Moving fearlessly beyond limitations

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ASPIRE students learn how to look to the future

Aki Smith / Courtesy Photo

Three hundred high school students, most of them Pacific Islander, filled the gymnasium on a brisk Saturday morning at Pierce College. These students from 11 different school districts from Seattle to Tacoma came to learn how their culture and knowing their identity can help them reach higher beyond high school.

“Beyond Fearless” was put on by The Asian American and Pacific Islanders Reaching their Potential through Education (ASPIRE). The second annual summit was to show students how to bridge their career goals while representing their culture. The event on Feb. 23 was made possible through funding by a U.S Department of Education grant.

Terisa Siagatonu, the keynote speaker, is a volunteer with Youth Speaks, which seeks to give young people a voice using poetry in the San Francisco Bay area. Her message rang with authenticity to the students as she spoke of the support her parents gave her, despite their poor background. “To my family education has always been the simplest prayer, and I have always been the holiest place they can turn to for refuge,” Siagatonu said.

“I want to challenge parents, I want to make them angry, to get them riled up and ruffle their feathers.””

— Violet Niusulu

After the speech, students separated into classrooms for workshops taught by mentors to learn career experience, self-expression and art designed to help them plan for their future.

Violet Niusulu, who works in admissions and evaluations at the college, led one of the two parent’s workshops. This year, her topic was “Building Strong Foundations for our Students as a Team.”  Her goal was to teach parents how to get involved, so they could learn how to connect not just with their kids, but also with the instructors. “I want to challenge parents, I want to make them angry, to get them riled up and ruffle their feathers,” Niusulu said.

ASPIRE outreach specialist Kiana Fuega looked for ways to help the students create connections between where they are in their current circumstances and where the future may take them. “We wanted students to really step beyond their comfort zone and can own the space that they could take up and be fearless in whatever way that is important to them,” she said.

Vince Vaielua, the executive director at a local nonprofit called Project 253, taught the workshop “Tama Toa: From Boys to Men”, which focuses on bridging cultural divides. Vaielua told the group about the culture shock he experienced growing up in Lakewood and moving to Samoa. He spoke about how important it is to know your culture, and in his words, to know “whose shoulders you stand on.” Vaielua described the value in knowing your culture because, it will help students discover who their true self is and how students can use that in discovering what they want to do in your future.

Prospective Pierce student, Stacy Watts talked about his experience at the summit. He explained that he gained more understanding about the Samoan culture and how he will use it toward his education. “These workshops made me want to work in a field that my culture is not represented in like doctors,” he said.

High school mentor Christal West held a workshop that prompted students to own their individuality and to not be ashamed of advocating for themselves. “School teaches us to be quiet and listen to the rules, but never to ask questions about why something is the way it is,” she said.

Fuega said the main message of the event was for students to get an insight into their future by attending workshops that challenged their perspectives. “I hope they learned something new and they got to see themselves in a different light,” she said.