Light University graduates from left: Jean Johnson, Rev. Deacon Joel Slotnick, the Right Rev. Grant Lynn Ford and Rev. Deacon Marian Cavagnaro hold up their degrees at the school’s first commencement ceremony June 10 at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale. Express Editor Phil LaPadula (far right) received the Multi-Culture Institute Award at the ceremony. (Photo by Canute Knott-Malcolm)
By CANUTE KNOTT-MALCOLM
Friday, June 15, 2007
Light University, a school affiliated with the local Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Lauderdale, awarded its first degrees on Sunday, June 10, in a ceremony at the MCC’s Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.
The commencement exercises were held as a part of the regular 11 a.m. worship service at the predominately gay and lesbian church. They were attended by leaders in the progressive religious movement, including Patricia Mathis, a former cabinet official under President Jimmy Carter, who presented an award to Express Editor Phil LaPadula at the event.
Four Light University graduates received degrees at various levels. Rev. Deacon Joel Slotnick and Jean Johnson received associates of applied religious studies, and the Rev. Deacon Marian Cavagnaro received a master’s of religious studies. The Right Rev. Grant Lynn Ford, who is pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral, received a bachelor of religious studies and an honorary doctor of humane letters for his services to the Sunshine Cathedral and to South Florida’s gay and lesbian Christian community.
“Obtaining this degree means a lot to me,” said an ecstatic Jean Johnson, who was also ordained as a deacon at a worship service earlier in the morning.
Members of the graduating class expressed satisfaction with the academic breath and rigor of the light University curriculum. “We have everything from religious studies to tap dancing,” Ford said.
“Attending Light University was a very positive experience,” Cavagnaro said. “The faculty is very knowledgeable and are experts in their fields.”
“My experience at Light University was very enlightening,” Johnson said. “it has broadened my spectrum of things.”
Although affiliated with a church with a mostly GLBT membership, Johnson said that while GLBT themes and topics were discussed in length, they were not central to the curriculum.
“As with any university, there is a core curriculum,” Johnson explained. “I did, however, take a course on human sexuality.”
In addition to having courses related to human sexuality in its curriculum, Light University has made a concerted effort to address issues relevant to the GLBT community. Phil LaPadula, the editor of the Express, received the Community Award from the Multicultural Institute for his reporting on anti-gay violence in Jamaica and the Sunshine Cathedral’s establishment of a sister church in the Caribbean nation.
Rev. Robert Griffin, academic dean of Light University, said that LaPadula’s efforts to bring public awareness about the homophobia issues in Jamaica to the South Florida community was primarily what led to his recognition.
“Sunshine Cathedral is very committed and connected with the GLBT community in Jamaica, and it was our way of showing our gratitude for Phil’s work in this specific area,” Griffin said.
“I would like to thank the Sunshine Cathedral for this honor, and I congratulate the graduates of the university,” LaPadula said at the commencement. “I hope that my writing makes a positive difference in the gay and lesbian community of South Florida.”
Graduates said they will use their degrees to fulfill a variety of life goals and aspirations. “I want to continue my studies and continue volunteering with seniors,”
“My thesis focused on empowering the people of Africa,” Cavagnaro said. “I am
going to make my ninth visit to Africa to help in the fight against AIDS.”
Cavagnaro further stated that her studies at Light University in combination with her professional life in the public health sector will enable her to take a holistic approach toward development in limited resources or developing countries.
“Overall attending light university was a very good experience,” Cavagnaro said. “I would encourage anyone to take a class or two.”
Light University has grown significantly since its establishment in 2001. From its humble beginning as what some people jokingly described as an “advanced religious studies class,” Light University has emerged into a religious degree granting institution fully recognized by the state of Florida.
“We are a university that is growing,” Ford said. “We will continue to serve the community.”