Alysha Lee, a Chinese American native of San Francisco, has become the youngest recipient of the Surgeon General’s Medallion Award for Health in the award’s history.
Key details: Lee, a 17-year-old National Teen Board Member at Beyond Differences and a senior at Novato High School in California, was among the six recipients of the award, of which the ceremony was held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18.
What the award was for: Lee was awarded for creating the “1,000 Paper Cranes” project, which was part of the Stand Up for AAPI Youth Project launched by Beyond Differences, a nonprofit that aims to end social isolation in middle schools.
About the project: Lee led a student group in launching an art-based curriculum in 10,000 middle schools across 50 states as a response to the rising anti-Asian hate brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the project, students are asked to make an origami crane or a rabbit and write a message of hope in a wish banner attached to the folded art, which is based on one of the two prompts: “What is one thing our community could do to support AAPI youth?” and “What is one thing we could do to make you feel seen and safe?”
Fear to strength: Speaking to the San Francisco Examiner, Lee recalled feeling very cautious of her grandmother and great-grandmother’s surroundings after hearing about the attacks on elderly Asian Americans in San Francisco, some of which reportedly occurred near where they lived.
Lee turned that fear into action that would help other community members deal with the same worries.
Feeling isolated: She then became more involved with Beyond Differences after her family moved from San Francisco to a predominantly white neighborhood in San Rafael, California. Lee told the Examiner that she felt isolated after their move.
What they are saying: In a statement, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said he was honored to present the award, the highest honor the U.S. Surgeon General can present to civilians, to Lee, who helped inspire students “to create cultures of belonging in middle school.”
“Since the pandemic began, there have been precious few opportunities to process what we’ve been through, grieve what we’ve lost, and recognize individuals who have gone above and beyond for others,” Murthy added.