Seattle Foundation Blog

A Visit with Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng

The sister of President Barack Obama and daughter of Stanley Ann Dunham shares wisdom for empowering the next generation of women leaders and scholars


May 08, 2019

By Elizabeth List, Senior Philanthropic Advisor

A video of a personalized message from Barack Obama plays for attendees  Attendees watch a personalized message from Barack Obama

On May 6, a few days ahead of Mother’s Day, Seattle Foundation had the unique privilege of hosting Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng, sister to President Barack Obama and daughter of Dr. Stanley Ann Dunham. Dr. Maya was in Seattle to honor the tenth anniversary of the Stanley Ann Dunham Scholarship Fund, named in honor of her mother to support the education, leadership and community service of young women. The Stanley Ann Dunham Scholarship Fund Endowment, established in 2016, is held with Seattle Foundation.

In addition to being the mother of the 44th president, Stanley Ann Dunham earned her doctorate in anthropology after graduating from Mercer Island High School in 1960 and going on to pioneer a microfinance model that is still in use today around the world. Both President Obama and Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng credit their mother for instilling the values that have shaped their commitment to community and service. “Mom really taught us that service is the measure of a good life,” Maya said. “I think about these four girls of ours – my brother’s and mine -- and I want so much for them to grow up in a world where there are multiple examples of young women who are brave and proactive and generous and kind and thoughtful and feel empowered, and who are supported and shine brightly.”

Today, the Stanley Ann Dunham Scholarship Fund provides college scholarships to graduating senior women from Mercer Island and Rainier Beach high schools who demonstrate commitment to the values of social activism, global service and educational pursuit that Dr. Stanley Ann Dunham practiced in her life and work.

One of this year’s scholarship recipients, Anahyta “Aazaad” Burn, joined our program and introduced Dr. Maya with the grace and ease of a seasoned public speaker. Aazaad has logged more than 800 hours of volunteer service, including through a conservation biology project, activism for the ACLU and working to alter the English curriculum at her high school. Aazaad, who plans to study epidemiology and statistics in college, consistently reaches out to others to solve problems and make a difference.

Aazaad Burn speaks to the crowd  Scholarship recipient Aazaad Burn addresses the crowd

In addition to honoring this year’s scholarship recipients, Maya treated our guests to a reading from her children’s book, Ladder to the Moon. Inspired by her young daughter Suhaila’s questions about her grandmother, the book shares her mother’s love for family, empathy for others and ethic of service. The story touches on events that have affected people across the world in our time and reaffirms our common humanity. Maya shared her vision for empowering young women, and uplifted these future leaders as the reason to remain hopeful in a world that often feels ripe for despair.

“This is not the time to feel any sense of despair or give up. It is the time to find young leaders because … there are so many young people who are choosing to participate. They sometimes need our help with historical context and managing their social media time effectively and being more discerning about what they choose to spend their time on, but on the whole, they get it right,” Maya said. “They understand that they owe the planet something and they know how to steward it. They are inclusive. They cast a net widely and invite more people to the table. They are brave about difference and they are working to understand our interconnectedness.”

To learn more about the Stanley Ann Dunham Scholarship Fund or consider a donation, please email me for more information.

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scholarshipseducationChildren and youthCommunities of colorEventssocial equalityRacial equityWomen and girls

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