By May S. Ruiz
Four high school students from the San Gabriel Valley were given the Congressional Award by Representative Judy Chu at a presentation ceremony held at noon last Thursday, March 29 at the Pasadena office of Congresswoman Chu.
“The Congressional Award program is a private–public partnership created by the United States Congress in 1969 to recognize and promote service, initiative and achievement among American’s youth. It is, in fact, the highest award for youth in the country. To date, nearly eight million hours of service have been rendered by 48,000 of involved youth across the nation,” declared Congresswoman Chu.
Participants have to set and accomplish goals in four program areas: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration. The recipients of this honor were Richard Dong from Arcadia, Julieanna Guo of Alhambra, Cristie Huang from Arcadia, and Melanie Phan from Claremont.
Alhambra High School student, Julieanna Guo, received a bronze medal. She committed to over 100 hours of volunteer service to the non-profit organization Global Youth Mission, tutoring children and providing assistance to the elderly in nursing homes in the community; for personal development, she practiced her piano skills to prepare her for future performances and competitions; for physical fitness she reduced her mile run time from eleven minutes to under nine minutes; for her expedition/exploration she traveled to Boston to compare the culture and history of the East and the West Coast. While there she saw the sights, took in a concert, and watched the dragon boat racing festival.
Cristie Huang from Arcadia High School was awarded a bronze medal. She volunteered at the Arcadia Retirement Center to care for and help better the lives of its elderly residents; for personal development she improved her piano skills and participated in solo and group recitals; for physical fitness she ran on the treadmill six times a week to increase her stamina from 20 minutes to 25 minutes; for expedition/exploration she traveled to Japan and experienced various sites, including Tokyo’s oldest Temple, the Sky Tree, a Cat Café, and Kyoto.
Melanie Phan, who attends Claremont High School, received a silver medal. She spent over 200 hours volunteering as a Human Services personnel for San Bernardino County. For her personal development she committed to expanding her guitar skills to help her gain confidence and start performing in front of an audience. For physical fitness she increase her overall time in breast stroke and was able to make it to the top 20 girls for the swimming finals. For her expedition she traveled to Georgia to learn more about the Southern culture. While there she visited Stone Mountain Park and the Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park, and Coastal Heritage Society in Savannah.
Arcadian Richard Dong, whom Congresswoman Chu introduced as someone she knows quite well because he was in intern in her office in 2015, is a junior at San Marino High School (SMHS) and received the bronze medal. For volunteer service he worked as a teacher’s aide for SMHS, volunteered and participated in the Los Angeles Taekwondo competition; for personal development he refined his piano skills to perform multiple hours per week at local schools, churches, and online; for physical fitness he focused at recovering from his 2015 medical treatment for gallstones by restoring his swimming capabilities and competitiveness. He swam for an hour and half everyday through the summers of 2016 and 2017 and is now totally recovered from it and rejoined his competitive swim team; for expedition/exploration he traveled to Taiwan to tour sites including Taiwan Science Museum, Liberty Square, and Taipei World Trade Center.
“Through this experience I developed time management skills, gained the courage to face challenges head-on, grew and matured as a young adult,” says Dong. “It helped me tremendously to become enduring and resilient, to rebound from setbacks and become stronger physically, mentally, and psychologically.
Like me, young people today face enormous pressure – to participate in arts and sports, volunteer for community service while doing well academically. We might think of them as activities to cram into our already busy lives, but we should also realize that they prepare us to make a difference in the world.”
Dong was diagnosed with cholecystitis when he was 14 years old and had to miss a year of school to recover from it. He has first-hand knowledge about fighting against medical challenge. Through it all he managed to not only get back on his feet but to push himself to achieve greater things. In addition to this recent accomplishment, Dong traveled to Washington DC in February to receive a medal for Outstanding Student for 2017 from the International Leadership Foundation (ILF).
But, more importantly, Dong has mustered the energy and found the time to serve others using his talent as a pianist, performing in senior centers and schools. He is also lending his assistance in homeless shelters and is fundraising for them.
Representative Chu was right when she said the recipients of the Congressional Award are outstanding young people. We can all rest easy to leave the future in their capable hands.