Scholarship Honoring Obama’s Mother Recognizes Rainier Beach and Mercer Island Grads

by Clare Meeker

On May 20, the Stanley Ann Dunham Scholarship Fund held its 8th annual awards ceremony at the Northwest African American Museum.

For the first time in its history, the Fund awarded a scholarship to a Rainier Beach High student.

Rainier Beach High graduating senior Emily Au, along with Mercer Island High graduating senior Christine Lee, received $5000 scholarships from the fund.

It also recognized eight other scholarship finalists – Rainier Beach High School seniors Celine Nguyen Le, Scarlet Quynh Nguyen, So Nanthavongsa, and Nirae Petty, and Mercer Island High School seniors Rory Murphy, Claire Stein, Sidney Montague, and Katerina Tiscornia.

Each of these women were honored for their leadership, love of learning, and passion for public service, values they share with Dunham – who was also President Barack Obama’s mother and a 1960 Mercer Island High graduate. 

Emily Au was born in Seattle. Her parents immigrated from Vietnam and Cambodia after the Vietnam War. An accomplished artist, International Baccalaureate student, and athlete, Emily’s community activism began after finding herself ineligible for a free Orca card Seattle Public Schools provided to students commuting a significant distance to and from school.

2017 Scholars: Rainier Beach School Senior Emily Au (on left) and Mercer Island High School Senior Christine Lee. [Photo: Clare Meeker]
In order to qualify for a free Orca card students had to live at least 2.5 miles from their school. Emily lived two miles away.

After three years of courage, persistence, and persuasive tactics including organizing town hall meetings and inviting the Seattle Mayor and City Councilmembers to walk the two mile route she traveled every day by foot, Emily and her fellow students eventually got the Seattle School District to extend free Orca cards to all students who qualify for free or reduced lunch in the district.

In her essay connecting her life with Dr. Dunham, Emily said, “The idea of social activism and fighting for equity reflects Stanley Ann’s life work. Her beliefs and values continue to spread through the minds of active empowered young women like myself.” Emily will be attending the University of Washington this fall.

Christine Lee was born in Hawaii and is the daughter and granddaughter of Chinese immigrants from Indonesia, the same place where Stanley Ann Dunham began her pioneering anthropological work in development and microfinance.

In addition to being a top student, Christine helped establish a Reach Out and Read program at the Valley Pediatric Clinic in Renton providing over 10,000 free books to pre-school age children from underserved families in South King County. She also started a baking business to help support and promote awareness of the local soup kitchen Teen Feed.

In her words, “Every act of service I complete helps me appreciate how much I have and has helped me become a more empathic and compassionate person.“ Christine will be attending the University of Washington in the fall and would like to major in public health while focusing on the education and nutrition of children in impoverished countries.

Guest speakers included immigration lawyer Tahmina Watson, Legal Voice Executive Director Lisa Stone, and Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver.

Event sponsors included Homegrown, Island Books, Cascade Frames, Mercer Island Florist, the Law Offices of William D. Hochberg, and the Wright Education Fund.

Featured image by Clare Meeker: 2017 Finalists (from left): Katerina Tiscornia (MIHS), Claire Stein (MIHS), Emily Au (RBHS), Christine Lee (MIHS), Celine Nguyen Le (RBHS), So Nanthavongsa (RBHS), Nirae Petty (RBHS), and Sidney Montague (MIHS)