Shannon Thomas – DiversityJobs Scholarship Finalist for August 2012

“How did you choose your major?” This is a question I am asked on a daily basis, as my choice of interests seems to puzzle all those around me. None can fathom why a quarter Mexican, Indian, Italian, and German student would Double Major in Middle Eastern Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies, minoring in Arabic. My peers query, “you are not Jewish of Muslim or Israeli or Arab, so why do you care?” To be honest, answering my skeptics has been one of the greatest challenges I have had to overcome in this field — a field where everyone is certain I do not belong.

The truth of the matter is, I cannot pinpoint where this love-affair with the Middle East began. It may have its origins in my Christian religious ties to the Holy Land, or the Sunday mornings watching Fareed Zakaria with my father, or my 11th grade research papers on Islamophobia and Palestinian refugees. Or it may have been a convergence of a number of factors over time, but it eventually resulted in the knowledge that I would one day be working towards peace and diplomacy in the region. However, this answer lacks the striking epiphany or life-changing story that would soothe my critics, so I have come to realize that the best way to quell disbelief is through action.

I knew that I wanted to reach fluency in Arabic, Hebrew, and Farsi, so I began Rosetta Stone and just completed my first two semesters of my Arabic minor. I developed a deeply convicted interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and founded and presided over the Olive Tree Initiative at Berkeley. In this step, my racial diversity and ambiguity became an asset rather than an obstacle, as I was seen as an unbiased, unaffiliated leader capable of working with the Arab and Jewish communities on campus. Thus, I garnered the legitimacy and authority to unite students of all creeds and backgrounds, and this summer, I will be leading an interfaith group of UC students to the Middle East. On this three-week diplomatic and educational program to Israel and the West Bank, I will have the opportunity to work with the experts and top-political leaders in my field, learning and leading students with different perspectives but a shared passion. However, my journey will not end there.

I plan to use the opportunities afforded me to study Arabic intensively in Lebanon or Egypt next summer, intern at a peace organization in the region, and research for my Middle Eastern Studies thesis. Most importantly, however, graduating from UC Berkeley with my degree will open up doors for graduate school and my career path in Middle East foreign service. Perhaps I will be the next Susan Rice or Hilary Clinton, or the diplomat to craft the next Oslo Accords. Wherever the future leads, I know I will be pursuing my passion, making a difference, and proving to the world that my diversity is not a detriment, but a gift. 

DiversityJobs.com’s scholarship program for diversity and minority students is proud to announce Shannon Thomas as one of the seven finalists for its August 2012 application deadline. Vote for her essay (Facebook ‘Like’ and other social media sharing options in left column), and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.



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  • I went on a trip with Shannon through OTI this past summer. Throughout the course of three short weeks together, I decided that I wanted to be even more politically and culturally active on campus, so I signed up for Hebrew 1A (while concurrently taking Intermediate Arabic), and joined/became more involved with a bunch of other groups on campus, including: The Arab Student Union, The Lebanese Student Association at Berkeley, Challah for Hunger, Students for Justice of Palestine, and will soon become more involved with Hillel and hopefully Tikvah. OTI was an incredible experience that not only changed my perception of the entire Palestine-Israel conflict, but also gave me the desire to push myself politically while attending UC Berkeley.

  • I will be using any and all funds I receive from this scholarship to help other students partake in the Olive Tree Initiative trip to the Middle East, from which I just returned this past summer. Please like and comment to make this amazing opportunity a reality for other Berkeley students who would not otherwise have the financial means to participate on this life-changing diplomatic and educational experience!

  • Shannon is constantly challenging and inspiring her family and friends to learn and care about this conflict.and she is a great teacher with a heart for those on both sides and the ability to keep the human problem in front of the political problem. We Re so proud of her and know that we will have to travel far to keep up with her.

  • vote. for. shannon.
    She was the chair of my African Union Crisis committee for Model UN in Berkeley last February. I have the same passion for the Middle East, both spontaneous yet somehow perfect, but Shannon’s leadership and knowledge of international organization sets her far above a mere enthusiast like me… she’s going to change the world.

  • Vote for SHANNON. This girl has a heart of gold and really works hard for the causes she believes in. She’s such a role model for all that knows her.

  • I am confident that all applicants for this scholarship are promising. However, I can testify that Shannon must be one of the most worthy and deserving among them. I am an Israeli, and a soldier up until recently, and I got involved with OTI in order to volunteer and experience the full diplomatic aspect of this conflict in which I cultivate my existence. I learned so much from Shannon during her visit to Israel-Palestine. Her leadership skills, her rhetoric and her ability to express her thoughts and opinions in such a clear educated manner astounded me. I really believe that Shannon is capable of making a difference here in the near future. Her desire to understand, comprehend and assist others in their quest to be educated about this highly delicate, utterly crucial subject is practically unrivalled. I would like to stress again, that as a local citizen I was deeply affected and had several misconceptions altered by Shannon’s ability to phrase herself and lead the group into an enlightened, multi-political path, in which all opinions and sides of the conflict exposed themselves to the criticism and analysing of these remarkably intelligent students. Thanks to Shannon, I decided to continue working in the diplomatic field and try to promote the same attitude and educate people on the implications, opinions, happenings, history and possibilities enclosed within this conflict of ours. I don’t think she will be ‘the next’ Clinton or Rice, but rather ‘the first’ Thomas, therefore – there couldn’t be a more intelligent choice than to support a first of her kind, a prodigy in her field.

  • I had the immense pleasure of meeting Shannon on my year abroad at UC Berkeley and was struck by her incredible work ethic, passion and the fact that she made a point of reaching out to exchange students to make them feel at home and learn more about their backgrounds. Even from afar, it’s clear that she is laudably dedicated to her work with the Olive Tree Inititiative. One to watch.

  • Is there a question Shannon Thomas is qualified for this award? Absolutely not – and, in fact, she is tremendously qualified. Complimenting her ardous studies and expert analysis of a wide range of sub-topics in Middle East affairs is her sincere passion for the field. Nearly all of Shannon’s extra-curricular time is allocated toward real and tangible work to educate students and citizens both at home and abroad on the most pressing issues in the Middle East. Specifically, her ardent passion for the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drove her to organize and lead her collegues through the Olive Tree Initiatve to travel to Israel, working to effect real change for real people. Many students of diverse backgrounds may point to their multi-cultural heritage as emblematic of their affinity to global issues. In the case of Shannon Thomas, however, her application of and dedication to this affinity has illustrated her sincerity and success to a degree that is both unmatched and impressive, making her a deserving and obvious choice for this scholarship.

  • Shannon Thomas combines critical thinking with a pragmatic knowledge of the real world. And she has the uncanny ability to articulate her ideas with grace and brilliance. Making social change requires such a combination of passions and skills.

  • I’ve always liked to think of myself as a fighter: one who stands for what he thinks is right, and who does not rest until the wrong is made right (or until the idea of what is right is reconsidered, openmindedness is key ;). But the two (terribly) short weeks I spent with Shannon on the Olive Tree Initiative trip seriously put my fighter merits in doubt: from sun up till sun down this girl never stops!
    To be clear, the OTI trip is something comparable to boot camp: for 16 days we woke up at dawn, tackled meeting after meeting (with the likes of Mark Regev, spokesperson for Netanyahu, and Hannan Ashrawi, a highly influential member of the PLO), ingested, digested and regurgitated the heartwrenching realities of the conflict, and explored the historical and social scene of every city of the region, laying our heads in the early hours of the morning only to awake a couple hours later and start again.
    By the 10th day i was physically, intellectually and emotionally drained. Nothing made sense anymore, “what are we fighting for anyways?” i asked myself, how was i expected to deal with feeling a Palestinian mother spill her heart out as she told us the story of her son who was killed by the Israeli forces only to hear an israeli father tell us about the excruciating pain of losing a daughter to a terrorist attack… “who/what is right now?” i felt i was going to burn out.
    But i kept going, i kept believing, i kept fighting, because every time i floundered, Shannon was there to motivate me, to remind me that there may not be an absolute right or wrong, but we can make a difference for the better.

    Putting aside the sexist negligence (adding a “wo” at the beginning of every “man”), i cannot think of a better way to describe Shannon than the following quote of Bertolt Brecht:
    “There are men who fight one day and are good.
    There are men who fight one year and are better. hearing
    There are some who fight many years and they are better still.
    But there are some that fight their whole lives,
    these are the ones that are indespensable.”

  • Shannon radiates gusto and zest. She is a punctual, kind and intelligent leader. Because
    of all this, she does not fail to inspire and organize others in
    creative, strategic, proactive and sustained ways with regard to
    conflict transformation. With her diverse background, Shannon has a ‘multi-focal lens’, a rare and much-needed trait, to direct approaches to the Israel/Palestine conflict and any other conflicts in novel ways, on the Cal campus and beyond.

  • Brains, beauty and kind hearted soul- this is how Shannon rolls and she’s willing to share selflessly with the world.

  • Not only is Shannon very accomplished as everyone knows, but she is one of the most kind-hearted, generous and loving people I’ve ever met. With her organizational and leadership skills as well as her empathy and drive, she is a powerful asset to any effort for peace.

  • I am currently on the OTI trip on the border between Jordan and Israel and will post more about Shannon later.

    But as the Executive Director and one of the founders of the Olive Tree Initiative and as a Profesoor at the University of California, I can honestly say that Shannon is one of the top student leaders I ever worked with. Without her the OTI chapter at UC Berkley would never have happened and her leadership has propelled it to one of the leading chapters of our organization.

    She very much deserves this scholarship!

  • Shannon Thomas has become one of my favorite people to talk about the Middle East for good reason. This girl is incredible and has such dense knowledge and extensive understanding about the region and it’s people. She has done some truly amazing work so far through the OTI and her other leadership initiatives on campus. So if there is one person who deserves to get this scholarship, it’s Shannon Thomas.

  • I can’t think of anyone else who is more deserving or best qualified for this opportunity. The many years I’ve known Shannon Thomas she has always been a determined bullet of passion for whatever she puts her mind to. Her genuine heart, relentless attitude, and willingness to help has gotten her and will continue to take her to many places. I can absolutely see her on a diplomatic trip to the Middle East and making every second she’s there count.

  • A motivated, intelligent, and compassionate student who gears her energy and experience toward bettering the world and giving others the same opportunities? The answer is clear: there should be no question of who to give this scholarship to.

  • One of things I like doing least in the world is adding mundane comments to further someone’s contest status. I literally hate it. It’s boring, and I never know whether to write “GOOD LUCK”, an actual meaningful post, or a joke. But I’m so sure that Shannon deserves this win I’m going to override my own sensibilities to say this – given its popularity today, Please do not craft the next Oslo Accords. Otherwise, Go Shannon!

  • I sincerely hope you get this, Shannon! I know it would mean the world to you and you deserve to win this more than anyone else I know. Good luck!

  • Shannon, you are amazing! The 5 year old girl I met so many years ago certainly had spunk, but you have added intelligence, compassion, leadership and poise to the package. I am so proud of the strong, insightful and articulate woman you have become. Your passion for peace and determination to make a difference will serve you well, in this and any endeavor you pursue. I sincerely hope you earn this opportunity and scholarship. You deserve it! Go change the world, girl!

  • Shannon is a beacon of light in a dark world. Deftly maintaining dialogues about controversial and emotional topics whilst remaining peaceful because she is indeed a peaceful being. The amount of times I’ve heard “the Middle East” and “Peace” in the same sentence is astronomical, but here is someone whom I believe can help facilitate such a thing.

  • I’m pretty sure Shannon is the most ambitious and hard-working person I have ever met, and I think it is great that she is going to use the scholarship funds to help others go on the Olive Tree Initiative trip to the Middle East next year!!

  • I can’t think of anyone who deserves this scholarship more than Shannon! I had the privilege of traveling and studying with her in Israel and the West Bank. Shannon’s tenacity and dedication to education and humanity is astounding. If she wins this scholarship I know that it will not only benefit Shannon, but also those she is committed to helping day after day. Best of luck Shannon!

  • As an exchange student, I was lucky to meet Shannon Thomas. She was a freshman and yet anyone could have foreseen her talent.

    Intelligent, hardworking and kindly hearted. The worse the chances the greater her will. Always confident that the sun shines after the storm.

    Shannon, I know you will succeed. Not only in this, but in life. You give people hope Shannon. That’s a gift

  • So proud to have known this young woman while she was growing up in San Diego. Her calm demeanor and strength of character were striking attributes then as they are now. Carpe Diem, Shannon!

  • I love how this story turned more into how her diversity “became an asset,” rather than a burden. Definitely deserves the scholarship! I don’t know her but she shouts peace, happiness, and love all around.

  • Shannon is a wonderful leader and sets a strong example for all she meets. I have no doubt that she will succeed in every goal she sets out to achieve, she is one of those people who find a way to make things happen.

  • Shannon Thomas is simply the most incredibly well-informed, passionate student I have met in my time at Berkeley. Her work ethic is unmatched, and I have no doubt she deserves this scholarship more than any other contender. She is a self-motivated student who goes above and beyond the standards set by this rigorous university and is an academic inspiration. On a more personal note, Shannon is a kind person who truly works to improve the world around her with a zeal that is rare in a collegiate environment.

  • Shannon is a true gem. After having worked together on our activist projects on campus, I can say that she is both passionate about her own causes and supportive of the endeavors of others. Her affinity for all things political and her dedication to the practice of conflict mediation will both contribute to her becoming one of America’s few reputable leaders.

  • Shannon’s passion is an inspiration to us all. May we all have one tenth of her work ethic, motivation, and or drive. Her desire to devour the facts and process through bias in order to reach a viable conclusion is what impresses me most…her future is a bright looking and impressive one, full of accolades and triumph.

  • Shannon is brilliant and passionate. I have the pleasure to work with her on Israel-Palestine issues at UC Berkeley, and will hopefully have the opportunity in the future. She deserves this scholarship, and I know that if given the opportunity to back to the region she will continue to learn with all of her head and heart

  • Although I have known Shannon for a little over a year, she has become a close friend of mine. During that time she has impressed me beyond my expectations, and that is not something easily done. She is the most hard working, intelligent, compassionate and dedicated person I have met here at Cal. Unmatched is her drive and passion to better this world, yet she still strives to do more. In my opinion she is the most deserving of this scholarship, and I can guarantee you that if you award her this scholarship she will exceed your expectations as well.

  • If anybody deserves to win this scholarship it has to be Shannon, she isn’t doing this for herself but she is doing this so that she can promote student leaders in beter understanding and working towards resolving the israeli-Palestinian conflict while also allowing students to travel to the Middle East for some first hand exposure.

    Keep up the good work Shannon 🙂 you got this.

  • Shannon’s passion shines through in just about everything she does. A woman truly deserving of this scholarship, both as a recognition of her wonderful work and contributions, but also because we know she will use it give back and effect change where she can.

  • I had the pleasure of meeting Shannon in a Crisis Committee in Chicago. Not only was she a fierce competitor she is also an amazing person. She has the uncanny ability to light up a room and make everyone feel involved and welcomed in her presence. She deserves every bit of accolade she is receiving and MUCH more!

  • I can’t think of anyone who deserves this more! You’re awesome, Shannon! Definitely an inspiration to so many people, including myself. Best of luck always!

  • Shannon is dedicated, hard working, and accepting of those around her. She is passionate and inspires everyone she encounters – whether it is in class, UCBMUN, OTI, or any of the other countless things she coordinates and runs. Shannon deserves this scholarship!

  • Shannon Thomas has devoted herself with the utmost passion to seeking to truly understand a complex and often misunderstood region and conflict. But simply educating herself is not enough- Shannon seeks to educate others and her tirelessness is shown through the tremendous growth of the Olive Tree Initiative at UC Berkeley in the past year. I have watched Shannon go far beyond what most other students would do in her quest to bring dialogue and education on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the UC Berkeley campus. Not only is she committed to a vision, she has a plan and has taken concrete steps to work towards achieving it. Shannon is an innovator and truly worthy of this award.

  • Shannon Thomas continues to shine through her dedication to the Olive Tree Initiative. She has established a wonderful program at UC Berkeley and works tirelessly to make sure that OTI will long outlive her years at CAL. I have no doubt that she will be successful. Shannon deserves this scholarship.

  • While I have just recently met Shannon through UC Berkeley’s Model United Nations Club, where she clearly stands out as a great debater and someone who is both extremely well-read on current world issues and well-spoken, I am already impressed by her. Her drive to excel and to help others around her understand her passions is obvious, and she articulates her opinions well, backing them up with factual evidence. I am quite sure she will make the most of this scholarship!

  • Shannon is so smart and awesome. i do not know her all, too, well, but I already know that she is amazingly passionate about her major. I trust that she will do a great job with the benefits from this scholarship.

  • Shannon’s work with the Olive Tree Initiative shows her dedication to the resolution of the Isreal-Palestininian conflict. She definitely deserves this scholarship !!!

  • Getting to know Shannon over the course of the past year has been such an honor. Aside from being a terrific friend, Shannon’s hard work and wholeheartedly genuine passion for what she does are nothing short of inspiring. I cannot stress enough how much I think she is deserving of this scholarship.

  • Good news! I was selected as the winner of the Diversity Scholarship thanks to all your kind words and support on my page! I am honored by your friendship and your trust in me, and I hope I can live up to all the over-generous praise I received. Much love, Shannon

  • I’ve yet to meet someone who was not entirely inspired and in awe of Shannon’s accomplishments, persona, and dedication to all that she does. I how that she gets the scholarship because she truly embodies all that a scholarship recipient should be.

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