Student Spotlight: Kelly Tou


Karolyn Maeda

Junior Kelly Tou is striving towards her own ambitious goal to achieve the Congressional Award: 200 hours of card writing to various organizations and charities.

Karina Pandurangadu, Staff Writer

Many students look for unique opportunities to show their achievements, such as the Congressional Award. Just this year, students across the country have earned 3,797 awards, logged 84,103 STEM volunteering hours, and logged 1.3 million service hours. Junior Kelly Tou is striving towards her own ambitious goal to achieve the Congressional Award: 200 hours of card writing to various organizations and charities.

The United States Congress is responsible for awarding the Congressional Award. Applicants can register for the award when they are thirteen and a half years old, but they must complete their hours by twenty-four.

“There are six different levels of awards,” Tou said. “Going from the smallest time requirement to the highest time requirement, it is Bronze, Silver, and Gold Certificates and then Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals.  Each level involves setting goals in four program areas: voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration. You also have an advisor and multiple validators to confirm that you did meet the time required to achieve a certain award level.”

Each Congressional Award candidate creates a plan based on their chosen goal. In Tou’s case, she met her voluntary public service goal by writing cards.

I chose card writing because I started working toward this award during the peak of the pandemic, so staying at home and writing cards was a safe way for me to give back to the community,” Tou said. “Also, I’ve seen how much cards mean to people, and how much their spirits can be lifted during hardships.”

Tou also tackled the other program areas using a variety of other activities and endeavors.

“For the personal development category, I learned how to code in languages such as Python and Swift,” Tou said. “For physical fitness, I am working toward being able to pass the US Marine Corps fitness test in the 17-20 age category.”

While the award is undoubtedly challenging to obtain, a driving factor for Tou is the fulfillment she receives from her work. For Tou, the people she writes to are just as important as the goal she is striving towards. Through her work, she has been able to reach out to many different organizations.

“I am working with 24 different charities or nonprofits throughout this program to achieve the award,” Tou said. “Out of the 24, one of my favorites is Letters Against Depression, which sends my cards to those with depression. This is important to me because mental health has become prominent in our society and I think it is important to lessen the stigmatism.”

In addition to choosing meaningful organizations, Tou personalizes each of her cards with moments from her day and small doodles.

It is important for me to write each card by hand because I feel that the passion I put into each card can be felt by the receiver,” Tou said.

Tou is planning on reaching her goal by August 31st, 2022. She mentioned a strong sense of accomplishment and fulfillment with this program and recommended it to any of her peers who are on the fence.

“The beauty of this program is that you choose goals that you want to do and are passionate about accomplishing,” Tou said.