Ceremony at Coffman honors U’s graduating GLBT students

The celebration recognized 26 students graduating in the 2004-05 academic year.

by Kori Koch

Rainbow tassels hung from lavender mortarboards of graduating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students during a ceremony Thursday in the Coffman Union Theater.

The ninth annual Lavender Graduation and Breaking The Silence Awards Ceremony honored the academic achievements of the graduates of fall 2004 and spring and summer 2005.

The cultural celebration, sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office, recognized 26 GLBT students, allies and students from GLBT families.

“I think it’s extremely important to have a separate event,” said Teresa Mock, a graduating theater student. “With added forces working against us, it’s important to recognize how much harder it is for us to succeed in the world.”

Participants Diana Knobel and Donald Opitz praised their peers and shared words of encouragement with supportive family members and friends in the audience.

“It’s an honor to close out my undergraduate career in a way that recognizes who I am and where I want to go,” Knobel said.

Knobel said her speech was from the heart and that she truly believes a small group of thoughtful people can change the world.

Saymoukda Vongsay, a student from the University’s Morris campus, also participated in the event. She said she expected more people to attend the event, although she appreciated being recognized.

Mock said that the number of participants and the size of the audience have increased since previous ceremonies.

Sara Campbell, another student from the University’s Morris campus, said she felt very comfortable at the event and on the University campus.

Owen Marciano, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office assistant director and ceremony coordinator, introduced individual graduates as they received their certificates onstage.

B David Galt, the office’s director, presented Breaking the Silence awards to five members of the Interfaith Campus Coalition for their efforts to improve the campus climate for GLBT people.

Award recipients included Rev. Doug Donley, of the University Baptist Church; Rabbi Sharon Stiefel, associate director of Hillel, the Jewish student center; Amy Olson, director of Hillel; Rev. Neil Elliot, of the University Episcopal Center; and Jerie Smith, of the Lutheran Campus Ministry.

Galt said, “Their work, support and strength are invaluable and appreciated.”

Mock said she was proud of the different faiths represented at the ceremony.

Marciano awarded three $1,000 scholarships to GLBT students who demonstrated extraordinary service and leadership.

Five graduates received the Steven J. Schochet Award for Excellence in GLBT Studies for outstanding artwork and academics.