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: Envisioning the everyday

Katelyn Zhao sheds light unto the world around her, be it in art, photography or journalism
“I get to choose how much effort and detail I put in, and that’s what you’re going to see in the end. I love that you can see the truth on paper. A lot of my work is in black and white, so I can’t rely on color to cover it up or make it more interesting — I can only rely on my skill and willingness to go into the studio and add to my piece,” Katelyn Zhao (’24) said. (Olivia Xu)

Katelyn Zhao (‘24) remembers her first time volunteering at the Montalvo Arts Center. There, she learned and practiced an ancient weaving technique from Latin America, one which she later taught others around her. Tucked in the midst of nature and hiking trails, Montalvo became a place of discovery for her, one with a plethora of opportunities to expand her art knowledge. 

“Each time I go to volunteer, I get to meet new artists,” Katelyn said. “That opens my perspective on different styles and personal preferences in design, and seeing the background story that a lot of these artists have and their sources of inspiration and the knowledge they have about a different art form really helps to broaden both my artistic skills and knowledge.”

Katelyn started her artistic journey at an art studio in middle school where she explored various mediums from graphite to watercolor, with a focus on hyperrealism work. In creating new pieces, she looked to nature, everyday objects and museum exhibitions for inspiration. Upper school English teacher Brigid Miller appreciates the way Katelyn shares her creativity, especially through her thoughts on literature.

“Katelyn thrives in those moments of creativity, and she embraces that,” Miller said. “She’s a really strong literary analyst, she’s a strong writer, she’s an artist and coming from Harker, sometimes, that side of one’s personality tends to get squashed. I would say to Katelyn, ‘Don’t leave those passions behind, and find a way to continue to engage in and embrace the humanities and your art.’”

Through her artwork focused on hyperrealism, Katelyn learned the importance of slowing down and giving her full attention to her work. Though most people feel intimidated by the time-consuming factor of hyperrealism, Katelyn enjoys spending time to deliver a meaningful outcome.

“You need to really be a patient person because the process takes so long, and you don’t really see the full outcome until you’re finished with it,” Katelyn said. “It’s really helped me become a more detail-oriented person and learn to observe and understand the differences between light and shadow and color, and how they all play a role in creating something.”

Art stands as a method of relaxation for Katelyn. Whether sitting in her studio or volunteering at Montalvo, she finds solace in working on a piece.

“I get to choose how much effort and detail I put in, and that’s what you’re going to see in the end,” Katelyn said. “I love that you can see the truth on paper. A lot of my work is in black and white, so I can’t rely on color to cover it up or make it more interesting. I can only rely on my skill and willingness to go into the studio and add to my piece.”

Though her work can often be repetitive, Katelyn always finds new details to incorporate in her pieces. To her, each minute facet of her work, marked by how raw and hyperreal her piece is, becomes noticeable after hours of hard work. Katelyn applies that same rhetoric to her leadership roles.

“If you observe something with fresh eyes, you can pick up on new nuances and have it translate to something more realistic, more lifelike and more representative on paper,” Katelyn said. “This is a metaphor for how I like to lead. I am an observant person, and that’s what’s helped me in the long run. I tend to be a quiet leader, but I prefer being able to pick up on how others might need to improve or I can help them.”

Katleyn’s leadership style is evident in journalism and developed after she stepped into the role of sports editor her junior year. Driven by her love for photography, she jumped into a new experience and grew as a part of the sports team, through production nights and shooting games.

“That role in junior year really helped me go out of my comfort zone,” Katelyn said. “It was a subject I was unfamiliar with, and I was doing it by myself. That really expanded my comfort with leading other people and staying on top of my work.”

Close friend and previous sports editor Emma Milner (12) looks up to Katelyn. Emma remembers how once during production night, Katelyn spontaneously went to shoot some games to fill a page and came back just an hour later with photos. Her efficiency in execution and determination were inspiring.

“Katelyn is very detail-oriented,” Emma said. “She’s very careful about everything she does, and she won’t stop until it’s to her liking. She also has a really good work ethic, and it comes from being passionate and actually wanting to do something. She knows how to step up when something is needed, and she knows during situations when her leadership is needed.”

Katelyn found her niche within photography and later joined the Humans of Harker team, where she stepped into a new leadership position as co-editor-in-chief. After taking several portraits for the project in her junior year, Katelyn realized the significance behind being able to tell someone’s story through a photo.

“That helped me realize how important this project is because so many people arrive, and they’ve never taken a photo capturing themselves in their natural environment, in their comfort zone, doing something they’re passionate about,” Katelyn said. “That was a gateway for me to want to participate in Humans of Harker even more, especially once I began listening to other people and seeing how each person has aspects of themselves they’ve never shared with other people.”

In her leadership through journalism, Katelyn developed her voice to express her opinion. Now, as an editor-in-chief, she leads with compassion, striving to improve her publication as best she can.

“Katelyn is a very gentle person, and she’s very helpful,” close friend Eva Li (12) said. “She’s not holding back what she has to offer to people. She’s always giving what she can to everybody around her. She’s not afraid to communicate, and she’s very open in voicing her ideas.”

Cast upon the canvas of her creation, Katelyn forms lasting memories, drawing forth from her experience and dedication to fashion a piece uniquely her own. And those whom she encounters, be it in the media of art, journalism or otherwise, Katelyn consistently inspires with her creative ingenuity, a talent which she uses to transform the world around her. An artist. A leader. A visionary. Katelyn encompasses all these roles and more, making a masterpiece of her own life’s journey and blazing forever onwards, driven by a genuine love for all she does.

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About the Contributor
Olivia Xu
Olivia Xu, Humans of Harker Co-Editor-in-Chief
Olivia Xu (12) is the co-editor-in-chief of Humans of Harker, and this is her fourth year on staff. She is excited to celebrate the Class of 2024 and collaborate with everyone on staff, and she hopes to build a community excited about storytelling. In her free time, Olivia enjoys crocheting gifts for her friends, taking walks, solving fun puzzles and binge-reading Humans of New York.

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