Young leaders promote diversity in local community and beyond — Diversity Makes a Difference nominees receive awards and scholarships

By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Back row, from left: Pemco Claims Supervisor Todd Wells, Entrepreneur Thach Nguyen, State Farm Agent Ali Alyazdi, former Seattle Times President Carolyn Kelly, and King County Superior Court Judge Patrick Oishi. Front row, from left: Meron Germu, Cindy Garrido, Jyoti Parmar, Kausila Budhathoki, and Lani Tu Nguyen (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

On Friday, March 30, the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation presented scholarships and awards to high school students from Western Washington at its Diversity Makes a Difference awards dinner. The event, held at the New Hong Kong Restaurant, honored 55 student nominees.

Attendees of the dinner also included parents, teachers, and counselors, those who have supported these students and their efforts to increase cross-cultural understanding and awareness in their community. A panel selected five winners who received $1,000 scholarships. Four finalists received $150 scholarships and two essay winners won $50 each.

This was the first year that the Foundation presented “Best Essay” awards — given to Ivan Gaskin from O’Dea High School and Bahara Naimzadeh from Squalicum High School.

Gaskin wrote about the necessity of diversity after his first exposure to racism.

Naimzadeh’s essay recounts the hate crimes that her fellow Afghan Americans experienced after the 9/11 attacks. The $1,000 winners were Jyoti Parmar, Cindy Garrido, Kausila Budhathoki, Meron Germu, and Lani Tu Nguyen. The winners were chosen from among the 55 nominees who have participated in activities, headed organizations, and created dialogue to promote diversity. Most of the scholarship recipients’ efforts extend beyond their school environments to include addressing issues in their local communities, other states, and internationally. Some of them have achieved these accomplishments despite extenuating circumstances.

Jyoti Parmar, a senior at Squalicum High School, was nominated by her counselor Aramis Johnson. Parmar said that Johnson constantly pushes her to think outside the box.

Parmar raised funds to help a Honduran student’s family pay to ship their father’s body home for funeral services, and volunteered at an Indian orphanage. Though she is not Latino, she participates in her school’s MEChA club.

Cindy Garrido is a senior at Olympia High School. Because Garrido has family living in Arizona, she worked with teachers, students, Hispanic community leaders, and college professors to create an event where they inform the community on issues the students in Tucson are facing with their education. As a young mother, she wants to create a welcoming environment for her son to better understand differing cultural backgrounds when he gets older. Garrido plans to attend the University of Washington this fall.

Kausila Budhathoki and her family arrived in the United States almost three years ago from a refugee camp in Nepal. At Foster High School, Budhathoki founded a Bhutanese Club to help support her fellow peers. Lori Penor, a youth program teacher at the Refugee Women’s Alliance, nominated Budhathoki and noted that the scholarship award will be a huge financial aid to Budhathoki and her family. She will be the first member of her family to graduate from high school and go on to college. Budhathoki plans on continuing her studies next year at Highline Community College.

A senior at Nathan Hale High School, Meron Gurmu arrived in the United States from Ethiopia when she was 11 years old. She is an active member of the African Girls Club and spearheaded the school’s first Black Student Union. Like Parmar, Gurmu is not Latino, but she joined the club to learn about Latino culture and improve her Spanish.

After earning a full-ride scholarship to a private high school, Northwest School, Lani Tu Nguyen founded the Asian American Association on campus after seeing that her Asian classmates lacked the space needed to connect and discuss their concerns as minorities in the largely white student body. Growing up with strong female role models in her household, Nguyen aspires to take on leadership roles. In addition to her duties with the Asian American Association and efforts to combat racial stereotypes in the media, she is also involved with the robotics team and has been a volunteer for the Veterans’ Hospital.

She hopes to pursue an education in health care at either Seattle University or the University of California, San Diego.

The four finalists were Margarita Elias of Squalicum High School, Gillian Friedman of Roosevelt High School, Andrea Liu of Skyline High School, and Katarina Nguyen of Edmonds-Woodway High School. Each finalist received a $150 scholarship, gift cards, a book, an eco-friendly bag from Northwest Asian Weekly, and a certificate of merit from the Foundation.

Bringing hope and humor to the evening was keynote speaker Al Sugiyama, public affairs consultant and founder of the Center for Career Alternatives. In his speech, Sugiyama emphasized that the award was about “making progress” and applauded the bright and committed students in the audience working to combat racism in our community. He provided a few examples of personal encounters of racism and advised the audience, “When racism pops up, you have to knock it down.” Q13 Fox anchor Maria Arcega-Dunn hosted the event. Arcega-Dunn brought her son to the event to introduce him to the achievements of his older peers. She hopes her son will be inspired by what others are doing in their community. (end)

For more information, visit diversity.nwasianweeklyfoundation.org.

Nina Huang can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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