Virtual ceremonies celebrate students of color and LGBTQ+ graduates

Illustration by Sophia Rodriguez
By Ashley A. Williams

Illustration by Sophia Rodriguez

Virtual ceremonies celebrate students of color and LGBTQ+ graduates

By Ashley A. Williams
The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the LGBTQ Student Center hosted events to recognize graduates for their leadership, achievements, and contributions to the University community.

Two-time, award-winning journalist Lionel Moise told those at a virtual Senior Mwambo ceremony for graduating students of color that they are “the leaders that we need today,” and that they are fortified by the University of Miami’s long tradition of diversity. 

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and the LGBTQ Student Center hosted their annual graduation events to recognize students for their leadership, achievements, and contributions to the campus community.

Each year, the celebrations have a strong attendance and that was no different this year. Despite the University of Miami community being spread across the globe because of the COVID-19 pandemic postponing spring 2020 commencement ceremonies, nearly 450 people—graduates and their loved ones—tuned into the virtual ceremonies held Friday afternoon.

“Whether it’s in the classroom, on the fields, in our student organizations, in our laboratories, in the larger Miami community, you have all made a huge different to the student experience,” said Renee Dickens Callan, executive director of student life. “I know this is not the way we envisioned having Senior Mwambo, but I am glad you are here celebrating with us today.”

During each ceremony, awards were given to students who made a significant difference during their time at the University.

Brianna Scott Senior Mwambo
Brianna G. Scott was awarded the 2020 Nanga Award during the Senior Mwambo celebration.

“Despite the unprecedented circumstances of our world right now, we earned this moment,” said Brianna Scott, the recipient of the 2020 Nanga award who graduated this spring with degrees in public health and Africana studies.  

Prior to Friday’s event, Gisela Vega, director, and Vanessa Kania, assistant director, of the LGBTQ Student Center, mailed nearly 30 students their rainbow-colored regalia cord to wear during the virtual celebration—and at the rescheduled graduation ceremony in  December. Emma Lam, a psychology major and the president of SpectrUM, the University’s largest LBGTQ+ student organization, was among those recognized at the ceremony. 

Lavender Celebration shout-outsAnthony Varona, dean at the University of Miami School of Law, congratulated the accomplishments of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and ally students during the virtual function. In addition, University leaders from a variety of departments offered words of encouragement to students to make them feel connected, despite their distance.

Laura Kohn Wood, dean of the School of Education and Human Development said, “from the closing of the University due to Hurricane Irma in fall 2017, to the distance learning pivot of the University for the coronavirus now, and the countless other incidents, barriers—personal and collective—speak of your perseverance and resistance that you made it to this day.”

The University’s spring 2020 graduates join thousands of alumni in a network committed to encouraging lifelong connections, engagement, and service.

“We hear the word unprecedented almost too much these days, but the class of 2020 is unprecedented, and you have a very critical role in shaping our future,” said Moise. “While we stay at home, remember that the University of Miami will always be your home.”