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Kaitlyn Avila.

Kaitlyn Avila, a former LGBT Resource Center intern and current student assistant in the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, receives her celebratory certificate upon completion of her degrees in communication and international studies. Photos by Erik Jepsen, University Communications.

Celebrations of Pride

Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla at Rainbow Graduation.

Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla speaking at Rainbow Graduation.

Brightly colored streamers marked the way to the Stage Room on Saturday morning where a record number of graduates who identify as LGBTQIA+ gathered to celebrate the completion of their UC San Diego degree. The event, called Rainbow Graduation, was hosted by the university’s LGBT Resource Center to honor the achievements of 115 undergraduate and graduate students.

“The best part of the event was hearing about each student's favorite memories and where they are going next after reflecting on what they gained from being part of UC San Diego’s LGBTQIA+ community,” said Shaun Travers, director of the LGBT Resource Center. “So many folks are taking what they learned here and giving it back to their community, which is incredible.”

The celebration included remarks from Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla, Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth H. Simmons and Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Becky R. Petitt. Each graduate was recognized individually, including details about their UC San Diego involvement and future plans, and received a certificate and rainbow-colored tassel to embellish their cap at All Campus Commencement.

Where your true self can shine

Emerson Xu at Rainbow Graduation.

Graduate student Emerson Xu was chosen by peers to be the Rainbow Graduation student keynote speaker and shared that he would like to make a difference in the United States.

Though representing many identities within the queer community, a warm sense of connection emanated around the room during the event. Some bonds were forged among residents of the LGBTQIA+ Living Learning Community, while others developed strong friendships—or even life partnerships—as interns at the LGBT Resource Center. Graduate student Emerson Xu recalls feeling instant belonging when he first visited the center. “There are no strangers at the LGBT Resource Center,” said Xu. “It’s a place where everybody can show their most vulnerable sides and truly be themselves.”

Xu was chosen by peers to be the Rainbow Graduation student keynote speaker; “I’m over the moon; I was excited to have the chance,” he said. Xu’s key messages centered on his strong mission to make a difference in the United States and defend U.S. global commitments. Since completing his master’s degree in international relations and politics at the School of Global Policy & Strategy, Xu would like to pursue a career with a think tank or an international organization involving outreach and research. He is dedicated to understanding the powers that shape our civilization, and how young countries such as the U.S. can lead profound breakthroughs.

Baramee Peper Anan.

Graduating doctoral student and former staff member Baramee Peper Anan was honored with a traditional hooding ceremony after completing a joint doctoral degree through UC San Diego and CSU San Marcos.

Graduating doctoral student and former UC San Diego staff member Baramee Peper Anan also conveyed that he was shaped into the person he is today thanks to the people he met and the self-knowledge he gained at the LGBT Resource Center. He enrolled at the university in 2002 as an undergraduate and began to volunteer at the center, later becoming an intern and leader of several student organizations. “I knew college was where I wanted to begin exploring my identity and who I've always known I was,” said Anan. “Before then, I didn't have the space or the words or the supportive community to do that and be able to say proudly that I was a Bisexual/Fluid Transman.”

The experience truly transformed Anan’s life; not only did he meet his wife (who had also been an intern at the center) and start a family, but he also discovered a passion for higher education. He went on to earn a master’s degree in postsecondary educational leadership and spent more than a decade serving as an academic counselor at UC San Diego for students in Sixth College, Revelle College and ERC. In partnership with center director Shaun Travers, he developed a training for other academic advisors on how to best support transgender and nonbinary students during their academic career.

Twenty years after first enrolling at UC San Diego, Anan celebrated another accomplishment at Rainbow Graduation—the completion of a doctoral degree in educational leadership through a joint program between UC San Diego and CSU San Marcos. This summer, he will also begin a new position at SDSU and hopes to continue pursuing research that elevates the voices and experiences of LGBTQIA+ undergraduates.

Improving the path for future generations

Fascio Vallente at Rainbow graduation.

Undergraduate student Fascio Vallente enjoyed celebrating with friends and hearing about how the LGBTQIA+ Living Learning Community–where he lives and serves as a house advisor–helped peers feel a sense of belonging.

After formal remarks and graduate recognition, students enjoyed cupcakes and excitedly gathered to take photos. Fascio Vallente shared that they have looked forward to attending Rainbow Graduation since their first year. “Everyone gets to be themselves. Being part of the LGBTQIA+ Living Learning Community all four years, including two years as a house advisor, it is really exciting to see everyone graduate and hear how they experienced a sense of belonging,” said Vallente.

This June, Vallente is completing two bachelor’s degrees in global health and ethnic studies. Their ultimate goal is to attend law school and open an integrated law center for LGBTQIA+ people to access healthcare, mental health care, social services and more. “I hope to bring everything together, so LGBT folks don’t have to figure things out on their own and relive their trauma over and over again.”

Rainbow-colored tassels.

A record number of 115 undergraduate and graduate students participated in this year’s Rainbow Graduation, each receiving a certificate and rainbow-colored tassel from campus leadership.

What stood out to Amber Martinez at the event was the inclusion of graduates of The Preuss School UC San Diego, a charter middle and high school at the university. As an aspiring high school teacher, she was encouraged to see a new generation of students already becoming integrated into the university’s LGBTQIA+ community.

“We’re trying to clear the path for those who come after us, to remove obstacles for the next generation,” said Martinez, who plans to earn a master’s degree in education from UC San Diego and a teaching license. “Being a visibly queer and trans person for my students, showing them that they belong and there is community for them, is very important to me.”