Federal Way student earns place on All-Washington Academic Team

The award recognizes top scholars from among Washington state’s 34 community and technical colleges.

A dedication to creating safe and supportive spaces at her high school and community is just one reason that Grace Thykkuttathil, 17, from Federal Way has been awarded a place on the All-Washington Academic Team.

The award recognizes top scholars from among Washington state’s 34 community and technical colleges. To qualify, students must apply for recognition and be members of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the international honor society of two-year colleges. Pi Sigma is Phi Theta Kappa’s Highline chapter. The award is also sponsored in part by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

Thykkuttathil participates in the Running Start program at Highline Community College to attend college classes while still in high school. They are on track to graduate with their associate’s degree this summer, then plan to transfer to the University of Washington to pursue a degree in communications.

“I am deeply passionate about social justice and advancing the rights of the disenfranchised. As a BIPOC, queer, neurodivergent youth, I have first-hand experience with the ways that minority groups are systemically harmed in our local community,” they said in a press release.

Thykkuttathil attended Federal Way Public Academy for their first two years of high school. The school strongly encourages all of its students to attend Running Start, starting their junior year. While technically a student at Decatur High School who does takes one class there, Thykkuttathil spends most of their time on the Highline campus. They also had their first class at the Hub in Federal Way this quarter.

Thykkuttathil was selected for their extensive work in the community, doing everything from creating aid packages for unhoused community members to creating more inclusive spaces wherever they go. Much of this community work has been connected to a decade of membership in the Girl Scouts.

One of the things they love about the organization is “their passion for supporting financial security, and promoting business skills, because those are generally not skills that are always taught,” Thykkuttathil said. One of these skills is the “willingness to put yourself out there. When you actually interact with the people that you’re working to serve…I think is really important.”

In their own high school, they created a Gay Straight Alliance after school club that provides support to queer students, those who identify as LGBTQIA2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and/or Two-Spirit).

They said they hope to make sure that other students have a different experience than they did when they came out.

“I’m also a camp counselor, which I really value,” Thykkuttathil said. “It’s really important. A lot of the students and campers that I am working to support are queer, or minority students, or minority campers who are not always catered to or supported when sort of outside members of community are constructing these sorts of events. So it’s really important to me that I’m able to get in there early and help make sure these younger members of our community feel supported.”

When speaking about supporting the next generation and their community in general, one reason Thykkuttathil is able to advocate the way they do is because of their many intersecting identities.

“I’m very lucky, I like to think, in that I am a part of a lot of different minority communities, which means they have a pretty broad perspective,” Thykkuttathil said. “I’m African American, but I’m also I am South Asian…I’m of Indian descent. That means that I’m a part of the mixed race community…I am also a queer person. I personally identify as non-binary and identify with the entire queer umbrella as a whole.”

Thykkuttathil is one of two Highline students who were selected. The other student is SeaTac resident Maureen Ondatto, who is studying full-time at Highline College to achieve an associate’s degree in pre-nursing. Ondatto’s determination to succeed is fueled by her experience in coming to the U.S., from Africa, to pursue her education.

The 45-year-old sees systematic racism as being the most significant issue affecting her community. Its far-reaching impact needs a holistic approach, she said, with education being at the heart of the solution.

“We need to create an educational environment where open conversations about racial issues are encouraged, challenging biases and prejudices that persist,” she said in a press release. Both award winners receive $500 for their efforts, with $250 given by KeyBank and $250 by the Highline College Foundation.

The two students and other top scholars from the state’s 34 community and technical colleges will be recognized during the April 25 awards ceremony at South Puget Sound Community College.

Maureen Ondatto of Highline College’s Academic Team. Photo provided by Highline College

Maureen Ondatto of Highline College’s Academic Team. Photo provided by Highline College