Humans of Harker: From a spark to a flame

Ashley Ma brings dedication in everything she does


Tiffany Chang

“Spirit is definitely one of the biggest parts of my life at Harker, especially last year on HSLT. I really like being involved in spirit because you get to interact with your classmates and just take your mind off of academics for a bit. I don’t want to sound cliche, but it’s high school. Enjoy it while it lasts,” Ashley Ma (’23) said.

A passionate advocate for social issues, an ardent Taylor Swift fan and a spirited student leader, Ashley Ma (’23) never shied away from showing her passion for the things she loves. From her love for music to her investment in her community, the things that Ashley holds closest started simply as journeys taken in an effort to expand her horizons. Now, as a senior, Ashley reflects upon all that she has learned.  

Always willing to discover new interests, Ashley’s involvement and experiences in activities from spirit to music have built her confidence. As she reminisced about her younger years, Ashley recalled one such experience that motivated her to pursue music. 

“I remember in lower school, they would pick one fifth grader every year to do a solo at the spring concert, and Mr. Hoffman asked me, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,’” Ashley said. 

Ashley’s love for music comes from feeling, and the music she listens to on repeat ranges from classical music to Taylor Swift’s “Reputation.” Having played the flute and piano for years, she is well versed in the technical aspects of music but loves it most for the moments when she is just in awe of a piece.

“I like music because it makes you feel something,” Ashley said. “Sometimes I just listen to something and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m never getting over this, this is the best thing I’ve ever heard.’ Music just really speaks to me.” 

Ashley holds the same spark of interest for spirit activities, which she loves for the connections she forges with her community. Joining the Harker Spirit Leadership Team (HSLT) her freshman year in an effort to try something new, she found that she most cherished the connection with her peers and community. She encourages people to participate in events and make the most of their limited high school years.

“Spirit is definitely one of the biggest parts of my life at Harker, especially last year on HSLT,” Ashley said. “I really like being involved in spirit because you get to interact with your classmates and just take your mind off of academics for a bit. I don’t want to sound cliche, but it’s high school. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

Ashley recalls her favorite memory from her time on HSLT, which occurred during the spring spirit rally last April. Decked in class colors, all grades gathered together, and Ashley watched her hard work finally come to fruition on Davis field. 

“We spend maybe one or two hours every week planning the events, but then you get to interact with the whole school, which is just so cool,” Ashley said. “Last year’s spring spirit rally was the culmination of a year of work on HSLT, and it was really incredible to be standing in front of everyone dressed up in their class colors and super excited about spirit.”

The hard work Ashley puts into spirit, from long nights spent planning events to frequent meetings with the council, truly serves to bring the student body together and build a positive community within the school. 

“When [Ashley] does something, she’s always giving her all, and she’s always trying new things,” close friend Sam Parupudi (10) said. “She’s a really community-oriented person. A lot of what she does is for the benefit of her friends and everyone.”

Ashley’s work across her many areas of interests do not go unnoticed by the people around her. Close friend Sawyer Lai (’23), who first met Ashley in orchestra in middle school, admires Ashley’s dedication to everything she pursues.

“She’s really good at bringing people together for a cause,” Sawyer said. “That shows in her being elected to [Student Activities Board (SAB)] — people know she can really get people to come together to work.

Ashley’s interest in her community extends to social issues as well. As the president of Future Problem Solving (FPS), a club that comes up with solutions to problems set in the future, she leads discussions about the given topics and potential challenges and solutions. The reality-grounded issues discussed in FPS motivates Ashley to learn more about the world around her.

“I’m a person who thinks about the problems of the world,” Ashley said. “I’m not as informed as I would like to be about current events, but I think that if I’m not informed, I might as well develop some critical thinking [through FPS].”

Ashley first became interested in social issues from her junior year Honors U.S. History class, taught by upper school history teacher Dr. Chris Gatto. As an Asian American female, Ashley felt personally connected to many U.S. History related issues from the past and present, and during her junior year, she took these feelings to paper, penning an essay about the Chinese Exclusion Act and prostitution during the Gold Rush. 

“Her writing emerged as a strength later on in the school year, but she’s a very strong writer,” Dr. Gatto said. “I think that’s the best way she can express herself.”

Ashley finds her connection to topics that matter to her makes her rewarding. She feels many historical issues pertaining to ethnic minorities and females are often overlooked and require further research. 

“Women’s rights and minority rights are personal to me, and I do feel very passionate about those topics,” Ashley said. “How do you convince someone that you deserve rights? How do you convince someone to care about you as a human being?” 

For the select activities Ashley participates in, the genuine interest and ideas she holds for them is evident in the outcomes of her work, from a successful Taylor Swift Jeopardy during spirit events to passionate discussions about orchestra pieces. Her interests span a wide range, but above all, they were all once just flames of interest that grew with encouragement from personal experiences and new opportunities. 

“Just try new things,” Ashley said. “You don’t have to be good at everything. Just because you’re not good at something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it or that it’s not going to be a good experience.”