2019 Peace Awards Recipients
Students from 22 Fairfax County public schools have been named recipients of the 2019 Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County, designed to recognize young people who work as peacemakers. The 2019 recipients are:
- Annandale High School: Kora Corker
- Cedar Lane School: Nick Price
- Centreville High School: Deepika Joshi
- Chantilly High School: Annie Wang
- Edison High School: Reem Ali
- Fairfax High School: Lara Demir
- Hayfield Secondary School: Delina Kiflom
- Herndon High School: Lydia Goff
- Langley High School: Sumaiya Haque
- Lee High School: Oscar Manuel Lopez Hernandez,
- Madison High School: Hannan Mumtaz
- Marshall High School: Luka Gabitsinashvili
- McLean High School: Neha Rana
- Mount Vernon High School: Burhan Ahmed
- Mountain View High School: Romina Soleimani
- Quander Road School: Lauren Haymes
- South Lakes High School: Sophia Liao
- Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology: Angie Sohn
- West Potomac High School: Diana Argueta
- West Springfield High School: Laura Kirk
- Westfield High School: Makee Neves
- Woodson High School: Xuan Huynh
It’s not easy to be the peacemaker. Sometimes it is really hard, especially when you make those around you, even friends, angry when you speak out and stand up for what is right. And sometimes it can be dangerous. But in all instances, being the peacemaker “requires courage and commitment,” U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11) told the crowd gathered at the Sherwood Community Center in Fairfax on Sunday, March 9.
Connolly, along with a host of sponsors, elected officials and a cheering collection of family and friends, had come together to honor the 23 young recipients of the 2019 Student Fairfax Peace Awards at a ceremony led by Margaret Fisher of program-founder Herndon Friends Meeting.
In addition to garnering kudos from the congressman, state Del. Ken Plum (D-36), Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross (Mason District), Scott Brabrand, Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent, and Karen Corbett Sanders, Mount Vernon District representative and vice chair of the FCPS board also officially offered their congratulations and admiration for the young activists.
Ryan McElveen and Ilryong Moon, members-at-large of the FCPS board, and Tamara Denerak Kaufax, FCPS board Lee District representative were also on hand to show their support.
THE EVENT’S KEYNOTE SPEAKER was David Swanson, an author, activist, journalist, radio host and co-founder and director of World Beyond War, a “global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace.”
Swanson, a 1987 graduate of Herndon High School who identifies as a “world citizen,” presented his argument of “no justification for war, ever,” while admitting that his remarks could make his audiences uncomfortable, but asserted that they were words that need to be said and a conversation that needs to happen.
The Fairfax Student Peace Awards started in 2006 as one school, Herndon High School, and one sponsor, the Herndon Friends Meeting, but has grown to 19 sponsors and is now offered to every public high school in Fairfax County, as well as two private schools.
The goal of the program is to encourage young people to think more about peace “both as a means and as an end” and to recognize their achievements when they turn those peace-making thoughts into actions in their schools, their communities, and even around the world.
The program is open to area high school juniors and seniors. In October, each school is invited to choose either an individual or a group recipient with the guidelines that the students have worked “specifically for peace or to identify and resolve conflicts … demonstrating commitment to peace by engaging in activities that strive to end conflict … seeking to bridge language, ethnic, racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, or class differences … and/or assist to resolve conflicts among students or members of the community who feel isolated or alienated.”
THE WINNERS received certificates of achievement, a monetary gift and an additional $100 to be donated to any nonprofit organization of the student’s choice that operates in a spirit that is in keeping with the Peace Awards and this year, an autographed copy of the book, “Sweet Fruits From The Bitter Tree” by Mark Andreas, stories of “creative and compassionate ways out of conflict.”
Read more about the Peace Awards and the recipients at www.fairfax.studentpeaceawards.org.
Area students who received Peace Awards include:
Reem Ali, Senior, Edison High School – Inspired by her parents, who educated her in current affairs from early childhood and who ensured she was familiar with her Sudanese heritage, Reem and a few friends founded Project Humanity. The club supports charities that provide international relief with efforts like a book drive for Sudanese children, fundraising for the Red Cross, and toy, food, clothing and hygiene supplies for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Reem spent last summer working in Sudan for a rehabilitation center for children with disabilities. She is currently working on a drive for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
She says her goal is “to bring attention to global crises so that we can be part of the solution, rather than waiting for others to solve the conflict.
Oscar Manuel Lopez Hernandez, Lee High School Senior, was surrounded by violence in his homeland of Honduras. “I remember seeing the fighting,” he says, “people afraid to go to school.” Here, in the U.S., Oscar embraces community service to improve his community and restore hope.
At Lee, he participated in the Student Government Association. GSA sponsor Mercedes Matson praises his “innate ability to perceive…he advocates for students from all walks of life…looking out for students who might feel isolated or alienated.”
Oscar is working to organize whole-school events to promote inclusions and community and bridge the gaps between different groups.
Delina Kiflom, Junior, Hayfield Secondary School – Delina and a friend started the Ethiopian-Eritrean Society at Hayfield. Their goal is to find ways to aid the less fortunate back home and bridge the gap between the younger generations of the two cultures that have a long history of conflict between them.
She is also co-founder of the First Generation American Association, a club that seeks to mitigate the difficulties faced by first generation students and their families as they work to assimilate in their new country.
If all that isn’t enough, Delina is also a member of a committee that works with the Anti-Defamation League to promote “No Place for Hate” at Hayfield.
Laura Kirk, from West Springfield High School, is a co-founder of the DMV chapter of Students Demand Action, an organization focused on eliminating gun violence. She helps connect students with legislators and recruits and trains volunteers to learn to lobby. She also organizes town halls, school walkouts, marches, and vigils to reduce gun violence. As co-president of the Young Democrats, she and her cohort with the Young Conservatives brought both groups together during January’s government shutdown to serve dinner to furloughed government employees and their families.
Lara Demir, a Senior at Fairfax High School, helped found a local chapter of Fairfax Minds Matter, seeking to reduce the stigma of mental health issues, increase help-seeking and coping skills and promoting positivity and social connection for teenagers. In addition, she volunteered at a community center in Turkey last summer, serving more than 200 displaced Syrian families trying to rebuild their lives and solicited donations for school supplies from local businesses in Istanbul.
Xuan Huynh, a Junior from W.T. Woodson High School, was unable to attend the Awards reception, but her efforts were recognized by the attendees. Xuan is a participating artist in the Youth Art Re-Imagining Community Program, which uses art to address social and racial inequities. She also served as a U.S. Student Ambassador in the cross-cultural Tech Girls summer program, in which girls from the Middle East and North Africa were exposed to STEM studies and completed leadership training seminars.
Kora Corker, Annandale High School Senior. Inspired by her own family (her father being Nigerian) and experiences of immigrant friends in the Annandale community, Kora wrote, illustrated, and published a children’s book, titled “Cassi and Issac,” that explored the concepts of immigration and discrimination through the eyes of elementary school children.
Kora has read her book to elementary school children, and after each reading she leads a discussion on the issues and asks the children to relate the story to their own experiences and views. She feels it is important to be an example to younger children, to model values and beliefs that are positive and unbiased, and celebrate cultural differences.