The lavish flapper dresses, feathered headpieces, and long-stringed, beaded necklaces featured in last spring’s The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio became reality for the Seattle chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP Seattle).
With its members dressed in 1922 garb at the Westin Bellevue, NAAAP Seattle honored three high school students with scholarships at its 34th Annual Gala and Scholarship Reception on November 1. Sponsored in part by MultiCare, a health organization based in Tacoma, the event drew 110 people.
The NAAAP organization was founded in 1982, and has 28 chapters across North America. Part of NAAAP’s mission is to “cultivate and empower leaders for professional excellence.” Over the past 10 years, NAAAP’s Seattle chapter has awarded over $40,000 in scholarships to 20 young Asian American leaders seeking opportunities in higher education.
Co-emcees Catherine Bugayong and Owen Lei welcomed NAAAP Seattle members and guests to an evening filled with both silent and live auctions, story sharing among attendees, and a dessert dash.
The night focused on overcoming the adversity faced by Asian Americans laying the groundwork so that future leaders can make bigger impacts for the community.
Seattle City Council candidate Albert Shen, who was invited to speak at the Gala, called for Asian Americans to do better as a community by not playing it safe and by taking action.
“You have to step forward, and you have to rock the boat,” Shen told the audience.
Louisa Lambert, NAAAP Seattle’s scholarship chair, introduced the scholarship winners: Anwell Wang, Michelle Pham, and Kirsten Garcia. Each received a NAAAP Seattle certificate and a $2,500 scholarship.
“I have the privilege of introducing some exceptional students tonight,” Lambert said. “They’re involved in their schools, and they really have the potential to fulfill NAAAP’s mission to make future leaders.”
Wang, a senior at the International Community School in Kirkland, plans to study computer science. He started his own app business and did research at the California Institute of Technology last summer.
“I’m incredibly honored to be here today,” Wang said. “The fact that I’m present in this room with so many talented leaders in the business world and the community is truly amazing. To me, growing up in America as an Asian American has been kind of difficult because it’s hard to find proper role models to look up to.”
Wang commended NAAAP for helping to encourage leadership for people of different cultures and diverse backgrounds.
Pham, a senior at Highline High School in Burien, is interested in engineering and design and hopes to attend the University of Washington. She took part in Washington State’s Running Start Program, which allows public high school juniors and seniors enroll in college courses for both high school and college credit. Pham is also active in the National Honor Society and Key Club International and volunteers for Tet in Seattle, an annual Vietnamese festival that celebrates Lunar New Year.
“It’s kind of hard growing up, being an Asian American, because you have to fight against stereotypes like that we have accents or that we’re all smart,” Pham said. “Applying for this scholarshp and receiving this scholarship means that I’m just more than these stereotypes and that I’m not who these stereotypes are and that I’m my own person.”
Garcia, a senior at Franklin High School in Seattle, is class president and has held the leadership position for the last four years. She is also president of her school’s Key Club.
“I am a multi-cultural person,” Garcia said. “I am Mexican and Filipino, and it’s really hard in the Seattle area to figure out who I am or to figure out my goals in life and receiving this scholarship has helped me.”
Truc Hang is the associate director of Kollaboration Seattle, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Asian American and Pacific Islander entertainers in the Pacific Northwest. After NAAAP Seattle’s silent auction closed, he gave the keynote speech on empowerment. Born and raised in Utah, Hang said he grew up in an area with very little diversity.
“Through the arts, we can inspire and motivate the talented individuals within our own community to share their passions, whatever they may be: singing, dancing, the medical field, or even engineering,” Hang said.
In the closing remarks, Hang also took a moment to speak directly to the three scholarship winners.
“Thank you,” Hang said to the students. “It’s through your hard work and your dedication to doing good that you prove that there is hope for a better tomorrow, that you are the change that this world needs, and that change is coming sooner rather than later.”
For additional information about NAAAP Seattle, visit seattle.naaap.org.