First-ever Rainbow graduation caps the season of PCC completion ceremonies

Story and Photos by James Hill. Additional Photos by Soraya Benson.

For Bobby Waldner, you got to celebrate the little, as well as the big things in life.

Waldner was speaking to LGBTQ+ graduating students and allies after receiving the Outstanding Alumni Award during the inaugural Rainbow Graduation + Awards Ceremony earlier this month at the Southeast Campus. The graduation was a chance to celebrate the creation and development of PCC’s Queer Resource Centers (QRC) and the contributions of the queer and trans community.

“We’ve come along way since I was a student here,” he said. “Many folks have been at the forefront creating our centers, and many have worked hard behind the scenes to make the QRCs a reality. I am incredibly proud of the work we’ve accomplished and continue to accomplish.”
At the age of 30, the Michigan native began his educational journey at PCC in 2011. But in one of his classes he was being bullied for being gay.

In 2011, at the age of 30, Bobby Waldner began his educational journey at PCC. But in one of his classes he was being bullied for being gay.

It was an emotional moment for Waldner, who is a co-founder of the QRC system at the college. In 2011, at the age of 30, the Michigan native began his educational journey at PCC. But in one of his classes he was bullied for being gay every time he tried to participate. Waldner had approached his teacher about it and was encouraged to talk to Illumination Project leader Jeannie LaFrance, who also served as coordinator for the college’s Queer-Straight Alliance.

From there, she encouraged him to take action — not against the students, but in changing the college climate. He became a leader by helping LaFrance stage the Illumination Project and establishing the Sylvania QRC. He later became the first college queer resource advocate within Sylvania’s WRC, co-chairing PCC’s QRC steering committee and the Gender Neutral Bathroom Task Force. This latter project resulted in more than 30 all-gender bathrooms being built across PCC through the Bond Program.

“Bobby was the person who really saw this vision, created it and made it come true,” LaFrance said. “He did with such heart and such style, grace and humor.”

Today, the QRCs are located at every PCC comprehensive campus, which includes Sylvania, Rock Creek, Southeast and Cascade. They are engaged in a myriad of district-level initiatives like guiding the Gender Inclusive Spaces Committee; assisting with PCC’s presence at the Pride NW Parade; helping the college institute preferred names for students; and adopting the national #IllGoWithYou Campaign so people feel supported on trips to the restroom.

The development of the QRCs fits naturally into the college Strategic Vision’s ideal of creating a nationally renowned culture for diversity, equity and inclusion. Portland’s population is becoming more diverse in race, gender identity, sexuality and more, and these perspectives and experiences enriches the community fabric. And, serving this growing population presents challenges within an educational framework that has historically targeted a less diverse population.

Hence, LaFrance said the QRCs are an important resource for a part of the community that hasn’t had access to them before. The centers are a refuge where students will be treated with dignity and respect, and be celebrated. This is an important factor; statistics show that these students are more likely to drop out of college, and suffer physical and mental issues. The QRC space can be a game-changer for students, providing a climate where they feel comfortable and can finish their college work.

But this month’s ceremony was all about the honored graduates. They each received rainbow stoles in front of an estimated 75 attendees. The celebrated students included Alanna Alegria, Alex Bell-Johnson, Ameritia Cavil-Farmer, Angela Dyche, Button Will, Christi Halversen, Farnoosh Parish-Khodayar, Kili Luther, Kole Jules Render, Lauren Phillips, Lauren Vaillancourt, Maria Christina Welton, Mercury Russell, Molly Walker, Sarah Rose Ende and Shiva Markandeya. In addition, awardees included The Illumination Project (Bridge Builder); Jimena Alvarado (Instructor of the Year); Michelle Mueller (Honorable Mention – Instructor of the Year); Molly Walker (Gender Justice); Alex Bell-Johnson (Ally of the Year); and Marcus Mastrud (OUTstanding Student Leader).

“Today is a day to be proud of,” Waldner continued. “Today we recognize the hard work you accomplished this year. Today we applaud you for meeting a goal that you thought in September was so far away. Tomorrow I give you permission for being proud of something as simple as brushing your teeth or doing a load of laundry. Sometimes you just have to say, ‘It’s okay. I did what I could today,’ and let go of all the big stuff you wanted to do.

“Life is too short for you to be angry at yourself for being human,” he said.

PCC Program Completion Ceremonies and Graduations

In addition to the Rainbow Graduation, there were other, equally memorable program completion ceremonies throughout the college. Below is a summary of a few that caught our attention, which were written by our amazing Community Relations staff.

TRIO Graduation — Students from Aloha, Beaverton and Hillsboro High Schools, and Five Oaks, Meadow Park, Mountain View and South Meadows Middle Schools, were the stars of the TRIO graduation ceremony May 25 at the Rock Creek Campus. Approximately 68 percent of the graduating seniors will attend Rock Creek in September. TRIO, hosted by PCC and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is designed to help middle and high school students achieve their educational goals. (Written by Janis Nichols)

Phi Theta Kappa (Rock Creek) — The Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Beta Gamma Lambda Chapter, welcomed 36 inductees in its May 26 ceremony. Campus President Sandra Fowler-Hill (second from right) welcomed new members, and the keynote address was given by Ben Lawrence, regional vice president of communications for PTK. The society recognizes scholarship, leadership and service among community college students. (Janis Nichols)

Gerontology Program — Twenty-eight gerontology students were honored at the program’s annual spring graduation ceremony at the Sylvania Campus. The program celebrated the graduates who collectively earned 23 associate degrees and 83 certificates. (Celina Baguiao)

Multicultural Center (Sylvania) — The Multicultural Center recognized its student leaders and their accomplishments at its annual completion ceremony. The Men of Color Leadership Cohort celebrated its first ever Students of Urban Leadership (SOUL) Summit. The summit brought together male students of color to address concerns regarding education, health and identity, in order to help them reach their academic and leadership potential while contributing to their respective communities. The Multicultural Center also applauded its first cohort of Students for Equity Empowerment & Development mentorship program (SEED). The SEED mentorship program prepares college students to be mentors for local high school students with a racial equity and social justice framework. (Celina Baguiao)

Veterinary Technology Program — The Vet Tech graduates pose for a photo just before their final exam! (Janis Nichols)

Students4Giving Campaign — Sylvania’s Students4Giving class presented $10,000 worth of grants to three local nonprofit organizations as part of a term-long project focused on housing security. The class granted $5,000 to The Community Transitional School for a transportation program for homeless students, $3,000 to Portland Homeless Family Solutions for a housing retention program, and $2,000 to Right 2 Dream Too for refuge relocation costs. Students4Giving teaches the foundations of philanthropy and offers students the opportunity for hands-on learning. To date, Students4Giving has raised more than $99,000 and awarded grants to 31 nonprofit organizations in the surrounding communities. (Celina Baguiao)

Phi Theta Kappa (Sylvania) — Fifteen new members were welcomed into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society on Friday, June 9. Phi Theta Kappa serves to recognize and encourage the academic achievement of two-year college students and provide opportunities for individual growth and development through honors, leadership and service programming. Phi Theta Kappa is the largest honor society in American higher education with more than three million members. (Celina Baguiao)

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