Sargi Handa at her TEDxSnoIsleLibraries Talk earlier this month.
Sargi Handa at her TEDxSnoIsleLibraries Talk earlier this month. TEDxSnoIsleLibraries

In her 2017 TEDxSnoIsleLibraries Talk, “Be a Voice, Not an Echo,” Kamiak High School junior Sargun Handa discusses how simple connections can totally change your perspective, mood and sense of belonging; the disconnect between reality and social media; how the latter negatively affects the former; and how the negative of having a chronic illness ultimately led to a positive by helping her find meaning and a sense of community through volunteering.

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Currently, the Mukilteo 16-year-old is a member of Key Club, Human Rights Club, Natural Helpers, Hugs for Ghana, Free the Children, Knights in Action, Orchestra Council and the varsity golf team. She’s also a proud Aerospace Ambassador for the Institute of Flight Museum, a tutor at Kumon and a member of the Mukilteo Youth Advisory Committee.

Handa was nominated to do a TEDxSnoIsleLibraries Talk by a few friends, including fellow Kamiak student and TEDxSnoIsleLibraries 2016 speaker, Radhika Dalal, who’d wanted to put together a TedxYouth event that included Handa, but graduated before she could fully plan it. “I thought that my journey with Ted was over when that Tedx Youth event never happened,” Handa explained. “But then I got this really pleasant surprise that some of my friends had nominated me. So I ended up getting to do the Tedx Talk when I was 16. And now that I've done the talk, I am trying to carry out Radhika's dreams of having TedxYouth at Kamiak.”

The title of her talk was inspired by a sign hanging in the classroom of her AP English teacher, who also happened to be her English teacher when she was in middle school, and who Handa said is “not only my role model but she's like my inspiration to be a good person … Every day I look at that sign and it reminds me to help others and continue spreading that message.”

Check out Handa's interview with the Stranger below, then watch her Tedx Talk.

Describe your TEDx Talk in a few sentences.

Well, usually when people ask me what it's about, I tell them that they have to watch to find out. [Laughs.] I talk about my life struggles as a growing teen in our Mukilteo community, the diagnosis of my chronic disease, the death of a friend due to depression, and how community service helped me through all that.

You mentioned in your TED talk that you joined service organizations specifically that had the word "fun" in the descriptions. Which ones were these and which ones would you say, most enriched your life?

The ones that I found very refreshing in high school were Key Club, Human Rights Club, Knights in Action… I only started with three clubs the first week of school, but then by winter break, I was doing six or seven clubs. Even though there are only five school days! All the clubs I do now are all service clubs; I used to do academic clubs but I stopped having time for them. Honestly, the best clubs in my school are the service clubs because the people you meet there are so genuine and caring.

Do you have a favorite service club that you participate in right now?

I do have a favorite job or club thing that I do: I'm the Aerospace Ambassador at the Future of Flight Museum. It's a branch of the Institute of Flight in Seattle.

Wow, that's really cool. What exactly do you do as the Aerospace Ambassador?

I just walk people through our aerospace exhibit. We have part of the International Space Station nodule called Destiny. It was actually really cool to give a TED talk because one of the other speakers was an astronaut [Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger] who went to the ISS. It was so cool to meet her. It was kind of my nerdy dream come true.

Is that something you want to do with your career, something involving space?

I used to want to be an astronaut when I was little, but then I got diagnosed with Crohn's disease and didn't think I would fit the health requirements.

But now I want to first start out as a teacher, but then hopefully become a guidance counselor, an administrator, a principal, or something like that, just so that, every day I'm making a difference in students' lives. Because I feel like, the prime part of their lives where they're actually growing and need the most support is their teenage years. I think my home will always be a high school.

You mentioned that volunteering allowed you to take control of your life. What was one main thing that it helped you to take control of?

I think mainly my future. Because college applications are a side effect of my putting myself in service of others. You know, colleges might look at me and they'll say, ‘Wow, she not only excelled academically, she also does extracurriculars.’ So, I feel like by volunteering and thinking about how I can help people in the present, I also solidify my future.

You make some rather astute observations about social media keeping us from making real connections. Do you still use social media?

Oh yeah, all the time.

Would you say that everything that you went through kind of changed the way you use it and the way you interact with people on it?

Yes. Before, social media used to be, just a past time. And then after everything I went through, I started hating social media. I just thought that, it didn't really help me with making any friends. And when I came back from summer camp, like I said in my Ted talk, I just felt my connections from it disappear. But then all of a sudden, as I entered high school and I did the Ted Talk, all of this positive input was coming from social media. I got messages about my Ted Talk, I got a lot of people sharing my video, and there's so much positive stuff going on that I realized, social media does connect us at times, but during times of hardship, it's not the way we should be connecting or remembering people.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone your age, a teen who’s struggling or who maybe feels powerless about making a difference, or who’s suffering from depression or a chronic disease, what would it be?

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I feel like teens have this tendency to murder themselves. They always feel like, this is their battle only. And they can't ask for help from their parents or their teachers or their counselors. That's why a lot of people don't end up talking about depression or suicide or their health problems at school, because they feel like if they do ask for help or if they do talk about it, they'll be seen as weak. So what I want to tell people in the same situation is not to isolate yourself and not to take the burden on by yourself because if you actually let other people help you and if you actually welcome people and community service and that sense of community into your life, you'll be making it all stronger, because there's strength in numbers.

You can't do everything by yourself and that's part of growing up, is realizing when you need to surround yourself with people even if it's more comfortable to just look at your phone screen by yourself in your room. Sometimes it's healthier to go outside and volunteer with other people. Because that could be your best medicine.