Sarah Nathani: On a life-altering journey | Aga Khan Academies

Sarah Nathani: On a life-altering journey

17 May 2024

In the lead-up to the Class of 2024’s graduation from the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad, we will feature 12 of our graduates who have been at the Academy since Grade 1.

Below, we learn about Sarah Nathani's life-changing journey these past 12 years at the Academy.

In the days counting down to graduation, Sarah Nathani cogitated about the person she was before she joined the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad and the person her younger self would not have imagined becoming.

Her curiosity was cultivated during her time in Junior School where she learnt the art of compassion and kindness before entering Senior School as an inquisitive learner with an affinity for the sciences and arts. Embracing her path forward, Sarah introspects her experience at the Academy with a bittersweet recollection of the memories it harbours. As she gradually became familiar with the Academy’s vast landscape over a decade ago, Sarah not only learnt about the Academy, its buildings and its life but also a tremendous lot about the people she calls family.

Feeling displaced when she joined in 2012, Sarah made herself feel at home with the support of the nurturing environment of the Junior School where she felt her concerns were heard beyond any other place. Eventually, the Academy would present itself as a home when she decided to join the residential programme and thrived in its hospitable atmosphere, alongside her peers, to which she ascribes much of her success and foibles. The Academy, and its extensive pedagogies, would come to surprise her in her own making as all her expectations of being solely engaged in academics would change due to her interest in the arts, balanced with sciences. She believes this is what set her apart when she received her Harvey Mudd College (HMC) acceptance to study physics on its impressive campus – the first of its kind for the Academy.

Her HMC acceptance came with custom notes forwarded to her by the HMC’s admissions officer, who promised that “[their] campus would widen her lens”. Sarah’s “lens” is ever-changing, allowing her to observe the socio-political landscape around her. The conscious and sensitive "lens” through which Sarah perceives the world has drawn the attention of many, recently, landing her the decisive spot at HMC. Even during her tenure as the academic representative for 2023-2024, the same “lens” helped her assess the concerns prevalent in the student body and supported her judgement in resolving them with empathy.

By all accounts, Sarah’s “lens” shattered the glass ceiling when, at the tender age of 12, she gave a TED Talk on the “cosmological” lens. In it, she argued that while the realisation of the vastness of the universe and a person’s awareness of their relative insignificance may be deterring, it is important to create meaning through their shared sense of belonging with others. Such a sensibility was built in her from a young age causing her to rigorously assess her privileged position and seek ways to give back to her community. Through her Middle Years Programme personal project and Diploma Programme extended essay, Sarah enhanced her “lens” by adopting the “intersectional lens” of social categories, such as race, class and gender, which helped her and continues to help her view people and be sensitive towards their concerns more holistically.

By actively engaging with the student body and cultivating in them an interest in collaboration, compassion and consideration, Sarah left a lasting impression on her younger peers who now look up to her academic excellence and extra-curricular capabilities as a source of inspiration for their own endeavours. As such, her younger peers can now inherit her vision and “lens” by assimilating what she says is necessary for all students, irrespective of their aspirations in life.

“You may know your teachers and friends, but when we make time to engage with them as people, it changes the way you view things,” she said. “We become more aware of what people are going through. It gives us better perspectives or, should I say, a different lens.”

Much like those ethical leaders who preceded Sarah at the Academy, she too has poured her heart and soul into standing up for all things that she holds close to her heart. Her insistence on pushing back from adversity with grit and determination is an admirable quality that rendered a positive change in the Academy and her younger peers. The thought of Sarah’s absence, no matter how bitter, would be quite profound on all her younger peers who have so far viewed Sarah as a constant source of inspiration. As they realise Sarah will exit the Academy and enter a new life beyond, they can always cherish memories of how they blossomed under her guidance and wisdom.

Interviewed by Bhaavik Blessed Mamidala, Diploma Programme 1