The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

Humans of Harker: In Wonderland

Alice Tao finds freedom through interpretation
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Margaret Cartee
“The fact that there’s no right or wrong answer — it’s just your perspective — is really beautiful, and it’s also very reminiscent of the real world. At one point there’s no right or wrong answer, there’s just which path you want to go on,” Alice Tao (12) said.

Many people feel most comfortable dancing when no one is watching, but very few feel comfortable dancing freely in the bustling streets of a foreign city. But at Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the summer of her junior year, Alice Tao (12) relished the unprecedented freedom she felt while openly singing and dancing to disco songs with the cast of the 2023 Spring Musical “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” production.

“Sometimes when I had some time to rest, I’d look around, and I’d see people filming us,” Alice said. “Part of me was like, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty weird to see 50 people in bee antennas just dancing, singing out loud with no soundtrack whatsoever.’ Part of me was like, ‘Why don’t they ever wish that they can have this opportunity to really be free, really be able to just do what they want without caring?’”

Alice started theater in sixth grade with the middle school fall play but didn’t perform in a Harker production again until her frosh year in the spring musical “Les Miserables.” Acting gives Alice a space to explore the possible interpretations of characters and understand her characters’ choices and backgrounds on a deeper level.

“Everyone’s character is going to be different because they’re going to focus on different stuff,” Alice said. “With that, there’s no right answer. There’s that sense of freedom. You can do whatever, and you are still correct. That really creates the break between having to deal with the ‘yes, right; no, wrong’ idea you go through every day in classes.”

Close friend Ipsita Mandal (12) met Alice the summer before sophomore year during Harker’s chemistry course. She treasures Alice’s radiant sense of humor and reliability in times of stress.

“In the most depressing situations, she finds a way to lift those around her with her sense of humor,” Ipsita said. “Even when we’re all stressing, she finds a way to crack a joke that’ll just make the situation feel a little bit better and [create] that sense of camaraderie between herself and everyone else.”

Alice shares her quick-witted humor with her friends in performing arts as well. Lucy Feng (‘23) initially met Alice through Student Directed Showcase in 2021 and praised Alice’s talent in theater as well as her ability to light up a room.

“Alice’s got such a good handle on the performing arts,” Lucy said. “She’s a super versatile actor. Her voice is amazing. I both admire her as an actor and also as somebody who can watch her perform and be in awe in that sort of way. Alice is amazing.”

Lucy also complimented Alice for her dedication and work ethic in her activities outside theater like Model United Nations. Likening high school to a strenuous mountain expedition, Alice views Model UN and theater as breaks in her journey that allow her time to reflect and relax.

“When you have an activity like Model UN that happens every two or three weeks or theater that has rehearsals soon, you have something to look forward to,” Alice said. “It’s like you’re waiting for that next stone on the climb to reach, and once you reach it, you look down, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, this is great.’ It really makes that climb of school that much more enjoyable.”

Alice recognizes a common sense of freedom in exploration and interpretation in both performing arts and Model UN. She discovered through Model UN that two students representing the same country could have vastly different interpretations of that country’s major issues, from international politics to civil rights, humanitarian struggles to natural disaster prevention.

“There’s a sense of freedom with Model UN,” Alice said. “I’m no longer being myself. I’m a different country. That means I have to analyze what their country wants, what their needs are, what their kind of people are, and what their population is like. By doing that, it’s similar to acting in a way, but analyzing being something you’re not is freeing.”

Alice’s tenacity and perspective transfer to her academic classes, where she brings her infectious energy and grounded outlook to classroom interactions. Upper school history teacher James Tate valued Alice’s outspokenness during her AP United States History class last year. 

“Alice stands her ground like no student I’ve ever had,” Tate said. “She fights for what she perceives as her correct answers. She has an incredible spirit, and it’s impossible not to respect that.”

Alice’s vibrant charisma and understanding help her thrive in her roles as a performer, diplomat and friend. Her experiences exploring other points of view in Model UN and theater allow her to empathize and connect with others more, and she finds these lessons to be applicable to other aspects of her life. When she dives into the nuances of a character’s personality or examines various economic or social aspects of a country’s politics, Alice sees a reflection of the unpredictable nature of life.

“The fact that there’s no right or wrong answer — it’s just your perspective — is really beautiful, and it’s also very reminiscent of the real world,” Alice said. “At one point there’s no right or wrong answer, there’s just which path you want to go on.”

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About the Contributor
Margaret Cartee, Aquila Co-Managing Editor
Margaret Cartee 12) is a co-managing editor for Harker Aquila, and this is her fourth year on staff. This year, Margaret wants to do more illustrations and meet all the new journalists in the program. In her free time, she likes sketching on paper, playing volleyball and sitting in chairs.

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