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ODEI hosts recognition ceremony, Lavender Graduation

ODEI hosts recognition ceremony, Lavender Graduation

Woodcock, right, spoke about relationships. | TADHG SAHUTSKE

On Thursday, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) held two events in recognition of graduating seniors: the ODEI recognition ceremony and Lavender Graduation. The recognition ceremony celebrates graduates of all marginalized identities, while the Lavender Graduation specifically recognizes members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

The ODEI recognition ceremony took place in the Community Foundation Theater at 11:10 a.m. on April 26 with over 50 community members in attendance. The ceremony began with opening remarks given by Director of ODEI Lynn Hampton, who spoke on the value of student leaders in affinity groups and thanked the students being recognized for their work in strengthening diversity at Kenyon. 

“To all our graduating seniors, I would like to say, it is clear that all of you have helped shape the culture and the climate of this institution through your amazing leadership and programming events,” Hampton said. 

Hampton’s words were followed by further opening remarks from Vice President for Student Affairs Celestino Limas, who focused on the specific privileges and responsibilities that come with an education at Kenyon. Limas posited that the Kenyon staff had a stronger commitment to diversity and inclusion than other schools and that Kenyon students were uniquely positioned to take advantage of that opportunity.

The main portion of the event was the recognition of student organizations and seniors. Fourteen affinity groups, including Adelante, Sisterhood and the Disabled/Chronically Ill Student Community Organization, had their graduating members recognized. Newly elected executive board members for each organization had the opportunity to speak about the goals and values of their organization. Each speaker called up the graduating members of their organization to receive their cords, and many speakers took the chance to call out their favorite graduating members and thank them personally.

The event concluded with guest speaker Nicolyn Woodcock ’12, an English major with a concentration in gender and sexuality studies. Woodcock was the first in her family to graduate from college, and she was the senior coordinator of Recognizing Each Other’s Ability to Conquer the Hill (REACH), the Vice President of Sisterhood and a member of the Asian Student Union in her senior year. She spoke about her experience on the Kenyon Alumni Council, discussing how it felt to return to Kenyon and engage with alumni who identify as queer, people of color or first generation. “Think about the relationships you’ve formed,” Woodcock told the graduates, “especially with the people in this room, your peers, the faculty, the staff. Those [relationships] are the things that keep me coming back to Kenyon.” 

Speaking on the importance of events such as the ODEI recognition ceremony, Hampton told the Collegian in an interview, “I think it’s a good opportunity for underrepresented [students] and students of color, who typically tend to have always come from marginalized, minoritized backgrounds, [to] have a way to acknowledge their unique contributions and accomplishments that they’ve done over their time at Kenyon.”

Lavender Graduation was celebrated at 5 p.m. that same day with an attendance of approximately 50 community members. Although Lavender Graduation is celebrated annually at over 200 colleges and universities, it is a relatively new tradition for Kenyon, which had its first Lavender Graduation for the class of 2017. The event provides the opportunity for LGBTQ+ graduates, staff, faculty and alumni to be recognized for their achievements in advocacy.

This year’s event began with opening statements from Assistant Director of DEI René Guo on the purpose of Lavender Graduations as a testament to the strength and resilience of LGBTQ+ graduates. Guo then introduced Marc Bragin, the College’s Jewish chaplain and the director of Kenyon College Hillel, for the Invocation. Bragin’s Invocation began with a poem: “The Journey” by Mary Oliver. “May we continue to challenge binaries, bridge gaps and tear down walls,” he read, “May we marvel at the goodness all around us, and may that goodness always outshine whatever darkness may come upon this world.” 

President Julie Kornfeld then spoke on the importance of celebrating LGBTQ+ presence on campus, especially in the context of the current hostile political climate, with a variety of anti-trans legislation active in the legislature in Ohio. “As you prepare to leave this special place, be confident and be bold,” Kornfeld said. “I believe you are uniquely prepared to navigate adversity and challenges you may encounter. And we know adversity is out there.” Kornfeld’s speech encouraged students to revel in the excitement of graduation and look forward to the future.

Lavender Graduation hosted the guest speaker Densil Porteous ’02, a gay alumnus, venture capitalist and Board of Trustees member. Porteous co-founded Unity House and is currently the executive director and CEO of Stonewall Columbus. Porteous’ speech was a reflection on the future of LGBTQ+ advocacy and what it means both inside and outside of a college campus. 

Porteous focused his speech around an anecdote from his time working in the admissions office, using the line, “Don’t act stupid, just show up.” Porteous emphasized that the new role of LGBTQ+ advocacy should be to show up and stay present. “In our lives, especially during experiences of challenge and change, showing up is half the battle. For those of us in the LGBT community, it means standing proud in our identities and making our voices heard,” Porteous said. Porteous encouraged students to engage in business by voting with their dollar and making their perspectives known. “I’ve often wondered what would happen if I didn’t look beyond the otherness of my identities, as a Black [student], as a queer student, as an immigrant, and [if] I didn’t show up here at Kenyon, fearful of being alone. My commitment to showing up began on this Hill here today.” 

Following Porteous’ speech, Hampton and Professor of English Jesse Matz, two members of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, presented the LGBTQ+  student awards. The Outstanding Advocacy Award went to Maya Vaccaro ’24 for their work on the Trans Book Club. The Kenyon Pride Senior Award was presented to Vivienne Muzilla ’24. The Rising Star Award was awarded to Max Fishman ’26 for their advocacy on all-student emails and serving as a representative on the LGBTQ+ advisory committee. 

The Faculty/Staff Advocate Award went to Dr. Lauren Harold for her initiatives such as the LGBTQ+ dislist and happy hour gatherings. The Trailblazer Award was then presented to Associate Professor of Sociology Austin Johnson, who was  recognized for his inclusive and innovative teaching methods. Hampton described him as, “pioneering trans acceptance at Kenyon College.” This award was followed by the Outstanding Departmental Ally, to recognize a department that has made a significant effort toward the movement of LGBTQ+ inclusion within the year.  The award went to the Fitness and Recreation department led by Emily Heithaus, assistant director for fitness and recreation, and Tiffany McCallen, fitness and recreation programming coordinator, who were both recognized for their departments’ unique commitment to inclusivity. 

Administrative Assistant to ODEI Kennedey Bell and Limas recognized each LGBTQ+ graduate and presented them with their cords. Heather Peterson from the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee gave closing remarks on making something meaningful out of LGBTQ+ trauma.

“We are also really appreciative of our LGBTQ students as well as faculty and staff in exercising their leadership in transforming this institution towards a better direction,” Guo said in an interview with the Collegian. “And is also just a celebratory moment for the resilience our community has despite the pressures that we experience in central Ohio.”

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