Diversity Makes a Difference —Part 2

Compiled by Sue Misao
Northwest Asian Weekly


The Northwest Asian Weekly’s Diversity Makes a Difference scholarship program celebrates high school students from Western Washington — nominated by teachers, counselors, principals, and community members — who encourage and actively promote diversity.
From these nominations, a judging panel will choose five winners who will each receive $1,000 scholarships, and five additional finalists who will each 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 on Friday, March 28, at the New Hong Kong Restaurant.

This is the second of a four-part series.

Abiel Zewolday
Edmonds-Woodway High School

“I want to create a world where cultures are embraced, a melting pot where everyone is welcome,” wrote Abiel Zewolday.

Abiel is a deacon at his church, mentors young teens, is actively involved in the Eritrean community, and is a marketing apprentice in the Bing division of Microsoft.

“Abiel most definitely possesses the qualities that will help him navigate college life effectively,” said his high school principal, Miriam Mickelson.

Alexis Cavagnaro
Issaquah High School

“Alexis is a high achiever with excellent grades and a wide range of extracurricular interests,” said her youth pastor, Nick Pringle.

Last year, Alexis attended a mission trip to Yakima as a leader, taking 80 middle school students to help serve the community.

“Diversity in race has given me an advantage to experience different interacting cultures,” wrote Alexis Cavagnaro. “Racism can begin to fade when we accept that we all come from different cultures and learn why people do things relative to the culture they own.”

Alyssa Chow
Inglemoor High School

“Diversity stems not only from outside variables in the surrounding environment, but also from your state of mind,” wrote Alyssa Chow. “The world is becoming a melting pot of peoples, each with different beliefs and values, each needing to be cherished and appreciated, even if not agreeable, simply for the fact that it is dissimilar.”

Alyssa is a natural leader, said her Spanish teacher, Kieran McCormick.

“Alyssa has the ability to lead naturally and keep her peers on task,” said McCormick. “She will impact others because of her ability to see from their vantage point, no matter how much it may differ from her own.”

Amanda Levenson
Issaquah High School

“When I first reviewed Amanda Levenson’s application to be a member of ASB, I was overwhelmed with the number of commitments she had,” said Erin Connolly, ASB adviser and social studies teacher, “an academic schedule full of AP level classes, president of the National Honor Society, class council member, a member of Key Club and Chemistry Club, a member of the both the varsity soccer team at the high school and a club team in the area, multiple community service groups, including the National Charity League, a variety of different jobs, including working as an intern at a local nonprofit organization.”

Amanda has also organized multiple service community projects, including food and toy drives.

“I acknowledge the value of bringing these perspectives to the leadership positions I hold because I strive to address the needs and understand the circumstances of everyone in the group,” wrote Amanda.

Angela Geyer
Lynnwood High School

“It’s important for everyone to be unique and leave their mark on this Earth to distinguish themselves from others,” says Angela Geyer.

Angela is the president of the Rotary-Interact Club, a member of HI-Q, a member of DECA, and a cheerleader.

“Angela’s goal after Yale law school and politics, is to become our next African American woman president,” said her school adviser Don Ide. “She is more than just an outstanding student. She may be the perfect scholar.”

Asosa Sailiai
Highline High School

“My name is Asosa Joriah Sailiai, son of Asosa and Lorna, brother to Gail Fa’aseila Considine and Moeifaga Lorna Sailiai, grandson of Salei and Tifaga Sagiao and Moeifaga Sailiai.”

Thus begins the essay of this Highline High School sophomore — a young man who knows who he is.

Last summer, Asosa participated in a community-based program called Our Future Matters, a coalition of Pacific Islander students and adult mentors whose mission is to help Pacific Islander students and their elders and leaders create positive change and enhance success in education.

“I have seen AJ emerge as one of our student leaders and find his own voice as an advocate for diversity,” said his high school counseling intern Maile Kaneko.

“Diversity is important because you’re able to learn about people in so many ways,” wrote Asosa. “Whether it’s culturally, through food, sports, music, dance, spoken word, art, or belief, everyone can benefit from diversity.”

Ayesha Quadri
Shorecrest High School

Ayesha Quadri has been a math tutor and was chosen to be a “Link Leader” for her 2013-14 school year, guiding freshmen through their transition into high school.

“Her kind demeanor and patience were invaluable, as she was often tasked with helping struggling learners who were resistant to math,” said her teacher, Kimberly Olsen. “Through these interactions, Ayesha demonstrated her ability to connect with others, especially those with unique needs.”

“The meaning of diversity is different for each,” wrote Ayesha. “For me, it means respecting and understanding everyone’s differences.”

Courtney Gu
Edmonds-Woodway High School

In 2013, Courtney Gu became the first student representative on the City of Edmonds Arts Commission, where she has “the capacity to see the big picture, think strategically, and communicate effectively,” said Frances Chapin, City of Edmonds Arts & Culture Manager.

Courtney plays in her school’s orchestra, works with intellectually disabled students, and is the project manager of the Washington Association for Chinese Education.

“In today’s increasingly global and diverse society,” wrote Courtney, “an understanding and acceptance of people from different backgrounds is vital.”

Erick Yanzon
Mountlake Terrace High School

“Erick’s extensive leadership involvement on and off campus demonstrates his strong commitment to diversity,” said Ashley Johnson, Mountlake Terrace High student support advocate. “As co-captain of the MTHS hip hop dance team, online editor for the Hawkeye newspaper, member of LINK Crew, Honor Society, and SPIRIT Council, Erick is a visible leader in his school.”

Erick moved to the United States from the Philippines in 2010. In only one semester, he was fluent enough to leave his English Language Learner classes and enrolled in AP and Honors classes.

“Diversity is about acceptance,” said Erick. “It’s embracing the differences between people, and being proud of who we are and where we came from.”

Hayden Kim
Squalicum High School

“Hayden does not content herself with the minimal science experiment or assignment, but instead probes the depth and the breadth of the assignment far beyond what she could be expected to do,” said her school counselor, Michelle Nilsen.

For four years, Hayden has been a member of the United Diversity Club, and for two years was president of the club.

“I am thrilled by the opportunity of being a bigger part of our society to contribute a puzzle piece of my viewpoint to accomplish the art of diversity together with our community for the better,” said Hayden.

Jessica Allen
Squalicum High School

“Jessica Allen sincerely represents the best of the best,” says Squalicum school counselor Michelle Nilsen. “This is an independent, strong willed young woman — complex, intellectually quirky, exceptional character strengths, and tremendous leader—one who cuts her own path, regardless of the peer pressure of the day.”

Jessica is exceptionally strong in math and science, but also pursues interests in humanitarian efforts, mentoring, anti-bullying, and working with teens.

“Imagine a rainbow without different colors, or an entire ocean filled with only salmon,” Jessica wrote. “If we were to only see one color for eternity, we would not understand the beauty created by the variety of life’s shades.”

Jia (Demi) Tu
Sehome High School

“When I first met Ms. Tu, she was a recent immigrant from China and a student enrolled in my 9th grade English class,” said Sehome English teacher James Gaines. “Though she was still struggling to integrate into a new society and to learn the many vagaries of the English language, Demi proved to be a steady, reliable presence in a class of squirrely freshmen.”

Jia has participated in competitive swimming, and has excelled in both academics and athletics. As an immigrant, she invited her new friends to experience her Chinese culture.

“Diversity is not what separates us,” she wrote, “it is what brings the world together.”

Kayla Wheeler
Mountlake Terrace High School

Kayla Wheeler is a leader and role model, says her math teacher, Nancy Paine. “Her ability to grasp new concepts and integrate them into her other classes is in the top 5 percent of the students I’ve had over the last 13 years,” said Paine.

Kayla is active on the school robotics team and the rocketry club. She helps the middle school theater class and is a national competitor on the U.S. Paralympics team. “She is very creative and curious,” said Paine.

Kayla has a disability, which doesn’t deter her from much. “I don’t let people tell me what I, or other people, can do,” she wrote. “For example, I’m missing three limbs, but that doesn’t mean I can’t swim.”

Kayla hopes to become a disability rights lawyer, she said, “so I can help change the way others look at people’s difference.”

Strong in math, science, and technology, Paine “highly recommended” Kayla to any university, saying she has both the skills and integrity to succeed.

“Kayla is a truly remarkable individual in so many ways,” her teacher said.

Leonel Reyes
Sehome High School

Having a diverse society and world helps expand our thinking and knowledge, says Leonel Reyes, a senior at Sehome High School. “Diversity also provides our culture and society with unique and inspirational ideas and perspectives,” he added.

Leonel participates in a community service project called Club de Lectura, in which he reads to and mentors elementary school children in their native language of Spanish. This in turn helps the younger students become better readers in English.

“Leonel was my most committed tutor, with perfect attendance, and truly a passion for working with these young Hispanic students,” said his teacher Lindsay MacDonald.” He clearly understood that he was making a huge difference in the lives of these children, and brought a joy and focus to his work.”

Leonel is also learning French, has a 3.5 GPA, and is enrolling in AP classes. He is currently a Running Start student at Bellingham Technical College, where he is working on his prerequisites for entering the surgical tech program.

Leta Ames
Sehome High School

Leta Ames participates in the Club de Lectura program, helping elementary students by reading to them and helping them with their literacy skills in English and Spanish. She is the “backbone” of the Unified Athletic Teams — uniting special education students with mainstream students.

“She embodies the type of student that I try to foster as a teacher,” said her teacher Lindsay MacDonald. “I can count on her to be a leader for her classmates with an admirable integrity to do her best in all she does.”

Leta discovered the value of diversity through a friend she met in the tutoring program.

“She helped me with my Spanish and I helped her with Biology,” Leta wrote. “I came to find that despite coming from very different cultural backgrounds, we had a lot in common. We came from very different families and cultures, but we wanted the same things. That is what diversity brings: new perspectives along with common interests.”

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.”

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. 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.

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 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.

Nicola has been on the Debate team for four years and is its 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.

Nicola has goals of attending a four-year college and majoring in chemical engineering. Her goal is to become an engineer.

“In my estimation, her academic abilities and her outstanding personal qualities will make her a valuable member of the university community,” said her high school counselor, Dr. Littlebrave Beaston.

Oscar Mwaba
Chief Sealth

“Oscar is a natural leader,” said Chief Sealth counselor Jol Raymond. “In the fall of each year, students are surveyed asking three questions: Who do you respect? Who do you admire? Who would you follow if they were leading? Oscar has consistently been listed by his peers in the top five students of our school,” said Raymond.

Oscar was voted president of his freshman and sophomore classes, was selected for the student mentorship program, is a member of the Key Club, and was chosen to be in the school’s academy of finance program. Last year, he was one of five students selected as Student of the Year.

“From what I have learned through my cross-cultural experiences of being both Zambian and American, along with my passion, drive, and compassion, I will strive to enhance the community and college I will be a part of and contribute to building a more diverse, humane, just, and sustainable world,” wrote Oscar.

Rose Yasukochi
Holy Names Academy

“Being biracial is an interesting experience, mostly because you’re stuck in a constant limbo between two very opposite worlds,” wrote Holy Names Academy senior Rose Yasukochi.

Growing up in a multicultural household, her parents told her she could choose her religion.

Her parents were involved with both Buddhism and Judaism. She chose Buddhism and has become involved with the Seattle Buddhist Temple in leadership roles and has gone through training to become a youth minister’s assistant. She also volunteers at Keiro Nursing Home.

“My Buddhist-Jewish background has also helped me achieve a very unique perspective during religion class at my Catholic high school,” said Rose. “I often find myself comparing and contrasting the three religions in my head, which adds a whole new way of learning about them, whether at temple, at home, or at school.”

“During the course of her high school years, Rosie has proven to be an excellent leader, an outstanding student, a dedicated athlete, and a creative artist/musician,” said her college counselor, Alice Tanaka.

“To be diverse requires a certain level of dedication and a hunger to learn,” Rose said, “something I have felt many times.” (end)

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

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