Rising young scholar

Senior Sonika Harish leaves behind a legacy


Rae Godwin

Senior Sonika Harish studies during block lunch.

It’s a routine: wake up, go to school, study, go home and then study, study, study. Math equations, English and science notes fill notebooks after notebooks. She’s practicing hours on end with her mind set on one goal: graduating with a purpose. 

In 2019, Sonika Harish found the determination for her studies as she thought about her near future.  

“I never thought about the PSAT or any of those tests until freshman year,” Harish said. “I started to look at colleges, and I knew I had to start studying. When I started studying, it was motivation for me to keep going with the studies and do good.” 

During October of her junior year, Harish was one of 15,000 students who earned a spot as a semifinalist for the National Merit Scholarship, which she prepared herself for that previous summer. 

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation looks at the scores from the PSAT, and if the student scores in the top percentile, they will be one out of 16,000 people named semifinalists. Then 15,000 are chosen as finalists and scholarships are given.

Harish never planned on being a finalist, but after pushing herself to be prepared, she’s proud to say she made it when she saw her name on the district website. 

“I was really excited to know my hard work has paid off,” Harish said. “I’ve been studying for a while, and I was proud I could be a part of this process. It taught me if you work hard you can achieve things.” 

Being a member of National Honor Society has helped Harish be in a position where she could make a positive impact on the school and community while also upholding a standard of leadership and academic excellence. Harish was inducted into NHS at the end of her sophomore year but started community service her junior year.

As president of NHS, Harish is responsible for leading meetings, coordinating service initiatives and volunteer opportunities, and monitoring everyone’s hours. Vice president Rosie Pui, who has known Harish since the ninth grade, has seen Harish grow and become a hardworking individual while working alongside her. 

“She’s very organized, and she’s very attentive to small details,” Pui said. “She’s a very good leader, very patient and overall makes sure everyone is included and their opinions matter.” 

Although Harish is serious when she needs to be, according to Pui she says the weirdest things out of nowhere, and outside the president role, she likes to joke around.

“From Sonika, we can learn to not be stern or serious and live your life,” Pui said. “She’s the funniest person and overall a fun person to be around.”

In her sophomore year of high school, it was the height of COVID and Harish noticed online that there was a rise of dropout rates throughout the district, deteriorating mental health and students who were struggling financially. 

“I’ve always been very passionate about educational equality and making sure everyone has equal access to education,” Harish said. “Even my mother, as a woman student in India, wanted to make sure that she could get an education.”

Harish wanted to do something to help. She reached out to her middle school and started lecture presentations about mental health, academic success and how to navigate the transition from middle to high school.

That was the start of the High Five Initiative program. The organization invites all high school students to offer presentations to the middle and elementary students about activities important to them and opportunities they have in high school, like clubs and organizations they can look forward to. 

“I realized the dropout rates happen in the first two years of high school,” Harish said. “I really wanted to make a difference in our community and show people it doesn’t matter what you have or where you come from. Anyone can be successful.” 

UIL has been another important part of Harish’s high school career. By the time she joined Lois Hardaway for UIL speech and debate, she was already honed at what she does as she’s been competing in UIL since third grade because of her sister’s influences. Hardaway has seen Harish grow throughout her senior year, watching how she has become more self-aware. 

“Her older sister had gotten her into it, so by the time she started she already knew exactly what to do,” Hardaway said. “The week of March 20, she did not qualify for one of her UIL contests, and she said ‘It’s fine, I have a little bit of senioritis,’ and I felt such relief. She has grown into her confident self, and if things happen, she is going to be fine.” 

This year, Harish competed in multiple UIL  contests including prose and spelling and vocabulary. Harish did not qualify for first and second place for the prose contest, getting third place overall. However, Harish is on her way to state in spelling and vocabulary; and in speech and debate she is on her way to nationals held in Arizona. 

“With her reputation among the teachers and students, she will leave her legacy behind,” Hardaway said. “We’re in awe of her. She’s such an authentic person. She’s genuinely a good soul, even when you talk to her she’s super nice, and she’s very hardworking.” 

The senior wished her younger self knew to take every opportunity that comes because she never thought what could come out of it. Her connections with her friends have been a major influence in her journey throughout high school.

“The friendships and connections I’ve made, I think that’s very important,” Harish said. “I guess I’ve done some stuff, but I think it’s important to know you connected with people who you made a difference with, and that’s something I’ll carry with me [along with] the lessons I’ve learned for the rest of my life.”