Having a brother with autism showed Cameron Babinsack the kinds of issues and troubles faced by those who don’t fit into societal norms.
“The world would be a better place if people would accept the differences in others instead of pointing them out,” said Babinsack, 17, a Highlands High School senior from Harrison.
At the end of the school day Thursday, Babinsack held a “Diversity Day” fair in his school’s library. He undertook the project as part of his pursuit of the 63rd annual Caplan-Lieber Human Relations Award, a highly competitive $5,000 scholarship.
A high school can nominate one student for the award, said Jim Lieber, honorary chairman of the award sponsored by the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, through its Donor Advised Fund. His father, Jerome Lieber, and Louis Caplan started the award.
“It’s kind of a unique scholarship,” Jim Lieber said. “It’s not about who’s the best athlete, or who has the best grades, or anything like that. It’s not a popularity contest.
”It’s about who does the most to encourage good human relations.”
There are usually 20 to 30 nominees for the award.
Highlands students have applied for the award before, but none have won, said librarian Sandra Reidmiller, who encouraged Babinsack to apply.
Reidmiller said Babinsack spends a couple of school periods a day with her in the library.
“He has a passion and a heart for helping others,” she said.
Sophomore James Chapman, 17, of Harrison, helped Babinsack with the project.
“These two young men, the thing I admire most is their kindness to others,” Reidmiller said. “They are friendly to everyone. They are the champion of the underdogs. They are accepting of others no matter who they are.
“I am so happy to have them as my students,” she said. “It gives me such hope for the future.”
Babinsack said he chose Valentine’s Day to hold the event to send the message of “love thy neighbor, no exceptions.”
Stations staffed by other students covered mental illness, stereotypes, religion, culture, gestures, disabilities and LGBTQ issues.
Babinsack and Chapman ran the station on gestures and discussed how certain seemingly innocuous gestures can take on other meanings, and possibly be offensive, in other cultures.
An example is the hand gesture of “OK,” which can be seen as a white supremacy symbol, Babinsack said.
“I’m hoping they learn to not just tolerate but also accept differences,” he said of his classmates.
Babinsack plans to study accounting at Duquesne University. He’s signing up for the Marine Corps Reserves to help pay for his education, and would serve for six years after finishing college. He’d then decide on using his degree or continuing in military service.
Nominations for the award are due by March 1. It’s awarded at the end of the school year.
Babinsack said getting the award would help him pay for college in case he doesn’t get the Marine’s scholarship.
“Duquesne is a really good school,” he said. “But, with a good school comes big prices.”