By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The impact of diversity in a community is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore.
When high school students take the lead in fostering diversity, their parents support their efforts to reach out across racial lines, both domestically and internationally.
Eighty-four students from around western Washington were spotlighted at the 16th annual Diversity Makes a Difference Scholarships Awards Gala on April 2. The event was held at Jumbo Chinese Restaurant and drew about 300 people.
Master of ceremonies Eric Liu, an acclaimed Chinese American author and educator at the University of Washington, began the ceremony by commenting on the significance of diversity and welcomed the nominees — more than 75 in total.
“Diversity makes a tremendous impact in enriching our community,” he said. “The Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation (NWAWF), through [the Diversity Makes a Difference Scholarship] program, encourages young people in our community to take action, to inspire action around diversity, and to instill this belief in the power of diversity in others.”
“We shouldn’t celebrate diversity. We should celebrate what we do with diversity, what we make of diversity,” Liu added.
He then introduced the gala’s keynote speaker, Diankha Linear, an in-house counsel at Fortune 500 global logistics company Expeditors International, Inc. Instead of a conventional keynote speech, Linear engaged in an insightful conversation with Liu.
Admitting that she had made a lot of mistakes, Linear told the students, “You don’t have to be perfect while you’re going through high school, but if there’s something you really want to do in life, don’t let go of that focus.”
The duo even discussed two F-words — dealing with fear and learning from failure.
Assunta Ng, founder of the foundation and publisher of the Seattle Chinese Post and Northwest Asian Weekly, encouraged the students to participate in the foundation’s Summer Youth Leadership Program.
She introduced Janice Vong, Vice President of the Northwest Asian Weekly Youth Board, who said, “The judging criteria for this award has nothing to do with GPA. It’s about what you have done in leadership skills and diversity.” Each award winner received a $1,000 scholarship, books, (written by Liu, Liu and Nick Hanauer, and Hoan Do), gifts, and a certificate of merit from the NWAWF.
The 2010 Diversity Makes a Difference Scholarship award winners
● Rima Akras, a student at Bellevue High School, traveled to Syria and volunteered for the Red Crescent organization, which helps young Iraqi women refugees better their lives. She has also raised money for the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association.
● Maheleone Faalelea, a student at Foster High School, worked as a leader in the Multicultural Action Committee and then co-founded a new club called Educating the Pacific Islander Community. She accepted her award with tears of joy and said, “I know this scholarship will change my life dramatically, so thank you.”
● Imran Hafiz, a student at Squalicum High School, co-authored a book called “The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook,” one that addresses negative stereotypes about Islam. As a State Department Cultural Ambassador, he also participates in quarterly web chats with foreign embassies about issues involving diversity.
● Kaycee Keegan, a student in Olympia High School, was able to get Nobel Prize Nominee Greg Mortensen to speak at her school and raise $25,000 for his non-profit organization. Mortensen has devoted his life to building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Keegan has also contributed to the Pennies for Peace drive for schools in Afghanistan.
● Grace Kim, a student at Gig Harbor High School, dedicates hours of her time to promote understanding and appreciation of the African culture. She is also a volunteer for World Vision in Tacoma.
The eight finalists are Michael Andrew Davis-Redditt of O’Dea High School, Darcey Escamilla of Highline High School, Corey Hubbard of Holy Names Academy, Jessica Iwuoha of Nathan Hale High School, Matthew Law-Phipps of Ballard High School, Juliet Le of Mountlake Terrace High School, Jamal Mehyar of Olympia High School, and Michelle Tran of Foster High School. Each finalist won a $200 scholarship, various gifts, books, and a certificate of merit from the NWAWF.
Sponsors for the event included Microsoft, Greater China, State Farm Insurance, 98.9 KWJZ Smooth Jazz, and Pemco Insurance Company.
The NWAWF has organized the Diversity Makes a Difference banquet since 1994. ♦
For more information about the Diversity Makes a Difference Scholarship, visit diversity.nwasianweeklyfoundation.org.
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.