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: Illustrate to illuminate

Maryam Zehra voices for change with persistence
“Many of the things I do have been to help the world. I fell in love with using art, community service and medical research as my voice for issues that I wasn’t able to speak about as much,” Maryam Zehra (12) said. (Kairui Sun)

Cleats thunder on the turf, kicking up bits of grass and soggy soil. The harsh clash of plastic on plastic carries through the field. This is lacrosse: where Maryam Zehra (12) often spends her spring evenings, toiling through practices and games that run late into the night. When each new season rolls around, she anticipates the thrill of the game.

“Two years ago, it was 10 o’clock and I was playing an away game,” Maryam said. “The lights went out and we were getting blown out, but we still kept playing. It’s super tiring: five days a week for at least two hours a day, but we kept playing that day honestly just for the fun of it. Lacrosse has definitely strengthened how I manage my time.”

Maryam’s teammate Ellie Schmidt (12) also fondly remembered the experience. After meeting Maryam on the lacrosse team in sophomore year, Ellie grew to appreciate Maryam’s determination, exemplified by how she chose to simply continue playing that night.

“She has a strong set of morals that she sticks to and it’s a big part of her work ethic and beliefs,” Ellie said. “She has a lot of aspirations that she’s put so much work into that I respect, like going into the medical field, research, and other projects.”

In that same vein of aspiration, Maryam’s work ethic manifests in her constant output of art. Visual arts department chair Joshua Martinez guided Maryam for the past three years in her artistic journey and witnessed her strong sense of resolve firsthand. Maryam first met Martinez when she took his Beginning Graphic Design class, and from their first interactions, Martinez sensed something remarkable about Maryam’s approach to learning.

“My first impression of Maryam was that she was somebody who knew what she wants and worked with intention,” Martinez said. “Very early on, she pushed back on some feedback that I gave her. It wasn’t mean: but usually beginning students don’t assert their creative vision so intensely. And I remember being very impressed.”

In her junior year, Maryam took AP art alongside many other classes, creating a time crunch that impacted her ability to output pieces. However, amidst the stress and deadlines, Maryam reflected on the importance of maintaining the uniquely personal experience that art invokes for her.

“When choosing a theme for your art, definitely do something you’re passionate about so you truly enjoy making it,” Maryam said. “And you don’t necessarily have to create art for others. It can just be for yourself and how you want to express others.”

Maryam’s piece “Tears of Freedom” encapsulates her artistic vision: a woman masks her face with a deep navy headdress while shedding several tears. The subject, as well as small details like the ring and tattoo on the woman’s hand, echo Maryam’s cultural origins and comment on freedom.

“My grandparents are from the Middle East, and I think there are a lot of negative stereotypes around Middle Eastern culture here,” Maryam said. “I wanted to create art to contradict what we see everywhere in the media. People have assumptions like the exotic woman stereotype, and also one that all women are oppressed because they dress a certain way, or ones about terrorism.”

In following along with Maryam’s creative process, Martinez noticed the impact potential of her work and admires how she remains steadfast in her visions for her pieces.

“I’ve always appreciated students who will talk to me about their ideas from a place of advocacy like they truly believe in what they’re doing,” Martinez said. “And I’ve always felt like Maryam really believed in her vision for the work she was making and never wavered in that.”

For Maryam, art serves not only as a reflection of self but also as a tool for change. She served as a graphic designer for Help Aid Africa, an organization that provides communities across Africa with necessities like water and skills like digital education, to help gain awareness about the circumstances there.

“My first memorable experience with art at a more professional level was a graphic design internship for Help Aid Africa,” Maryam said. “I maintained their website and did some photography and infographic creation: that also got me into community service and seeing the world in a different way.”

Maryam gradually moved outside graphic design for aid organizations, assumed a leading role and organized charity events herself.

“I run book drives here, and I send the books to Africa, villages in India, and hopefully soon the Middle East,” Maryam said. “I just want to provide them with educational opportunities and materials that we obviously have.”

Maryam’s compassion extends from community service to the medical field. She aspires to combine fields of knowledge in order to further her academic exploration in the future.

“I started in seventh grade as someone who was not super into STEM,” Maryam said. “But then I started taking more classes like AP Chemistry and Bio. I really enjoyed them and just wanted to get more specific knowledge. I was really interested by neurological conditions, particularly autism, and conducted some research. The end goal is to become a surgeon, probably neurosurgery.”

In advocating for others’ wellbeing, through artistic, scientific and charitable means, Maryam discovered ways to amplify her message to the people around her.  

“Many of the things I do have been very much to help the world,” Maryam said.  “I fell in love with using art, community service and medical research as my voice for issues that I wasn’t able to speak about as much.”

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About the Contributors
Kairui Sun
Kairui Sun, Reporter
Kairui Sun (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is his second year on staff. This year, Kairui wishes to understand the Harker community better by writing a variety of articles. In his free time, he likes to play piano and volleyball.
Katelyn Zhao
Katelyn Zhao, Humans of Harker Co-Editor-in-Chief
Katelyn Zhao (12) is the co-editor-in-chief of Humans of Harker, and this is her fourth year on staff. Katelyn aims to honor each of the stories within the Harker community this year, especially those of the graduating Class of 2024. Outside of the newsroom, she enjoys biking, drinking coffee or matcha and reading recommended books from her friends.

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