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Van Nuys high school student wins Princeton Prize in Race Relations

June 12, 2009 |  4:31 pm

Lauded for her work in uniting students across the ethnic divide,  a graduating senior and salutatorian at Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, has been awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations.

The prize, which carries a $1,000 award, recognizes and encourages young people for making efforts to improve racial harmony. Winners are also invited to participate in a symposium on race relations at Princeton University.

“I feel very proud, and very honored,” said Saaliha Khan, 17, a 12th-grader. “It’s a very special award for me, to receive recognition for the work I’ve been doing at school and in my community. It encourages me to just keep going.”

Khan came to the United States from her native Pakistan seven years ago. Promising to work to unite Birmingham’s predominately Latino and Armenian student body, she was the first Muslim elected as student body president. For two years, she worked as a peer mediator resolving conflicts between students.

“It makes me very happy when I know I’ve been able to resolve conflicts … through open dialogue,” Khan said. “It’s nice to be able to solve problems among my peers.”

Among other efforts, Khan revived the Muslim Student Assn., founded the Junior Statesman of America chapter; led the Key Club and Student Council. Off campus, she steered the launch of a Youth Initiative by the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council.

Khan received nearly straight A’s at Birmingham and  is scheduled to enroll at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in the fall. She has been awarded a full scholarship and plans to pursue studies in international affairs.

“She is pretty inspirational, and very, very positive,” said Kevin Kelly, Leadership Advisor at Birmingham. He said he had to persuade Khan to run for the prize.

--Ann M. Simmons