Kamiak student inspired by women leaders in Mukilteo

Sargun Handa hopes to open dialogue about suicide, and inspire others to serve their communities
By Brandon Gustafson | Jan 24, 2018
Courtesy of: Sargun Handa Sargun Handa giving her talk at TedxSnoIsleLibraries titled, “Be a voice, not an echo.” Handa talked about addressing teen suicide and the values of public service.

On the heels of another successful Women’s March this past weekend, it’s important to highlight strong women in the community who are aiming to make the world a better place.

One of those women is Sargun Handa, a junior at Kamiak High School who spoke at TedxSnoIsleLibraries in November at Kamiak High School.

Her talk, “Be a voice, not an echo,” was about dealing with Chrohn’s Disease as a child, experiencing grief after a classmate’s suicide, and how she found meaning and satisfaction through volunteering.

Handa, who volunteers with Kamiak’s Key Club and Human Rights Club, has been nominated for the President's Volunteer Service Award for having more than 250 hours of community service in 2017, and was also nominated for a leadership scholarship through Kamiak High School’s leadership program.

Handa began her public speaking career during her freshman year at Kamiak, where she spoke at the Martin Luther King Jr. assembly.

After that, Handa was planning on speaking at a Tedx event at Kamiak before plans were cancelled.

“My friend Radhika Dalal, she was organizing TedxYouth at Kamiak, and I was going to be a part of that, but then it got cancelled because of school rules,” Handa said. “Then all of a sudden, previous Tedx speakers were nominating me for this new Tedx event that I didn’t know about, so I was really surprised when I got an email for an interview. Then it just happened.”

Handa said her main inspirations in everything she does are some of the women who help lead Mukilteo.

In leading up to her talk, she worked closely with Anna Rohrbough, who just started her first term on Mukilteo’s City Council.

Rohrbough served as Handa’s speaking coach.

“Anna Rohrbough, while she was running for City Council, she was also my Tedx coach, and really, she hasn’t been much of a coach to me, she’s been more like a mom and a friend first,” Handa said.

“She’s so inspiring and so inclusive, and she’s one of my role models.”

Handa also worked closely with other female candidates such as Councilmember Sarah Kneller and Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson.

She ended up interning for Kneller’s campaign after attending a Peace Park meeting.

“I went to the Peace Park meeting earlier because my friend Nina had committed suicide, so I wanted to be a part of building the Peace Park in Mukilteo,” Handa said. “When I started being an intern for Sarah Kneller, we started going to a lot of election events, and I met Tina Over and I met Jennifer Gregerson."

Handa left an impression on Gregerson, and served as the keynote speaker at Gregerson’s State of the City address on Jan. 6.

“I was honored to invite Sargun Handa to speak at the 2018 State of the City address,” Gregerson said. “This remarkable high school junior was our only featured speaker, and she made me and our city proud. Sargun is an accomplished presenter, is adaptable, entertaining and dedicated.”

In her TedxSnoIsleLibraries talk, Handa said she spoke from the heart on issues and matters that she holds dear.

“Honestly, I just wrote what came to mind,” Handa said. “At first it was a 25-minute speech, and we had to make it down to like 15 minutes. It was really hard to cut down what I wanted to say because there was so much to say.

“But the writing process, it was all just genuine honesty. It was just my story. I didn’t want to craft it with any arguments or ethos or pathos or logos. It was just me.”

When asked how she felt in the moments leading up to her TedxSnoIsleLibraries talk, Handa laughed.

“Definitely nervous,” Handa said. “But when I got to the stage, my passion and the purpose overtook me and I wasn’t nervous anymore. I felt like I was just telling a story. It was easy.”

Handa hopes that her talk will allow people to be more open to talking about suicide.

“Teen suicide is prominent, and we can talk about depression because that’s OK to ask, that’s normal, that’s manageable, but we can’t talk about suicide because it’s not normal to us and we don’t think it’s manageable, so it scares us that we have to talk about it even more,” Handa said. “I feel like the reason I did the Tedx talk was so people can be more open to talking about suicide, and ever since I did it, a lot of teens at school have been talking about it and it’s really cool.”

Handa has plans to speak in the future, and may be speaking at WE Day in Seattle in May, but she hopes to get a TedxYouth event at Kamiak.

“Even though I’ve done my (first) Tedx event, a lot of people said that I’m not done with Tedx yet,” Handa said. “So I might do a second speech, and I might actually organize TedxYouth at Kamiak.”

Handa also has other plans in the near future.

“I've become an official writer for ‘The Mighty,’ an international website and blog that discusses illnesses like depression, Crohn's Disease, autism, etc., and I'm speaking at Harbour Pointe Middle School this Thursday,” she said.

For Handa, she is still shocked at her experiences with public speaking because she never thought that was a path for her.

“I never expected to be a public speaker. I was really shy in middle school, I didn’t have any friends, and then when I entered high school, I started making a lot of friendships, and people started asking me to speak and, honestly, it’s opened a lot of new doors for me,” Handa said. “I’m starting to consider being a public speaker. I’ve met so many inspirational speakers, and something that didn’t seem possible to me before is now possible because I opened some doors that were risky and I didn’t believe in at first.”

You can watch Handa’s talk on Tedx Talks’ YouTube page, https://www.youtube.com/user/TEDxTalks.


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