportunity. When a situation does not go as planned, she doesn’t allow stress to get the best of her.

“My mom says when life gives you lemons, you make lemon meringue pie,” Gwen said. “One of my strengths is definitely seeing the better side of situations. I make the best out of situations when things don’t go well. It’s about giving myself that room to breathe.”

As a singer in the upper school choral group Cantilena, Gwen finds her positive attitude reflected in her expression and voice. Her friends often comment on how her bright and cheerful expression adds to the beauty of the music. Gwen’s love for music dates back to her childhood, and to this day, singing continues to serve as a source of joy and comfort for her.

“Singing has been a part of me since when I was young,” Gwen said. “I love to sing. I’ve been told, when I sing, I look really happy, which really reflects my attitude and feelings when I sing. I keep that part of my childhood as I continue to grow in an environment where I need to work hard. It’s important to keep that part of me to make sure that I don’t lose sight of who I am.”

Gwen’s optimistic attitude enables her to navigate life’s challenges with grace and resilience. Through every failed experiment or subpar performance, she holds her head high, learning and growing with the process. Upper school mathematics teacher Gabriele Stahl, who taught Gwen in sophomore and junior years, hopes that Gwen will continue down the same path of positivity and determination in the future.

“I hope that she continues to be who she is,” Stahl said. “She’s very authentic. To her, it doesn’t matter much what other people think of her; she goes by her own moral compass. When you change environments, there’s always the risk that you can fall through the cracks. I really wish for her that that doesn’t happen, that she holds onto her own moral compass and continues to be who she is now.”