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Highlands senior spreads message of acceptance on Valentine’s Day | TribLIVE.com
Valley News Dispatch

Highlands senior spreads message of acceptance on Valentine’s Day

Brian C. Rittmeyer
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Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Cameron Babinsack (center, standing), a senior at Highlands High School, talks about how hand gestures can have other, sometimes offensive, meanings in other cultures. He held a 'Diversity Day' fair on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 as a project that will be part of his application for the $5,000 Caplan-Lieber Human Relations Award, which he would use to study accounting at Duquesne University.
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Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Liberty Vasey (standing), a Highlands High School sophomore, talks about disability issues with classmates as part of the 'Diversity Day' fair organized by senior Cameron Babinsack in the high school library on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.
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Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Sophomore Lilly Trent (left) and her sister, Piper Trent, a junior, discuss issues of religious tolerance with classmates in the library at Highlands High School on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.
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Brian C. Rittmeyer | Tribune-Review
Highlands High School senior Heidi Visnick (right side, left) and sophomore Alex Murphy discuss LGBTQ issues with classmates in the high school library on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019.

Having a brother with autism showed Cameron Babinsack the kinds of issues and troubles those who don’t fit societal norms can have.

“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 chair 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 one 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 Marines scholarship.

“Duquesne is a really good school,” he said. “But with a good school comes big prices.”

Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.