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Incoming Student Tenzin Pelkyi Receives Sullivan Ballou Award

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Tenzin Pelkyi (’15)


This past spring, Tenzin Pelkyi (’15) became her family's first college graduate when she completed her undergraduate degree in political science and global studies at the University. Soon she'll be on her way to being the family's first lawyer as well, as she enters the Law School this fall.

Throughout her university years, Pelkyi has been a dedicated activist both on and off campus for human rights in Tibet. Recently she was selected to receive the Sullivan Ballou Award for her work campaigning against and raising awareness of oppression in Tibet, including more than 35 Tibetan self-immolations over the past year.

The award, which carries a $1,000 scholarship, honors individuals for their commitment to human rights and their efforts to address human rights abuses. It was given by the University’s Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Sullivan Ballou Fund.

Pelkyi knows what it's like to live under oppressive regimes. Her parents escaped Tibet in 1959 and lived in exile in India until her father obtained a visa to come to the United States in 1992. Pelkyi, her mother, and her sister were able to join him four years later.

In March, she received a grant through the Political Science Department to be part of a delegation traveling to Washington D.C. to pressure Congress and the Obama administration for diplomatic action and policy changes in Tibet. Minnesota Senator Al Franken, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, and members of Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison's (’90) congressional staff were among those who met with the delegation during the two-day lobbying session.

Ten days later the resolution the delegation had supported and Feinstein introduced (S. Res. 356), calling for an end to the Chinese government's oppressive policies targeting Tibetans and unrestricted access to Tibet by foreign journalists and diplomats, passed in the Senate. Ellison, a long-time supporter of the Tibetan people, co-sponsored an identical resolution in the House.

Back in Minnesota in April, Pelkyi organized a forum between Chinese students studying throughout Minnesota and His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he was here for a Mayo Clinic visit. The event was sponsored by the Office of Tibet in New York and the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota.

Looking ahead to this fall Pelkyi said, "Having the opportunity to learn from world-renowned faculty and engage with equally talented and passionate law students is going to be an amazing experience indeed."

Pelkyi was featured in a May 10 profile in the Daily Planet and on a May 19 program, "Reflections on New Minnesotans," on AM 950 radio.

The Sullivan Ballou Fund was founded in 2003 by Elissa Peterson and Hennepin County District Court Judge Bruce Peterson. It is named for a Union Army major killed at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. His eloquent letter to his wife before the battle expresses the heartfelt commitment to others that is honored in the Sullivan Ballou Award.