For Arizona State University religious studies graduate and Ahwatukee native Nathaniel Harris, empathy and spirituality have guided his studies and his extracurriculars.
Harris always knew he wanted to be a Sun Devil, and once at ASU, the Desert Vista High School alumnus decided to major in religious studies during an introduction to religion course taught by Professor John Cunningham.
“I had always been interested in understanding the human condition and how other groups interpret the esoteric or venerated aspects of life. Professor Cunningham, with his enthusiasm and care and respect, sold me on my major,” Harris said.
That idea of caring for others was a thread through Harris’ time at ASU. He became involved in a number of student organizations, serving as student president of ASU Hillel and student coordinator for Recovery Rising, an organization that supports students in recovery.
Outside of ASU, he also served as sustainability chair for the Tempe Coalition, a local organization that seeks to reduce drug and alcohol use among Tempe youth. He also found the time to chair Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, teach yoga classes and spend a month living in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan.
Harris is about to embark on another adventure of understanding and service.
“I plan on going into the Peace Corps, teaching English in some rural community somewhere and taking a nap,” he said.
During his time at ASU, Harris said, one of the more surprising realizations he made is “you can’t save everyone.”
“Individuals are completely free to make their own choices, but what you can do is create a system that gives individuals the opportunity to thrive,” he said.
He has several places within ASU that he enjoys.
His favorite is the ASU at Polytechnic campus in far east Mesa. “With its desert landscape and farms, you get an amazing sense of calm,” he said.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t found a place he likes on the main campus in Tempe.
“It’s the grove of trees behind Old Main,” he said. “There’s something magical about them flowing in the rare wind that we get.”
His studies have affected his mindset.
Asked he was given $40 million to solve one problem on earth, he replied:
“I would put that money toward making a more empathetic system. $40 million is a lot of money to me as an individual, but to society as a whole it’s a drop in the ocean. The primary focus of that money would be advocacy toward creating a more equitable system of life.”
And the best piece of advice he has for those students who are coming into ASU?
“Study what you find interesting.”