Diversity makes a difference — Part 6

Compiled by Rebecca W. Lee
Northwest Asian Weekly

Northwest Asian Weekly’s Diversity Makes a Difference scholarship program celebrates young people who are committed to reaching out across cultural lines. Students are nominated by their school as being champions of diversity. From among those students, a judging panel will choose five winners who will receive $1,000 scholarships and a number of finalists who will receive $200 scholarships.

The Diversity Makes a Difference awards dinner will take place on April 1 at New Hong Kong Restaurant. To buy tickets, visit diversity.nwasianweeklyfoundation.org. Each week, leading up to the dinner, we published a batch of short profiles of the nominees. This is our last batch.

Za’Deja Slade
Senior at Mariner High School
Recommended by Alexandria Johns

“Za’Deja has been involved with the Mariner High School community with Future Business Leaders of America, MESA, Key Club, M&M Connections (a club here at Mariner that mentors freshmen and also mediates conflicts between peers), tutoring in our after school homework center,” wrote Alexandria Johns, a counselor at Mariner High School, in a recommendation. “Za’Deja is a leader with the Youth Action Team, which is a student-led volunteer group supported by Volunteers of America. In this group, Za’Deja came up with an idea to join Youth Action Team with all the volunteer clubs at Mariner to organize a school-wide canned food drive.”

“I am an African American girl and for me, experiencing a lack of diversity, as well as a large amount of diversity has opened my eyes to the importance of diversity in all aspects of our world,” wrote Slade in a personal statement. “Over the years, I have been able to experience diversity and it has made a tremendous impact on who I am today. I have found that in areas where there is a lack of diversity, the people are unaware of what and who are around them. But then, when I come to places such as Mariner High School, where there is over 100 languages spoken just by the student body, I am truly appreciative …”

Mia Stroutsos
Senior at Roosevelt High School
Recommended by Brian Vance

“[Mia is involved in] the Youth Ambassador’s program,” wrote Roosevelt Principal Brian Vance in a recommendation. “This has really proven to be a valuable experience for Mia and for our community. Mia was selected to be one of two representatives from the United States at an International Youth Conference in Panama this past year and while at the conference, she proved her leadership strength in being chosen as the North American representative on a new Youth Ambassador’s network.”

“This past summer, I participated in an international leadership program organized and funded by the U.S. Embassy and Department of State,” wrote Stroutsos in a personal statement. “I was chosen as one of 13 students to be a United States Youth Ambassador to Brazil. … We acted as global mediators and often discussed social problems. … In December, I attended the first ever Youth Ambassadors Summit in Panama. … I was officially selected for Central Leadership Council (five regional representatives) by my peers at the summit, and currently hold a six-month position.”

“Furthermore, in Seattle, I regularly volunteer for The Tibetan Nuns Project, a nonprofit organization that provides education and humanitarian aid to refugee nuns from Tibet that have fled to nunneries in Northern India,” wrote Stroutsos.

Ai Phuong Tong
Senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School
Recommended by Valaree VanderMolen

“Ai Phuong has an extremely high sense of commitment to community service and giving back,” wrote Valaree VanderMolen, a counselor at Edmonds-Woodway High School, in a recommendation.

“She has been a member of Asian Cultural Club, Interhigh Rep, National Honor Society, Teen Court, Yearbook, and Chinese National Honors Society throughout high school.

Additionally, she has been a leader in Key Club (as vice president), PCCLA (as secretary and vice president), Multicultural Club (as treasurer), and volunteered at a number of events such as local arts festivals. To top off her well roundedness, she is also a member of cross country, track and field, swimming, and plays tennis outside of school.”

“While diversity sets us apart, I am proud that I was able to bring together diverse students to plan and host an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet to raise awareness of world hunger that strikes people from all cultures. Essentially, diversity is vital because it makes us look back at ourselves and realize that we are one person, with one culture, among many others.

Diversity, in this way, is like a puzzle. Each piece in a puzzle is different, diverse in some way.

But the diversity in each piece is what makes the puzzle come together at the end and create art that is beautiful,” wrote Ai Phuong in an essay.

Khanh Phuong Tong
Senior at Edmonds-Woodway High School
Recommended by Valaree VanderMolen

“Khanh is an appointed officer in the Mixed and Multicultural Club. She has given her authentic interest and time to many other clubs that represent her versatility including Science Club, Teen Court, and volunteering at the University of Washington and Steven’s Hospital,” wrote Valaree VanderMolen, a counselor at Edmonds-Woodway High School, in a recommendation.

“Khanh has experienced the transition from a foreign country and learned to make friends with strangers.”

“As an identical twin, diversity means a great deal to me. I have grown by thriving on diversity to set myself apart as a capable leader and role model in my school and community. As a leader, I am able to educate others about how they can improve and help out their community. … As president of FCCLA, Family, Career, Community Leaders of America, I led my members to help out their community, whether by hosting a holiday, babysitting for parents, or volunteering with March of Dimes. From this, they are able to learn to be compassionate, and to instill the same consideration towards their family. I also prepare them to be a leader in the career they wish to pursue. Being Vietnamese has given me the chance to share my cultural experiences. To me, diversity provides for growth and joy, which are necessary in life,” Phuong wrote in her personal essay.

Rishi Trivedi
Senior at Mariner High School
Recommended by Adam Brauch

“Rishi has an incredible ability to focus and remain present in challenging situations — leaving his course work on hold to attend to matters at hand,” stated Adam Brauch, an adviser at Mariner High School, in a recommendation.

“Rishi has helped build our Raising Student Voice and Participation club (RSVP).  He has tackled one issue of social networking.  Rishi knows that while connecting online can bridge gaps in communication, cyberbullying is real and can have serious consequences. Rishi was selected to be our School Board Representative, attending monthly evening meetings and sharing our efforts with Mediation and Mentoring. He was also elected by his peers to be treasurer for Conflict Mediation.”

“Taking advantage of the great diversity Mariner has to offer, I have assumed the presidential role of our school’s Raising Student Voices and Participation (RSVP) club. In this club, I organized a group of students to go into classrooms to hold peer-to-peer discussions about the various social issues they see occurring in our school. Recently, the focus was on the issue of bullying. A significant reason behind bullying is the absence of knowledge about where a person comes from or what shapes their individual nature.

Through these various classroom discussions, students of the school come up with ideas to bridge this ignorance gap through an intellectual and fun fashion. The belief behind having student-to-student discussions like this is to ensure that there is a deeper level of discussion,” stated Trivedi in a personal essay.

Kirstin Wagner
Senior at Olympia High School
Recommended by Matthew H. Grant

“I had been working with a civil rights group that was conducting leadership workshops for our diversity club. I believe Kirstin may have been the only freshman.  The workshop required that students read from the works of non-violent leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It also required that students respond in writing and then speak out with an original thought to the group. Kirstin welcomed this opportunity to stretch and improvise, while being coached while speaking,” wrote Matthew H. Grant, a principal, in a recommendation.

“On the first day of class, our drama teacher told us that she wanted to hear about the diversity in our lives. We denied her. We were a mostly white group of 28 kids. We had no idea that diversity could be found in our lives and we thought we knew each other enough already, that there wasn’t any of this diversity stuff lurking beneath the surface. But we were wrong. One day, someone stood up and began to talk. … One by one, we all stood up and shared our lives with each other. … I learned about a diversity of homes, cultures, desires, and families within my classroom that I had never known existed. I understood that diversity is not just a difference in color. It is all the differences that make up each one of our lives and cause us to see the world from 28 unique perspectives,” Wagner wrote in her personal essay.

Adiam Woldu
Senior at Franklin High School
Recommended by Caroline Sacerdote

“Adiam has shown leadership in school as the captain of the soccer team and a member of the leadership group of the Black Student Union. Adiam takes full advantages of whatever opportunities are available,” wrote Caroline Sacerdote, a College Access Now (CAN) adviser at Franklin High School, in a recommendation.

“She understands that, though her parents would like to help, she must make her own path to college. To achieve this, she has not only joined College Access Now, but also Upward Bound and Making Connections. She [also] interned with Tree House, a program that works with youth in foster care, and truly values service,” stated by Sacerdote

“I learned that you have to celebrate the differences in others. I learned a lot about my culture, which I can share with others while in college. I’ve experienced diversity in high school and have been a leader in teaching students the importance of African American history as part of the Leadership Group of the Black Student Union. I want to continue this work by teaching others about my culture,” wrote Adiam Woldu in a personal essay.

Keimyla Yarbrough
Mariner High School
Recommended by Douglas Brouillard

“Her progress has been tremendous. Last spring, in my English class, we did an 11-week unit on civil rights and racism through literature and film,” wrote Douglas Brouillard, at Mariner High School, in a recommendation. “Keimyla’s burning intellectual curiosity shined. She’s a leader. She never failed to show the courage to answer the questions she could answer herself because she felt it was important to bring the deeper, more difficult questions to the Socratic Seminars we held weekly.”

“I enrolled into Mariner High School my sophomore year, I’ve dealt with prejudgment and sources of negativity. This type of reaction from your peers and administration does not open the doors of acceptance, but those of alienation. This experience has prompted me to be a part of groups such as RSVP (Raising Student Voice and Participation), which is designed to gain opinions of our student body to help the social environment within our school. Conflict mediation is a program for helping students resolve issues between each other, with the help of mediators such as myself. I have taken MESA, which is a class, whose goal is to raise the voices and participation of minorities and offer many opportunities for advancement in education and mainstream workforce. Through these groups, I have gained my knowledge on how diversity makes an impact on our education. I was able to communicate with others and express different ideas freely. Diversity makes a difference because it teaches us to be open to our differences, respect each other, and with those qualities, we can learn so much from one another,” Yarbrough wrote in her personal essay.

Jennifer Yasui
Senior at Sehome High School
Recommended by Michelle Nilsen

“Jennifer Yasui has an independent mind, and is athletically gifted in both swimming and golf.  Jennifer has a tough-it-out, stick-to-it attitude of the strong, unspoiled life of an average American kid.  Our students find Jennifer to have strengths that they really admire, electing her to the captaincy of a highly successful swim team and honoring her as the most inspirational player on the women’s golf team,” stated Michelle Nilsen, a college counselor at Sehome High School, in a recommendation.

“Jennifer has given herself in ways that reflect a reaching out and a caring of others, from her work in our community service programs, to her 10-year tenure with the Girl Scouts. I find it noteworthy that she has chosen to focus her energies in ways that make a significant difference in the lives of others.”

“In 2008, I was a sophomore in San Diego and it was 84 degrees. Today, I am in the middle of my last year at a new school and it is always raining. But there is more. My new friends that are Caucasian have forgotten that they are one or two generations removed from being immigrants and most of my Asian friends are the offspring of immigrants or came to America as toddlers. The reality of social responsibility, justice, tolerance, equality, civil behavior, and respect of ethnic origin are personal responsibilities I must embrace for the positive growth of society. Like Gandhi, I too want to feel the breeze of diversity on my face, but I refuse to be knocked down.

Tyler Yorita
Junior at Renton High School
Recommended by Keayleen Carosino

“Tyler is active in the Japanese Presbyterian Church and has chosen to study Japanese for the past three years in high school,” wrote Keayleen Carosino, a school counselor at Renton High School, in a recommendation.

“Tyler is also a strong member of the diverse community of students and staff at Renton High School, navigating gracefully between groups of students with various interests and backgrounds.”

“Diversity, from my perspective, was never something that began as a direct influence in my life. I was never taught my own language or culture. Neither was I expected to adopt or learn about a life many of my ancestors lived years ago back in Japan. I was expected to ascertain what others described and portrayed to me as American, by the way of learning American English, culture, and continuities thoroughly. … However, over time, I began to enjoy the ‘American’ lifestyle and benefit from it. I became more and more at peace within my own Japanese community by participating in things like large get-togethers between Japanese people in Washington, at events like the Seattle and White River Bonodori and my Japanese Presbyterian Church. I applied to take Japanese as my elective language in high school, which by the way I am now a third year student, and even found out who I really am, not just as the Tyler born in Washington, but the half Yorita and half Okiyama, who has family in Japan,” Yorita wrote in his personal essay. ♦

Yukari Sumino and Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.

Rebecca W. Lee can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

One Response to “Diversity makes a difference — Part 6”

  1. Good luck to the students, all are outstanding essays.


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