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Senior Wins Princeton Prize in Race Relations

Posted: May 9, 2017

Emily Choi ’17 was one of 24 winners of the 2017 Princeton Prize in Race Relations, an award program sponsored by Princeton University that recognizes high school students nationwide who are committed to advancing the cause of race relations within their communities. Chosen by a committee of northern New Jersey Princeton University alumni as this year’s regional prizewinner, Emily earned a check for $1,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to the Princeton Prize Symposium on Race, held April 27 to 29 at the prestigious university.

A Korean native, Blair prefect and fluent speaker of Spanish, Emily was recognized for her work in and outside the Blair community that has encouraged people to move beyond stereotyping, language barriers and other roadblocks to racial harmony. Her activities on behalf of inclusivity at Blair over the past four years are numerous: An accomplished public speaker, she spoke on race-related topics at the 2015 Sophomore Public Speaking Contest, at Chapel and at a TedX conference; she co-led a Martin Luther King Jr. Day seminar on social identifiers that shape daily experience; she founded and wrote articles—in Spanish—for the “Español” section of Blair’s online, student-run publication, The Blair Oracle; and she has made it her personal mission to help Spanish-speaking members of Blair’s housekeeping staff feel connected to the community by taking every opportunity to converse with them in their native language.

Off campus, Emily has actively served North Jersey’s Latino community as well. In 2014, she was among the first students to join Blair’s Newton Tutoring service initiative, and, as part of this group, she has traveled weekly to Newton, New Jersey, with Spanish teacher Joyce Lang to tutor elementary-age children of recent immigrants. When Emily co-founded Blair’s Latino-focused Connection Club (La Conexión) in 2015, she took the Newton Tutoring program under her wing and helped recruit additional volunteers, including student leaders for next year. Emily also volunteered last summer with two organizations in Palisades Park, New Jersey, that serve Latinos, where she worked on petition drives, tutored individuals studying for their United States citizenship tests and more.

Having experienced racism when she started school in the U.S. as a seventh-grader, Emily’s desire for racial harmony drives her work, which she modestly described as “baby activism.” “I’m taking baby steps, but I really love what I am doing,” she said. “I especially love meeting with the kids in Newton every week—it’s been amazing to see their progress. And I was so proud when one of the adults I tutored last summer passed her citizenship test! I was just sharing what I know from U.S. history classes, but it meant so much to her. And now she’s a U.S. citizen!”

Mrs. Lang, who serves as Emily’s faculty advisor as well as advisor to La Conexión, is proud of the way Emily has put her deepest-held beliefs into action. “Emily's commitment to her work comes from the heart,” she said. “She understands firsthand the struggles one encounters when moving to a new country, where your language is not spoken. She is not content to stand by idly while others struggle, even though her own difficulties with the English language have long since been surmounted. She found a place and a way to do the good work that really matters to her.”

Emily thoroughly enjoyed the two-day Princeton Prize Symposium on Race—attendance at which was her single goal in applying for the Prize. The event included workshops, networking with fellow high-school activists, panel discussions and an address by NAACP president Cornell William Brooks.

“The speakers were especially inspiring, and they gave me ideas about what I’d like to do in the future,” Emily said, describing the event as a “life-changing” experience. “It’s easy to lose hope as an activist and feel as though you are not making a difference. But everyone there cared so much about our work and cared about us. It really was a personal turning point for me.”

As she prepares to enter Stanford University next fall, where she will major in Spanish and cultural studies, Emily is looking forward to learning as much as she can about other cultures, continuing her volunteer efforts on behalf of racial harmony and social justice, and, perhaps, holding events with her new network of fellow activists. She is especially glad to have attended the Princeton Prize Symposium on Race just before entering college. “I’m inspired by the students I met, and everything I learned will be very useful,” she said. “Whether I join existing activities or start something new, I now have connections all over the country.”

(Click here to read a feature on Emily that appeared recently in The Star-Ledger.)

Last Updated: May 18, 2017