At the Minnesota State Senator Chamber, July 14, 2010, from left, Farmer Insurance Minnesota Director Locke Pierce, District Manager Khanh Huynh, scholarships recipients Melissa Thao, Holly Yang (back), Mai Chue Xiong (front), Xue Xiong (back), Mo Vu (front), State Sen. Mee Moua, APIASF Program Director Patty Limjap, and scholarship recipient Gaolee Vang. Recipients not pictured: Yang Thao and Choua Yang.
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (July 14, 2010) – Not many scholarship recipients are given such a memorable ceremony as was a group of Hmong women invited by State Sen. Mee Moua to the Minnesota Senate Chamber at the State Capitol last week. It was the second year in a row that several Twin Cities area students received $2,500 university scholarships from the Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund that was made possible with donations from Farmers Insurance.
Sen. Moua (DFL-67) present the scholarship awards to six of the eight recipients present for the ceremony, congratulated them for their hard work, and welcomed them on behalf of 67 state senators to the chamber – a visit that is not possible without being accompanied by a senator.
Six of the eight students are from St. Paul.
Melissa Thao, who will study pharmacy at the University of Minnesota, was a member of two state champion Harding High School badminton teams in 2008 and 2009, and the second place team in 2010. She also plays in the band, is a member of the National Honor Society and did a lot of volunteering including Big Brothers & Big Sisters.
Thao is the first member of her family to go to college, and said it took a while to finish the essays for the APIASF application, but that the scholarship will takes some of loan pressures off of her back.
“It’s going to help me focus more on school instead or worrying about how I am going to pay for college once I get out,” said Thao.
Mai Chue Xiong, Johnson High, will study nursing at St. Catherine’s University. She applied for 10 scholarships and got 4 of them – covering all her loans but for $1,000. In addition to her grades Xiong is active in the community, whether door knocking for food shelf donations, as a church volunteer helping new immigrants to learn English, or as a substitute bible teacher.
Xue Xiong will study criminal justice at Hamline University. The Harding High graduate said she will still have a lot of loans but that this scholarship helps a lot. Her volunteering included the city Parks and Recreation Centers, elderly homes, and Admission Possible service days.
She said Admission Possible also helped her prepare for the ACTs and with college application forms.
“I kept my eyes open for the scholarships and applied a lot,” said Xiong. “I did a lot of community service and tried to put myself out there.”
Holly Yang, Como Park High, will study marketing, fashion merchandising and international business at St. Catherine’s University. She was a member of her high school Asian American Club, JROTC and National Honor Society. She volunteered for the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and at Regions Hospital. She even volunteered for State Fair clean up.
“This (scholarship) helped a lot as financial aid doesn’t cover everything,” said Yang.
Mo Vu, Humboldt High, will study accounting at Carleton College. She is the eldest of six siblings and the first in her family to go to college.
Vu volunteered for the Friendship Club and did a lot of cleanup around the school. She said the group also went to nursing homes with gifts, where they would also sing and dance for the residents.
Vu said that combined with other scholarships, the APIASF would make the difference with the remaining $1,500 for her first year. It would otherwise have gone to a loan.
Yang Thao, Central High, was not present, but is said to be studying music in college.
There were two Minneapolis recipients, both graduates of Patrick Henry High School.
Gaolee Vang will study nursing at St. Olaf College. She is the third sibling and second member of her family to attend college. She said that two scholarships mean there will be fewer loans to pay.
A member of the National Honor Society, Vang said her community service included organizing fundraisers for other charities and volunteering for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. She also plays soccer, badminton and golf.
Choua Yang, who was not present, is said to be studying communications in college.
The recipients to were invited into the Senate Chamber, something that is not possible without being accompanied by a senator. In her address, Sen. Moua said she likes to do functions in the chamber whenever possible to allow more diverse peoples into chamber than before.
As the first Hmong senator in the state’s 150 year history, Moua said it is important to have the walls hear the Hmong language and see Hmong people because the walls have not heard or seen them before.
“For me that is one of the legacies that I can leave behind,” said Moua.
She said the Farmers Insurance scholarships represent a corporate investment in communities where it makes that biggest difference. She said the work of the APIASF Scholarship Committee is “phenomenal” in its efforts to help scholars and with building a pipeline to API leadership in this country.
“They are taking stake in your success and leadership,” said Moua to the students.
She added that the scholarships come with an invisible contract to prepare themselves not only for their own scholastic challenges but of thinking about their role in community leadership.
“My retirement is not the end, but the beginning,” she said.
Moua added that the scholarships are a way to ensure students get the tools they need to equip themselves with the academic, social and psychological resources to better serves their communities and to thrive in a mainstream that is not always so easy or friendly.
Moua asked the students to remember this moment in the chamber, saying she understood how it might pale in comparison to the rapid changes happening in their young lives. She said the memory would serve to show that in addition to the skills and talents that help with achievement, the young people much feel support and encouragement from their elders.
“So that in moments of distress it is experiences like this that gives you confidence to know that you are good enough and smart enough,” said Moua. “It is our hope and aspiration that you will be that success.”
APIASF is the nation’s largest non-profit organization devoted solely to providing college scholarships to Asian and Pacific Islander American students, made possible by Farmers Insurance Group of Companies.
APIASF Program Director Patty Limjap, was present from Washington, on the last leg of a national scholarship presentation tour. The St. Paul event was the first with a state senator in attendance.
She said the Sen. Mee Moua story was powerful and impressed her as much as the other student recipients. She said they are stories that need to be told.
Limjap said these eight students are able to peruse their dreams with a college education because of the $200,000 from Farmers Insurance. It is one of several co-branded scholarships that APIASF has with national corporations. Some like Farmers are broad area scholarships, while others focus on specific scholastic areas.
“This year we are going to be handing out 365 scholarships totaling over $750,000 in scholarship money,” said Limjap.
APIASF (www.apiasf.org) welcomes community readers to review applications and essays. The application process is rigorous and involves board members and volunteer all around the country.
More than 6,000 students started the application process in 2010 alone, and only about 300 students actually won a scholarship.
Farmers State Executive Director Locke Pierce presented the scholarships and congratulated the students – saying it is a great way for the company to give back to the community.
He said education is connected to success, and that Farmers made a decision to help Asian kids become successful and achieve their dreams because, “That is what its all about.”
Mr. Khanh Huynh, Farmers District Manager, made the scholarship activity part of his work for the past three years. He said the scholarships fulfill parents dreams that their children will be able to take things for granted that they could not.
Huynh reminded the gifted youth to take pride in their scholastic achievements, but to also thank their parents for helping instill a good work ethic, and for the sacrifices they made as refugees and in making a new life for their families in America.