A somber but smiling crowd gathered at the first ever presentation of the Gabriel Zimmerman Scholarship Award on Friday.
Named for the UC Santa Cruz alumnus killed in the 2011 Tuscon, Ariz. shooting of former congressional representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the scholarship went to Yethzéll Díaz, a UCSC senior.
“Yethzéll stood out with her commitment to community service,” said Jonathan Klein, a UCSC graduate and one of the founders of the scholarship. “She’s a perfect candidate.”
Although he never met Zimmerman, Klein and a fellow UCSC alumnus, Alex Clemans, were struck by the impact of Zimmerman’s death on the UCSC community. They decided to establish a scholarship fund for students in the social sciences.
Díaz, a Latin American and Latino studies and sociology major, accepted her award at the Stevenson Event Center.
“I am honored to continue the legacy of Zimmerman through this scholarship,” Díaz said.
Díaz has a history of working against social inequality, especially for Latinos and Latin Americans. Díaz said she worked with Amnesty International against social injustice in South America for seven months. Once at UCSC, her work against inequality continued as she became involved with the Global Information Internship Program (GIIP) for her thesis work, which involved increasing computer literacy rates among parents in Watsonville. The $2,500 that comes with her award will go toward her project and her continuing education.
Choosing Yethzéll from among many qualified candidates was no easy task, said Klein, who was part of the committee. For Díaz’s parents, their daughter’s selection just makes sense.
“We’re very honored, but not surprised,” said Gladys Díaz, Yethzélls mother. “We knew she would be a very good candidate.”
After Díaz’s acceptance, the morning turned to a panel of UCSC alumni titled “Careers with a Conscience.” Recognizing the social work that Zimmerman did and that Díaz continues to do, the alumni talked about how they have positively impacted society with their own careers, and how future graduates can do the same.
“You don’t need to be a sociologist or a teacher to have a career with a conscience,” said Emily Nottingham, Gabriel’s mother, who was also on the panel. “If you pick a career about something that’s important to you … you will have made a smart decision.”
Anthony Sanchez, friend and former housemate of Zimmerman’s, said Zimmerman wanted to be a part of “anything where you’re making people’s lives better.”
Beginning with Díaz, the committee hopes that such an award will motivate people toward helping society in their own way and honoring those who do. The scholarship is no longer just about Zimmerman.
“It’s about him as a symbol of a whole lot of young, idealistic people trying to make their way,” Nottingham said.
For Díaz, such a symbol has been noticeably absent from the social sciences.
“So many students are doing amazing work,” Díaz said. “This is exactly what we need in the social sciences.”
Many presented shared stories of Zimmerman’s deeds and good nature. His father, Ross Zimmerman, expressed how his son had arranged to get six medals from the Department of Defense that were owed to his grandfather.
While it can’t make up for the loss of his son, Ross Zimmerman said it was good to see such an award in his son’s honor.
“It’s a wonderful tribute to Gabe,” he said.