[It is our honor to share the text from Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, Kim Godsoe’s, Lavender Graduation Speech.]
Welcome everyone! What an exciting and beautiful celebration!
My name is Kim Godsoe, and I am the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs. To me, the lavender graduation is a particularly important celebration because it recognizes that our journeys are multifaceted. We are, of course, our academic selves whether we have studied neuroscience, sociology, theater or philosophy. But our journeys are also deeply personal, intertwined with how we conceive ourselves, how we decide to present ourselves, and who we love.
Tonight is a celebration of your journey, your joyous journey to this moment.
So I want you to take a moment to think about what it means to be at Brandeis. As you know, Brandeis was founded on the idea of inclusion. So take a moment and close your eyes. (pause) I want you to think about the year 1948. When you think of 1948, what images do you see? What is apparent about U.S. society and race, gender, socio-economic class, sexual orientation? Ok, open your eyes. With those images in mind, then think of how Brandeis was founded based on this idea of inclusion–that those who have been excluded were welcomed.
Those ideas of inclusion are still central to Brandeis now. I think it is so telling that when Brandeis participated in the 2014 ACHA National College Health Assessment, 19% of our students identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, compared to the so commonly quoted statistic of 10% of the U.S. population. So what does this number tell us? We can understand it as Brandeis being a supportive community for the LGBTQI population. Or we can ask the question, does being a place like Brandeis give individuals the safety to self-identify that they might not feel comfortable doing so were they in another environment.
So why is Brandeis this very special place–and what does that tell us about how we should live our lives going forward?
I have a theory which is at Brandeis, we are not afraid to tell our stories. Telling our stories legitimizes our experiences, educates our community, and is the fabric of any social change that occurs. The Poet and Scholar Adrienne Rich once wrote, “Lying is done with words and also with silence.” To me, when we are silent about who we are and what our experiences have been, we are not being true to ourselves and our community. So telling our stories is the root of our power.
So let me tell you a little bit about my story. As many of you know, I am married to my wonderful and beautiful wife Pam. It is not uncommon for people to ask, quite kindly, how long we have been married. On the surface, it is such an innocent question, but in reality, there are so many different ways we could answer. Pam and I have made the intentional choice to say “Since the very first day that it was legal in Massachusetts.” Now of course, this is not what people are expecting. They want some tidy number like 5 years or 10 years, but we have decided that when we tell our story, it is also important for us to acknowledge our history. And that history is a complicated one. When I came out in college, the idea of butch and femme was very prevalent and there was sometimes pressure from some members of the community to select one of those identities. Similarly, in the dialogue of the day, self-identifying as bisexual was regularly perceived as being a traitor to a gay or lesbian identity. Thankfully, much has changed since that time.
So why not give people the simple answer of we’ve been together for seventeen years, and we have been married for eleven? The math is easier, people are happy, there’s not that awkward follow up question of when did gay marriage become legal. The problem with the simple answer is that it works from the assumption that gay marriage always was legal and it will always be legal. It is an answer from a place of complacency. And our lives, all of our lives, yours and mine, are anything but complacent.
And we can’t be complacent—we have to tell our stories. We see this every day both the challenges and the steps forward. We see the challenges with laws like Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act and some of the arguments that went with that. (As an aside, do you really want a florist who doesn’t believe in your union? Can you say half dead roses?) But we also see steps forward in our national dialogue such as the important public recognition of Andreja Pejic and Aydian Dowling. Only a decade ago, the discourse on transgendered issues was very different. And we have to be suspicious of silence and of omission. Maybe I shouldn’t care that Adam Levine’s Sugar video only shows straight couples getting married, but I do.
So we must tell our stories—they are so powerful. You have to be honest about the times of acceptance and support as well as the times of questioning and rejection. You are soon to be Brandeis graduates, with all of the intelligence, passion, and compassion that has been fostered in you by your alma matter. You have so much to be proud of and there are so many ways that you are going to change the world. So celebrate all that you’ve accomplished, and remember to always tell your story.