Aniket Shah ’09 should be more intimidating than he is.
First, there’s his book, “Club Expat: A Teenager’s Guide to Moving Overseas,” co-written with his brother and published before Shah had even finished high school. Then there’s his job, as the youngest member (by over a decade) of the eighteen-person executive board of Amnesty International. And then there’s the extras: he’s lived on three continents (and traveled to 35 countries), he’s training to run a marathon, he wants to read “War and Peace” this semester and one of his side ‘projects’ this year involved helping to organize a Yale trip to Kenya, where he spent winter break observing elections while the country was consumed by violence.
When the words “Grand Strategy” pop up, it’s hardly surprising.
But Shah denies the prestige of his impressive resume. “I’m really not that interesting,” he repeats over and over.
It’s hard to believe that this kid is for real.
But according to Shah’s friends and roommates, humility is a central element in the young activist’s lifestyle.
“He really is very humble, almost to a weird degree,” roommate Willie Brien ’09 says.
“It’s almost like there’s two Anikets,” muses another of Shah’s roommates, John Hinkle ’09. “There’s the Aniket that you look at on paper, and you could never talk to that kid, and then there’s the Aniket that you make fun of, who’s just one of the guys. It’s almost surprising when you realize all he’s done, because he’s such a normal guy.”
This Clark Kent-like costume change between professional and personal occupies a lot of Shah’s life. The “on paper” Aniket spends his weekends traveling to Amnesty board meetings and his weekdays returning the plethora of phone calls and e-mails that go along with his position. The “just one of the guys” Aniket is most excited to return to a beer-bottle-laden common room to watch a showing of “Superbad.” The “on paper” Aniket worries about human rights and reads hundreds of pages of policy briefs for his meetings, while the “normal guy” Aniket somehow finds endless time to play video games and go on Durfee’s runs with his roommates. The “on paper” Aniket speaks in front of hundreds of people for a conference in San Francisco, while “very humble” Aniket worries about talking to girls.
For the fellow members of the Amnesty International Board, it’s Shah’s poise and commitment that make him a good addition.
“It’s fantastic for the board that we have [his] perspective, and it helps us to understand what the youth generation wants. He’s taken seriously and he’s very active,” says Sharham Hashemi, a graduate student at Columbia University who sits on the Amnesty International board with Shah. “The kid is good … what’re you gonna do?”
Shah’s commitment to human rights dates back to middle school, when as the child of a telecommunications engineer he was uprooted from Pennsylvania to Munich to India.
“It’s almost a surreal experience: In India, you can eat in McDonald’s, watch western movies, go to clubs and restaurants, and feel like you’re back at home. But if you step back, you see the dire poverty and pollution just outside all that,” Shah says. “For me it was tough balancing those two worlds.”
This desire to help, coupled with a self-proclaimed fear of displacement motivates most of Shah’s activities. Multiple friends describe Shah as “endlessly loyal,” or “extremely sincere.” His New Jersey home is always open to the stream of friends who return from break through Newark Airport, where Shah has been known to drop everything to pick up a roommate after a 6 a.m. flight and insist on making him breakfast afterwards.
“[Shah’s] sometimes more passionate about the things going on in other people’s lives than they are themselves,” says Brien.
But suitemate Mikkel Krenchel ’09 asserts that Shah gains as much from his close-knit group of friends as he puts into their relationships.
“He has a great sense of empathy, so that when he’s around people who are also in a good mood, that cheers him up,” Krenchel says. “I think he takes a lot out of the people who are around him, and he wants to give a lot back to them.”