The university celebrates graduates from the LGBTQ+ community

As part of its second annual Lavender Ceremony, members of the University community celebrated the accomplishments of graduate members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, recognizing those who went above and beyond to serve as a source of support for fellow Chargers. .

May 23, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

The Lavender Ceremony honors graduate members of the LGBTQ+ community.

During her time as a Charger, Rebecca Chan-Chao ’22 dedicated herself to serving as a beacon of encouragement to her fellow Chargers. She was recently recognized for her dedication — in particular — to supporting members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Chan-Chao, a forensic science major, attended the university’s Lavender Ceremony, which honors graduates from the LGBTQ+ community and their allies and recognizes their achievements and contributions to the university community. As part of the ceremony, she received the Ally of the Year award.

“I’m so honored to receive this award,” she said. “I’m honored to know that I was the best friend I could be to members of the LGBTQ+ community. I hope to continue to be the best ally, the best friend.”

Rebecca Chan-Chao '22 accepted the Ally of the Year award.
Rebecca Chan-Chao ’22 accepted the Ally of the Year award.
“It was good to be myself”

An annual ceremony held on a myriad of college and university campuses, the Lavender Graduation was launched at the University of Michigan in 1995.

As part of the University’s second annual Lavender Ceremony, dozens of students were recognized, receiving lavender lanyards to wear at the start. Several students, like Chan-Chao, were also recognized at an inaugural awards ceremony.

The students received the Unsung Hero Award and the Activist of the Year Award, recognizing their tireless efforts to engage their peers and serve as a resource for their classmates, as well as their dedication to fighting for the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights, respectively.

summer orlando, a theater drag queen and illusionist, was the “most with the most” host of the event. Adorned with lavender, Orlando opened and concluded the event with musical performances. She also shared her own story of growing up in a very conservative and religious family. She compared her upbringing to Dorothy Gale’s experience in Kansas in the popular movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Like Gale, Orlando says she lived in a colorless world.

Now a full-time performer, Orlando travels the country sharing his story, performing, and offering advice and inspiration.

“I wasn’t told about the queer community when I was little,” she said. “I wasn’t able to express myself. I learned that later when I was in college, and I learned that it was okay to be myself.”

Summer Orlando performs as part of the university’s Lavender Ceremony.
“Write your own personal bestseller”

Jillian Celentano, author and lawyer, gave the keynote address. Celentano told graduates that in the six years since beginning her transition, she has learned that members of the LGBTQ+ community are remarkably resilient. She now identifies as a transgender woman, saying she began her own transition when she was 55.

Sharing her own story, Celentano told Chargers that since she was around five years old, she knew she was different. Assigned male at birth, she said she found it easier to hang out with girls and have relationships with them. But, she explained, when she told her parents, they told her she was a boy and she was ashamed. Celentano grew up the way she was told she was meant to be – and experienced anxiety and depression.

It wasn’t until she told her therapist that she was transgender that she began to discover she wasn’t alone. She then went back to school, became a lecturer, lawyer and author.

Jillian Celentano
Author Jillian Celentano delivers the keynote.

“I’ve lived more life in the last six years than in the previous 55 years,” said Celentano, who recently earned his MSW from Southern Connecticut State University. “I want to inspire everyone to be themselves, no matter their age. We may never know the influence we have on other people’s lives, and that’s why being kind is so important.

“Please learn to love and accept the amazing person that you are,” she continued. “When you love yourself, you are the richest person in the world. Love and be proud of who you are. This is your story, now get out there and write your own personal bestseller.”

“Incredible things are going to happen”

Part two of the awards ceremony included the presentation of the inaugural Mike Lawlor Icon Award, named in honor of Mike Lawlor, JD, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice. A former member of the Connecticut House of Representatives and former Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning in the Office of Policy and Management, Dr. Lawlor has been a dedicated advocate LGBTQ+ rights.

Dr. Lawlor led the push for legislation that made Connecticut the second state in the nation to pass legislation allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. He has been described as “the University’s visibility and advocacy icon”.

Mike Lawlor, J.D.
Mike Lawlor, JD, addresses the Class of 2022 members.

“Your personal stories change the world, but you have to find the courage to tell them,” he told graduates at the ceremony. “We are going to live through difficult days, but you can save the world – each one of you. You have a particular passion linked to our identity, and it is up to you to go and make a difference. Each of you can make this .”

“Dream Big”

Dr. Lawlor presented the inaugural award named in his honor to Lilyan Lauzon ’22. The award recognized Lauzon’s advocacy and dedication to serving his community.

“I love seeing all the work we’ve done in my four years at the University,” said Lauzon, a forensic science major. “I can’t wait to see what we’ll accomplish. Keep being you.”

Summer Orlando concluded the ceremony with a song.
Summer Orlando concluded the ceremony with a song.

The ceremony concluded with a final performance by Orlando and a video compilation of congratulatory messages from faculty, staff and alumni for the class of 2022.

“Dream big,” Orlando said. “You never know what’s going to happen. If you’re true to yourself, you’ll see amazing things are going to happen.”

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