Jesus Zavala, a University of Idaho senior, never expected to even attend UI, let alone graduate from the institution.
Zavala was one of five students honored Wednesday at Lavender Graduation — an event that celebrates LGBT and ally graduates apart from the larger commencement ceremony in May. Each graduate received a certificate, a rainbow tassel and an alumni pin.
Zavala said he transferred to UI from a community college in southern Idaho, and although he never visited Moscow before, he was able to create a home.
“Past Boise, I had no clue where I was going, and I thought as long I’m pointed north, I was bound to be on the right track,” Zavala said, laughing. “Not only did my friends welcome me here, the community did, too. I feel like my coming here was fate.”
Zavala said he considered other Idaho universities, but didn’t find that “home away from home,” until he came to UI, which out-of-state student Alex Ortiz echoed.
Ortiz, a Lavender graduate, said his experience at UI was memorable.
“Being in this environment for four years has really been amazing. It’s really saddening that I have to leave,” Ortiz said. “I have mixed emotions, like I’m ready to take on the real world, but at the same time I don’t know if I’m ready to leave Moscow yet.”
Ortiz said he advised those who have yet to graduate to take as many opportunities as they can before it’s too late.
He said after his second year, he began getting involved on and off campus, which made a huge difference and only improved his time at UI.
“Definitely think about what you want to do, but definitely take some risks,” Ortiz said.
Zavala agreed with Ortiz and said he encouraged current students to “knock on every door.”
“Granted, I’ve taken a lot of ‘no’s’ in my life, but it only takes one ‘yes’ to change your whole life,” Zavala said. “Be determined and you’ll achieve success.”
Zavala and Ortiz said smaller commencement ceremonies, like Lavender Graduation, have made the prospect of graduating more real for them.
“I’m starting to feel overwhelmed with emotion … I can’t believe the time has actually come,” Zavala said. “I mean, I’m not going to cry or anything, but I think I definitely could.”
Ortiz said he will participate in the larger commencement ceremony, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology. Whereas Zavala will not walk.
“I personally believe that when you walk, that’s when you’re complacent,” Zavala said. “It’s where you stop and decided you’re happy with where you’re at.”
The sociology major said he will walk later when he graduates with his doctoral degree.
However, Zavala said Ortiz will “most-likely” talk him into it.
“Probably,” Ortiz said through a smile.
Olivia Heersink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @heersinkolivia