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Rainbow Graduation ceremony celebrates the achievements of LGBTQIA+ students

The CSUN Pride Center’s annual Rainbow Graduation event on Friday, May 17 put a spotlight on the achievements of LGBTQIA+ students celebrating this important milestone in their educational journey. Graduates...

The CSUN Pride Center’s annual Rainbow Graduation event on Friday, May 17 put a spotlight on the achievements of LGBTQIA+ students celebrating this important milestone in their educational journey.

Graduates finishing their last week of finals made their way through the colorful balloon archway at the entrance of the University Student Union hall, to enjoy a lunch at tables each bedecked in a different color of the rainbow, reminiscent of the iconic Pride flag.

The ceremony included a Folklórico dance performed by a graduating student, inspiring words from a student speaker and presentations of scholarships to students who displayed exceptional dedication to advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community at CSUN.

Each performer and speaker shared their unique experience in navigating college life as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. All shared a little bit of their stories: the challenges, but also the resilience that allowed them to triumph in this landmark achievement.

On Silas Klein’s graduation cap are the words “second time’s the charm,” to celebrate graduating after initially having his thesis rejected. The photo was taken at Rainbow Graduation on Friday, May 17, 2024 in Northridge, Calif. (Chana Kaplan)

In fact, each student in attendance brought their own stories of victory over challenges to the event. One master’s student, Silas Klein, had his linguistics thesis rejected last year. But letting nothing stop him in pursuit of the language studies he loves, he successfully reached graduation this time around in 2024.

“This day means more to me than I can ever express in words,” Klein said.

Perhaps Klein’s graduation cap expressed a few of the words he could not. Crowning his graduation finery in rainbows to display his joy in sharing this moment with his community, Klein’s graduation cap proudly displayed the words “second time’s the charm.”

According to Pride Center Supervisor Ren Stone, this is exactly what the Rainbow Graduation is all about.

“We like to have the Rainbow Graduation ceremony to really bring the community together, and give people the space to celebrate and also bring their full selves,” Stone said.

The Pride Center’s focus is on helping LGBTQIA+ students navigate college life, and for Martel Okonji, Manager of the Pride Center, celebrations like these are, in many ways, a full circle moment.

Okonji, who is also a CSUN alumni, was part of the original group of students who made the opening of the CSUN Pride Center in 2012 a reality. In 2009, these students created a forum to push for more support services for LGBTQIA+ students on campus.

“A big piece of that was: we need more resources, we need more spaces to connect, we need more advocacy efforts,” Okonji said.

These students kept advocating for themselves in what would be more than two years of work, to ensure that these changes were made on campus for their community.

“We weren’t taking “no” for an answer,” Okonji said.

For Okonji, events like the Rainbow Graduation are a testament to the success of this courageous group of students and their work to institute the Pride Center at CSUN.

“The fact that we are here now, and I’m here now, being able to lead it and have the space for it, seeing all of our students, seeing the campus support, it’s a powerful and beautiful thing,” Okonji said.