Rainbow graduation celebrates LGBTQ students

BY EFE AYANRUOH | MAY 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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On Tuesday evening, 29 LGBTQA students were honored in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber surrounded by family, friends, and allies.

The Rainbow Ceremony celebrates the University of Iowa students’ accomplishment of four years of hard work.

With a brief description of their accomplishments and a handshake, graduates received rainbow-colored cords by Jeff Kueter, the president and CEO of the UI Alumni Association.

Among the graduates was the student keynote speaker and Dockendorf Scholarship recipient Sara Puffer.

During her speech, she presented some ideas she hopes to see at the university.

“I want the University of Iowa’s LGBTQ community to be bold, radical, and involved,” she said.

Puffer also encouraged her graduating classmates to keep their heads up and take advantage of opportunities that arise in the future.

“Say yes, be true to yourself, and keep being amazing,” she said. “I cannot wait to see where you go and what you do.”

Tom Rocklin, the UI vice president for Student Life, congratulated the graduates on accomplishing a milestone.

“Congratulations to each of you graduates …” he said. “It’s a big deal to earn a degree. It’s a big deal to set a big goal, and accomplish it. All of you did something special by setting a big goal and accomplishing it.”

As part of celebrating the graduates’ accomplishments, Laura Goddard, a senior admission counselor at the University of Office of Admissions, played a piece called “Horizon” on the piano.

This piece signified the mixed feelings that college graduates face but also the fluidity that one experiences during graduation, she said.

Elsie Gauley Vega, an Iowa City community member, said she hopes that times have changed for members of the LGBTQ community.

“I hope you all have been able to talk about being lesbian or gay when you were young,” Vega said. “I was not able to; it was a very quiet time many decades ago.”

She also reinforced the graduates’ belief that they have a place in the world.

“You are members of the human race, and let nobody put that down,” she said. “We have won our civil rights by letting the public know that we are here.”

Zachery Paul Arellano, a 2015 Rainbow graduate, remembered his first experience at the university.

“As a transfer student, I had a hard time integrating into the community because I was older, and I didn’t really feel at home in the residence halls,” he said. “I didn’t have a home, but through the Fraternity and Sorority Life, I found a home in Delta Lambda Phi.”

Arellano said his best experience was working with the Orientation Services.

“It’s really great working for them, because you get to see the students’ interests and the high energy they bring to the campus,” he said.

After he graduates, he will serve with AmeriCorps Vista in Council Bluffs, after which he will go to graduate school.

Being a first-generation student, he is excited that his family can see how he has integrated with the university and the city.

UI student Taylor Elizabeth Corrigan, who is also graduating, felt intimidated as a freshman, but through interacting with the community, she has been able to have a great experience, she said.

Through the university, she said, she has been able to meet her girlfriend, interact with great people, and also be a part of several organizations.

For some other students, attending the university was exactly what they had envisioned.

“I’ve always known that I was coming here once I figured out my field of studies, linguistics,” graduating UI student Charlie Woolson said. “This university was the only place in the state that had a Japanese Department, so it seemed right to come here. It was so easy to find a place here, and it’s so easy to get involved and actually have some impact and be able to make some change.”

Kendra Malone, the diversity resource coordinator in the Chief Diversity Office, was excited about the event.

“I think it’s a wild success,” Malone said. “We had I think one of the highest numbers of students who chose to celebrate with us at Rainbow Graduation this year.”

Malone also saluted the graduates.

“Thank you for being brave and authentic in your identities, and don’t let any challenge overcome you, because you can do anything that you want,” she said.

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