Humans of Harker: Seize the clay

Claire Kampmeier finds comfort in art and volleyball


Rachel Ning

“Over the past few years, I learned that everybody’s making the same mistakes, and nobody really cares what you’re doing as long as you fix your mistakes. That also translates to out of school. Nobody cares as much as you think they do, and I had to get over that,” Claire Kampmeier (12) said.

With headphones on, Claire Kampmeier (12) concentrates on sculpting a smooth, symmetrical ceramic creation. After weeks of work, she can finally finish and watch the product come out of the kiln with light reflecting off the glazed surface. Serenity surrounds her for a moment. But it doesn’t last for long as she enters the Zhang Gymnasium after school, hearing the noise of her teammates and the buzz of spectators as the varsity girls volleyball team begins to warm up before an hour and a half of intense play. Ceramics and volleyball, for Claire, serve as two outlets with two very different outcomes. 

After joining Harker as a freshman, Claire’s first exposure to the community was through the volleyball team. She began to make friends, which helped her ease into a pattern at her new school. However, it was not until she played on the varsity volleyball team in her junior year that Claire noticed her friendships with teammates develop into more meaningful relationships. 

“Being on varsity the last two years, you’re able to really get to know that group of girls, and it’s a free community,” Claire said. “We’re not all friends, but we’re all friendly with each other. We all wave at each other in the hallways, and we all have some sort of relationship.”

One of Claire’s first friends at Harker, Rachel Ning (12), played alongside her for several years in high school. Rachel watched Claire not only develop her skills as a volleyball player, but also figure out how to lead the team as a captain. 

“Naturally, Claire’s more of a quiet person,” Rachel said. “As she became more confident in her abilities in the past two years, she’s been able to step up and become more of a leader as a senior and also as a captain. It’s very fun to see Claire in that state because she’s normally not very loud.”

The quiet and calm side of Claire that Rachel described is more likely to be seen in upper school art teacher Brian Caponi’s classroom. Growing up in a family where her parents and brother all interacted with art on some level, Claire felt inspired to find an outlet to unleash her own creativity. In junior year, ceramics provided the perfect opportunity to do so.

“[Harker] was a lot more difficult than my old school, and I wasn’t expecting it,” said Claire. “It was challenging for me to have to learn to put in the effort. Art class was helpful for me to be able to see that we all start at the same level and the effort that you put in behind the scenes is why people are doing better.” 

To Claire’s friends, art constitutes a major aspect of her daily routine, as she frequently goes to the art room during lunch to finish projects and her clothes become stained with clay and paint. This determination to continue creating and improving at her craft is recognizable in both ceramics and volleyball. Volleyball teammate and close friend Juhi Madala (11) recognized Claire’s growth mindset and persistence. 

“Claire will keep going at it even if things don’t go her way and the odds don’t favor her,” Juhi said. “This year on varsity she definitely had some rough patches, but you couldn’t tell because she always has a smile on her face. She’s always positive, and I feel like that in itself is a really amazing thing.”

Similarly, Caponi found that, while Claire’s understanding of ceramics came almost immediately as she began working on the wheel, her dedication to her craft has helped her become more detail-oriented. 

“It’s been awesome to see the growth, especially since her technical ability on the wheel for the amount of time she spent on the wheel is pretty remarkable,” Caponi said. “The wheel seemed to click at some point and the craftsmanship, the attention to detail is continuing to hone. It’s always exciting to have a student who lets the work drive them.”

Claire’s growth in high school resulted in part from volleyball and ceramics, but also because she began to understand how to improve without worrying about what everyone else is doing.

Over the past few years, I learned that everybody’s making the same mistakes, and nobody really cares what you’re doing as long as you fix your mistakes,” Claire said. “That also translates to out of school. Nobody cares as much as you think they do, and I had to get over that.”