Diversity Makes a Difference —Part 1

Compiled by Sue Misao
Northwest Asian Weekly

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The Northwest Asian Weekly’s Diversity Makes a Difference scholarship program celebrates high school students from Western Washington — nominated by teachers, counselors, principals, mentors, and community members — who encourage and actively promote diversity. Each student submits an essay on what diversity means to them, along with a letter of recommendation.

From these nominations, a judging panel will choose five winners to receive $1,000 scholarships, and several other finalists who will receive $200 scholarships. The scholarships honor young people who take action to increase cross-cultural understanding and awareness in the community. These scholarships have been awarded every year since 1994.

The Diversity Makes a Difference awards dinner will be held at the New Hong Kong Restaurants on March 28.

Adora Nwankwo
Olympia High School

“I see Adora as one of the great leaders of this senior class,” said Olympia High School principal Matt Grant in his nomination of Adora Nwankwo. “She serves in our academic student body leadership, holds the president role in our Rotary Interact Club, and has been an active member of STAND (Students Together Advocating for Non-violence and Diversity).”

Adora also found ways to bring students, teachers, parents, and community members together on social justice, said Grant. After helping to organize and lead a community Common Book read on Stride Toward Freedom, she spoke at the school’s Martin Luther King Jr.  assembly about “the importance of love, forgiveness, and how to make a change in this world.”

“I look forward to seeing her powerful impact in later years,” said Grant.

“Valuing diversity recognizes the differences between people and acknowledges these differences as significant,” wrote Adora in her student essay. “It respects individuality, while promoting respect for others. It emphasizes the importance of people sharing their stories and learning from the stories of others.”

Ana Cervantes
Squalicum High School

“Once you meet Ana Cervantes, you will never forget her,” wrote Squalicum counselor department chair Aramis Johnson. “She has an amazing personality and her dedication to her community should be emulated.

Ana was a founding member of the Unified Special Olympic basketball team. “Ana was able to look past their disabilities and treat them like teammates, not just disabled athletes,” said Johnson. “She laughed, joked, and supported our team throughout practice and games.”

When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was enacted in 2012, Ana not only boldly applied, but also encouraged others to do so. “She let students know that it was safe to speak about their immigration status to their counselors,” Johnson said.

“Ana has accepted her role as a leader in our Latino community and serves as a role model to other immigrant students. Her actions have encouraged many to believe that they too can achieve the American Dream and attend a four-year university. Having Down syndrome won’t stop her from becoming and accomplishing everything she sets her mind to.”

Austin Moungchanh
Chief Sealth International High School

“It is my pleasure to write a letter of recommendation for Austin Moungchanh,” wrote Jol Raymond, counselor at Chief Sealth. “He is a bright, hard-working, perceptive, caring, and unassuming young man.”

Last year, Austin was elected National Honor Society president. “He has strong listening skills,” said Raymond, and “a great sense of humor.” His father died two years ago. Austin provides care for both his developmentally delayed sister and grandmother.

Next year, Austin plans on going to South Seattle Community College, and wants to study engineering and aeronautics. “He has the aptitude to be successful,” wrote Raymond.

“I believe diversity is important because it guides us to accept one another even between the things that make us different,” Austin wrote in his essay. I know I would learn more from someone who is completely different than me, as opposed to someone who is practically the same.”

Ava Gharai
Squalicum High School

“Ava is a strong and diligent student, a mature and conscientious young woman who divides her time between community involvement and academics,” wrote Squalicum High School history teacher Gabriel Mayers.

President of the Squalicum Rotary Interact Club and recognized as an “AP Scholar with Honor,” Ava has been on her school’s honor roll ever since her freshman year, and is an inducted member of the National Honor Society.

“New students in our school, especially freshmen, see her as an approachable and kind person always willing to listen and give her time to them and any good cause,” said Mayers. “She has my highest recommendations with no reservations.”

“I find diversity to be the ultimate teacher,” writes Ava. “It provides a vast knowledge of the world and the way its people live. I am able to continuously meet with others who have different ethnicities and values than I do, and, by being different from me, they are able to school me on their way of life. By meeting someone with a different ethnic background than myself, my eyes are opened up to what their country, tradition, and culture is like. I have purposely shown a small window into my life as an Iranian to prove exactly what the power of diversity can do — educate the world enough to have people change their views of societies that, like Iran, would otherwise be deemed venomous.

Barbara Biney
Mountlake Terrace High School

In summer 2013, Barbara Biney interned at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She is currently focusing her studies on biotechnology.

“The importance of diversity is critical in science and can create a circumspect viewpoint,” Barbara wrote, “and by doing so, it improves communication between each other, breaks the societal norms, and can lead to self-growth.”

During her internship, Barbara experienced a bit of an epiphany. “The scientists in the lab were welcoming and valued my opinion. No one ever connected my skin color with my opinion. It was all about the science.”

“Barbara‘s many outside interests and desire to make a difference in the world are evidenced by her community service work through the Honor Society,” said Mountlake Terrace High School math department chair Nancy Paine. “She works with struggling students in the after-school study club and is coordinating the Honor Society members to do the same.”

Diversity is important, says Barbara. “It allows you to expand from your comfort zone, broaden your view of the world, and be more accepting of others. Diversity shows us what we have in common.”

Chloe Batara
Holy Names Academy

Chloe is “an extremely hard working and consistent student with a great demeanor and a positive, upbeat attitude,” says Megan Diefenbach, Holy Names Academy college counselor. She wants to attend college with a double major in Spanish and teaching.

“Her Catholic faith is extremely important to her,” says Diefenbach, with an “authentic love of community and fellowship.”

Chloe is a Teen Leader of her church’s youth group, and is a Campus Ministry and Community officer at her school. She helps plan school-wide liturgies, retreats, and community service opportunities. “She is a natural, yet quiet leader,” said her counselor, “and she is incredibly effective in this role.”

Diversity is a combination of various beliefs, values, cultures, traditions,” Chloe wrote. “Despite these differences, they are not necessarily meant to divide one another. On the contrary, it is indeed these unique aspects of each person that unites the worldwide community.”

Christina Nguyen
Chief Sealth International High School

Christina Nguyen is a “bright, extremely hard working, perceptive, self-motivated young woman,” said her school counselor, Jol Raymond. She carries a 4.0 GPA, while taking honors and International Baccalaureate courses throughout high school. One of her most impactful endeavors, she said, was her participation in her school’s Change Project, in which students designed a project to implement positive change in the world.

“The topic that fired my group of four into action was racism,” wrote Christina. “Our goal was to educate young people about the consequences and effect of bigotry and intolerance. Christina’s team constructed their message around the Anti-Defamation Leagues’ “Pyramid of Hate” model. She involved people of all ages both inside and outside the school, and learned how seemingly insignificant attitudes can develop into acts of prejudice.

Christina volunteers on the yearbook, as a tutor, in the public library, and is very active in her church. She has logged nearly 500 hours of community service, said her counselor.

“Christina is organized, positive, and very caring,” said Raymond, adding that she is in her second year of an after-school leadership class to continue developing her communication skills.

Cian “Cici” West
Holy Names Academy

“Diversity can be a powerful and innovative tool for shaping one’s immediate community, as well as the community at large, which is ultimately my goal as a lifelong leader,” says Holy Names senior Cici West. An ASB officer and Black Student Union leader, Cici says she has learned to honor and value the experience of diversity. She helps create school-wide activities, including dances, a “High-Five” zone (anyone walking through the zone has to high-five another person), and the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. assembly.

“Cici is an outstanding young lady who has developed into quite a leader,” said Holy Names college counselor Alice Tanaka, who quoted the school principal’s description of Cici as “super excited about everything, she is the perfect [ASB] officer. She can inspire people without trying. She is so positive, never complaining about anything. The responsibilities of the officers move forward because of her personality.”

“She has become a leader in our school and she plans to become a leader in her community,” said Tanaka, who quotes Cici in saying “I intend to make a change in the world. I am not quite sure what it is going to be, but I am going to help people.”

Llanteo Okamura
Roosevelt High School

“Diversity is the key to global consciousness,” writes Llanteo Okamura. “With the collaboration between people from different cultures and backgrounds, brilliant solutions to complex problems are possible.”

Eugene Edwards, Globalmix Design life coach and personal trainer, calls Llanteo “exceptional.”
“Llanteo has demonstrated outstanding motivation and capacity for learning,” said Edwards.

“He is always pleasant and open to taking initiatives, doing his best with every challenge. Llanteo has a genuine curiosity and thirst for knowledge.”

Monisha Gonzalez
Sehome High School

“If I were to single out an individual who has totally proven that she is resilient, indomitable, bright and incapable of being distracted from her goals, it would be Monisha,” says her high school counselor Jeff Smith. “With a vengeance, she has pursued information about colleges, different majors that might be a good fit for her and how to make sure that she is knowledgeable about financing college.”

Monisha has immersed herself in the world of diversity that differs from most young people — she volunteered at Grancell Village Jewish Nursing Home. With her peers, she helped form an “Adopt a Grandparent” program.

“I realized many elderly are overlooked,” said Monisha. “All they desire is company, someone to hear their voices. Like us, they don’t want to leave life feeling invisible – and they deserve better. The elderly hold so much history, lessons, and essential life – and their stories and experiences enrich us. Anyone of any culture and age is part of the fabric of life.”

Monisha challenges herself with rigorous courses, plays tennis and plays in the orchestra. She loves science, and wants to pursue a career in medicine.

“Monisha is capable of meeting the highest of expectations at the most competitive colleges,” said Smith.

Nicola LaGuardia
Roosevelt High School

Nicola LaGuardia found one particular aspect of diversity almost accidentally — she joined the Unity Club, out of curiosity. The program, which she had never heard of before, unites disabled students with mainstream students in the pursuit of organized sports.

“Until this point I was unaware that some students did not have the opportunity that I had taken for granted,” she said. “The students’ excitement to simply wear a Roosevelt jersey and represent their school was unparalleled.”

Nicola has been on the Debate team for four years and is the current president. She has served on the ASR (Associated Students of Roosevelt) for two years, and has been on the Key Club for four years. She was on the winning Roosevelt Dance team for two years. She’s been the Unity Club president for two years.

“I was able to foster lasting friendships with several of my teammates and came to understand that they are not so different from me,” she said. “Some of them may not be able to express their thoughts, emotions, and opinions in the same ways that I do, but it is important to realize that they still have them.”

Nicola has goals of attending a four-year college, majoring in chemical engineering. Her goal is to become an engineer. “Every indication is that Nicola will succeed in achieving her goals,” said her school counselor, Dr. Littlebrave Beaston. “And in my estimation, her academic abilities and her outstanding personal qualities will make her a valuable member of the university community.” (end)

Sue Misao can be reached at editor@nwasianweekly.com.

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