With their proud families sitting nearby, four high school juniors received praise for working to ensure diversity in their schools.
The Springfield-Annandale Chapter of the American Association of University Women honored Shannon Scott from Annandale High School, Theresa Perkins from Lee High School, Iram Shaikh from Lake Braddock Secondary School and Madiha Nawaz from West Springfield High School during a ceremony Thursday night, April 20. The girls were praised for their dedication to cultural integration while striving to understand and welcome students who come from different backgrounds.
"My heart shook with joy when I met these young women," said Joanna Shows, co-chair of the AAUW's Education Equity and Diversity Committee.
The four girls were selected based on written essays, detailing what role diversity has played in their lives.
"American has long been associated with diversity. We all come from various parts of the world," said Gwynette Peterson, the other co-chair of the Education Equity and Diversity Committee. "More and more, we need to be accepting of other cultures."
READING ALL OF the application essays was a daunting task, said Ercell Binns, a member of the AAUW. "I've never been so surprised. Every time I read one, I thought this girl had to be it. And then I read the next one and thought the same thing. Students in our high schools today are exceptional people," she said.
Calling the families gathered at the ceremony "the face of Fairfax County," Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) applauded the parents of the students for the changes the girls were making in the world.
"When we look for our differences, what we find is what makes us the same," she said. "It doesn't matter how you worship, what you do for a living. The commonalties are what make us a better people."
After each girl was called, Binns read a small section of their application essay, answering a question about how they are making a difference in their community.
Shannon Scott grew up in a family that resembles the United Nations and has worked on the Alexandria Youth Council to bring together students and families from culturally-different backgrounds.
"Diversity has never been a problem for me," Scott said, accepting her award and a long-stemmed red rose. "It's kind of strange getting an award for something I think should be done automatically."
Theresa Perkins had written that she plays drums in a multi-cultural church on weekends as one of many activities she pursues to open herself up to other backgrounds.
"When you meet people every day, you stop seeing color," she said. "It's good that Fairfax has so many different diversities. At the end of the day, it helps you see that everyone's the same."
Lake Braddock student Iram Shaikh was preparing for her school's International Show when she wrote her essay. The program included students from 10 different countries, each of which performed a dance or presented another culturally-distinct art.
"I learned so much about those other cultures," she said. "It's a great opportunity to learn about other people's backgrounds. I'm really energized from winning this award, I feel like I'm really making a difference and I hope I can do more."
Making a conscious decision to introduce herself to a new student made a big difference for West Springfield student Madiha Nawaz. "I learned that she had just moved from India and was feeling a loss of cultural identity," she had written in her essay. "I decided to help her, making her transition from the east to the west a little easier."
When accepting her award, Nawaz borrowed a line from an old movie: "There are apples and there are oranges, but in the end, we're all fruit."
At the end of the ceremony, Shows thanked the girls for their dedication and hard work.
"When I read your resumes, I felt your passion," she said, beaming with pride. "You're only just beginning."