The second-annual Selase Williams Unity Gala, held April 27 in Washburn Auditorium, sounded many familiar and important themes of diversity, inclusion and the nation’s legacy of structural racism. But, just as important, it celebrated students, dozens of them dressed in formal wear, red and black gowns and culturally-relevant raiment, and all adorned in the finery of their impact and accomplishments.
“Be unapologetically who you are,” said keynote speaker Rev. Karlene Griffiths Sekou, lavishing her time and counsel on gala attendees before they danced in celebration to the tunes of DJ Baltazar in the colored lights and balloons festooning the Washburn Auditorium.
The evening, which kicked off with a “red carpet entrance” and formal dinner in the Washburn Lounge, also held a couple of highlights for Lesley University itself, as former Provost Williams, who was unable to be in attendance at the gala, donated $1,000 to the Urban Scholars Initiative scholarship fund, and Amarildo “Lilu” Barbosa was announced as our chief diversity officer, removing the “interim” from the title. (Barbosa has also served as head of our Office of Multicultural Affairs and Student Inclusion, an office he has largely shaped in conjunction with the president’s and provost’s offices.)
President Jeff Weiss, in brief remarks, cited former Provost Williams as a “great champion for diversity and difference and unity,” and pointed to Barbosa’s work as foundational to making Lesley a more inclusive environment for all.
“You group of seniors will be proud when you come back,” President Weiss said, “… and see all the progress we’ve made.”
The president also presented the “Social Justice Advisor Award” to Bwann Gwann, executive assistant to College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Shapiro.
Calling Gwann “fearless in her pursuit of social justice,” President Weiss said, “She is a unifying force and someone who springs into action time and time again to offer everything, from guidance and support to community events.”
A number of students were also recognized at the gala:
- Farrah Bruny Brown, assistant director of Community College Partnerships and Advising, presented Rocky Cotard with the undergraduate award for Social Activism through the Arts, and presented the graduate award to Shanell Percy.
- Maritsa Barros, director of the Urban Scholars Initiative (USI), presented the undergraduate award Foundations Award to Anaëlle Séïde and the graduate award to Chord Sheriffe.
Barros also implored students at the gala to: “Crush your fears! Conquer your goals! Live your dreams!”
Comprising the first full USI cohort, this year’s seniors, are: Karina Buruca, Rocky Cotard, Annabelle Feliz Soto, Elyssa Glassman, Albert Myers, Rocio Perez, Leonela Ramirez-Trejo, Allison Richardson, Matthew Saluti, Anaëlle Séïde, Archibaldo Soto Lora, Marcela Torres Sanchez, Kelsey Arbona and Cynthia Lopes.
- Jennifer Castro, USI’s assistant director, presented the undergraduate Student Impact Award to Rianne Elsadig, and the graduate award to Jack Girardi.
“I’m standing in front of you with bittersweet pride,” Castro said to the soon-to-be-graduating USI students at one point, adding that she is “not ready for your departure.”
- Barbosa returned to the podium to “acknowledge and celebrate the work of the Multicultural Student Advisory Council” and recognized Mica Agate-Mays, Monira Almarzouki, Yuka Chen, Lo Chow, Rachel Fernandez, Krystal Garcia, Dewayne Green, Matilda Holland, Sarah Lima, Elie Lopes, Manny Martinez, Ayana Medley-Finch, Albert Myers, Jada Sullivan-Brito and Mosheh Tucker.
- Jennifer Auletta Serowick, assistant vice president for adult learning, recognized a number of seniors earning degrees through our Center for the Adult Learner. Those students include: Kevyn De Oliveira Sereno, Fikremarkos Desta, Carrie Groffman, Elvin Merino, Dominique Oliver, Tiffany Qualls, Kathleen Shepherd-Segura, Gwendolyn Squires, Charleah Torres-Vega, Chrod Sheriffe and Jonathan Mande.
“We are humbled daily by the persistence of our adult students have exhibited during their journey,” Serowick said.
Barbosa later recognized Castro with the Excellence in the Profession Award, Barros recognized the graduating USI cohort and first-year student Alex Tosado read a poem dedicated to her student mentors.
Barbosa also presented the evening’s keynote speaker with the Community Leader Award, owing to her work at Lesley, consulting with the university on our diversity and inclusion efforts, as well as her work in the community at large as a minister and social justice activist.
Congratulating the graduates, the Rev. Sekou said, “It is not easy to follow your dreams, for anyone, but it certainly is not easy for those who have been marginalized, who’ve been left out.”
She added: “Let no one take your story. Let no one erase your people’s legacy. Let no one erase your identity.”
Following the keynote address, as the gala approached 10 o’clock, emcee Felecia Bumpus, assistant dean of student life, thanked a multitude of people — from the banquet chefs Bon Appetit, to Dean of Students Nathaniel Mays — for their support and contributions instrumental to making the gala a success.
Then, she urged DJ Baltazar: “Drop that beat!”