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Students honored for making a difference through diversity
ARLINGTON A trio of Arlington High School Respect students have been honored by the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation for fostering tolerance and acceptance of others' differences.
AHS sophomore Melody Leung and seniors Luke Passalacqua and Nick Tezak were recognized by the NAWF Diversity Makes a Difference program, and nominated for its scholarship.
The NAWF is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1994 to educate, encourage and inspire young people. The mission statement of Diversity Makes a Difference is to identify and honor Western Washington youths who are "visionaries and champions of diversity individuals who not only believe that diversity makes a difference, but take action to instill in others this belief by leading and/or organizing others to attain this goal."
After being bullied about her ethnicity when she was younger, Leung not only takes pride in her own Chinese heritage, but also speaks out on behalf of other people of color. She is an active member of the AHS Key Club, who has been involved with their recent activities to raise funds to build a school in Sri Lanka.
"She took it upon herself to explain the economic realities that people living in Sri Lanka face, to students who did not understand," said AHS Career Specialist Gina Burrill, who nominated all three students.
Leung described herself as having a "mathematical mind," but she expressed just as much interest in acupuncture and herbal medicine as in engineering.
"I want to promote awareness of those medicines and their culture," Leung said. "That ties back into diversity too."
Passalacqua's best friend was one of the targets of the 2004 cross-burning in Arlington. This inspired Passalacqua to propose a community march and rally, the latter of which garnered national attention. Passalacqua's subsequent meetings with his friends eventually led to the formation of the AHS Respect team. He has served as the group's president for the past two years.
Passalacqua's interests range from calculus to English and astronomy, all of which are leading him to Northern Arizona University in the fall.
"That's where they discovered Pluto," said Passalacqua, who plans on majoring in exercise science. He's kept busy at AHS in the meantime, serving as senior class vice president and taking part in track and cross country.
According to Burrill, Tezak was likewise "deeply affected" by the cross-burning four years ago, and helped organized the "Community for Unity" march and rally within 48 hours of the incident. He has already received the Washington Youth Activist Award from the ACLU, and the Snohomish County Youth Challenge Award in 2004.
"I've enjoyed giving back to the school and making it a welcoming place," said Tezak, who plans to attend Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, to major in sports managing and marketing. "I'm a people person."
Tezak is currently serving as ASB vice president, and has been a member of the AHS Link Team, which helps new students connect.
"Each one of our Arlington students has acted with intent, purpose and energy, to educate and organize students at AHS, to understand diversity and promote respect in our school community," Burrill said.
The Northwest Asian Society describes the student nominees as "inspirational examples of how different ethnic groups can work together. Through their own actions, they serve as leaders of diversity at their schools and unofficial ambassadors in other countries."