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Riverdale student wins international recognition


Teen joins United Nations Foundations Girl Up campaign

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Riverdale High student Sarah Gordon traveled to Cambodia to learn more about the challenges facing underprivileged girls seeking education in that country.A Riverdale High School sophomore’s U.S. Congress lobbying efforts on behalf of a global poverty-fighting, nonprofit group opened a door for her — to the United Nations Foundation.

Representatives from the foundation’s Girl Up campaign approached Sarah Gordon in March after meeting her in Washington, D.C. Gordon was in the nation’s capital serving as the CARE Western region youth representative during the organization’s National Conference & International Women’s Day Celebration.

Gordon soon was appointed as one of the United Nations Foundation’s 18 National Teen Advisors. The appointees spread the word about Girl Up, created to support impoverished girls’ education and foster leadership in American girls.

“This campaign changes lives, both of the girls like myself in America who are empowered to discover their own potential and the girls around the world (who) have a right to live a happy, healthy and safe life,” said Gordon, 16.

In the past few months, she’s raised thousands of dollars for Cambodian girls and at her school founded a Girl Up club, the first in the state. The club, which has about 40 students, including a few boys, put together a school assembly Oct. 8 in honor of International Day of the Girl, which was observed Friday. by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Sarah Gordon is a teen adviser for the United Nations Foundations Girl Up campaign. Club members aimed to raise awareness about women in poverty, inviting three speakers to the assembly from major humanitarian groups, including CARE.

Gordon wanted a greater sense of what women in poverty overcome, so she inspired people to donate $4,000 and hand-carried the gift to Cambodia, where she stayed for a week. Her visit didn’t relate to her duties with Girl Up but was part of a monthlong Southeast Asia trip she took with her family.

The dollars Gordon gave will allow three underprivileged Cambodian girls to attend high school. The money is not for tuition. Although it pays for uniforms and books, more than anything it offers each high schooler’s family some financial respite. It prevents a family in a farming community from suffering financial hardship when a girl who helps at home and in the field leaves to attend classes, she said.

In a video posted on the foundation’s website, Gordon says: “I’ve always loved going to school, and it astounds me that there are millions of girls around the world who don’t have that opportunity.”

Gordon isn’t sure what she wants to do as an adult, although she’s interested in international relations and shaping public policy.by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Many Cambodian girls must quit school to support their family.

Her Riverdale English and history teacher, Laura Pridmore-Brown, said she remembers a pivotal moment in Gordon’s life. She was a student in Pridmore-Brown’s class when U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer came for a visit in early 2013. Gordon told Blumenauer she wanted to help change things, but she didn’t think she could as a teen who couldn’t yet vote.

“He said: I disagree; you absolutely have a voice,” Pridmore-Brown recalled.

Gordon agreed the moment fueled her passion for speaking out and helping others.

Pridmore-Brown also praised Gordon’s writing. Last year, she won the United States Institute of Peace’s National Peace Essay Contest, an annual program. Gordon also is at the top of the English class Pridmore-Brown teaches through Portland State University’s Challenge Program, which allows high schoolers to take PSU classes and earn college credit.

Words Pridmore-Brown used to describe Gordon included “humble,” “joyful,” “trailblazer” and “brilliant.”

The young woman has found what she’s passionate about it and is pursuing it, Pridmore-Brown said.

“Sarah’s taken advantage of every opportunity that’s given to her, and that’s what makes her so incredibly admirable on all fronts,” she said.

Gordon’s mother, Lora Gordon, said her daughter always has been academically focused and curious about the world. It could be because the Gordons have traveled in the developing world, encouraging Sarah and her younger sister to learn how other people live.

Yet, there’s always been a yearning for leadership in her oldest daughter. As a child, Sarah Gordon had a fever dream, awakening at 2 a.m., but she wasn’t fully cognizant.

“Her eyes were open, and she said, ‘I’m going to be ambassador to the Netherlands,’” Lora Gordon said. “This is a 9-year-old speaking in delirium. Of course we got a chuckle out of it, but it was also prescient.”

Jillian Daley can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 109. Follow her on Twitter, @jilliandaley.