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Glassblowing in the Snow: A Lavender Graduation Speech

Graduates, esteemed faculty, family, and honored guests, today is not just a culmination of years of work and dedication, but a commencement- a true beginning of your journey into a world where resilience is not just a word, but a way of life.  As we gather here today, I want to share with you what I have learned about resilience through the transformative power of glass and the importance of the metaphorical furnace within each of us. 


What comes to mind when you think of glass?  Something fragile and clear?  Something that shatters and breaks easily?  If we look beyond those descriptors, we can see that glass is, in its essence, transformative.  I had my first encounter with glass blowing at a Seattle art studio, where I watched artists deftly wield 2000-degree molten glass to shape their visions.  It was a mesmerizing experience, watching them breathe life into glass, coaxing it to bend to their will, just as we do with the circumstances life presents us.


A couple of years ago I decided to start learning how to work with glass myself.  I was immediately drawn to it. It felt almost like meditation, except I was clearing my mind of anything that wasn’t the 2,000-degree material at the end of a steel pole I was holding.  It appealed to my ADHD brain, all of the other thoughts racing through my mind temporarily silenced as I focused on the glowing orange material I was going to shape into my vision.  Plus, it was bright and beautiful, and I am always happiest when I’m focused on shiny pretty things. 


Last weekend I was in the mountains my family, and booked a glassblowing class for everyone.  Sounds idyllic, right?  Well, the hot shop for our class wasn’t so much a hot shop, as a spot in the patio with a roof over it to protect from rain.  There was a portable furnace and annealer (where the glass goes to cool off), a bench, and a portable table.  In the mountains, though, what better place to learn how to blow glass? 


What we didn’t expect was a rogue snowstorm.  We were expecting a light rain.  The forecast said there would be intermittent light precipitation that afternoon, but that it would be quick to clear.  The clouds rolled in as we walked to the makeshift hot shop, and the light rain began.  I asked the teacher if we would be alright since temperature is so important, and they assured me that because of the roof above us, the glass would be just fine.  My concern grew, though, as the temperature started to drop rapidly, and the rain quickly shifted to sleet, and then to snow. 


We were glassblowing in the snow.


The roof above us kept most of it out, and the flakes that drifted under the cover quickly evaporated when they hit the hot glass.  And of course, the glass had to return to the furnace more frequently to keep it hot enough to shape.  The correct temperature was a combination of putting it back into the furnace whenever the chill started to cause the glass to harden, a roof to keep most of the snow off of it, and the strength of its own heat to evaporate any snow that did reach it.


What started as a light snowfall quickly turned into a proper mountain snowstorm with several inches of accumulation.  As we took our turns creating our pieces, the snow fell in earnest, blanketing the mountains and the lawn to our side.  Once the kids were done, they turned to snowball fights, building snow people, and opening their mouths wide to catch snowflakes on their tongues. 


And yet, the glass was fine.  We coaxed the molten glass into the shape of flowers that were all of the colors of the rainbow as the snow fell around us, just as you all are crafting your lives in the middle of an unexpected winter for social justice and human rights. 


Right now, we are all in a hot shop amidst a snowstorm.  We face unexpected challenges, societal shifts, and personal struggles.   We rely on the roof above us to shelter these lives we are shaping with hope, optimism, and some amount of apprehension and fear.  These lives you are building can seem so fragile. 


The things that make this seemingly impossible task of building a beautiful life possible are your roof and your furnace.  Each of you holds within you a furnace- an inner fire that fuels your dreams, ambitions, and resilience.  As members of the LGBTQ+ community, we know the storms all too well. 


When gay marriage was declared the law of the land in 2015 I celebrated, alternating crying tears of joy on the phone with friends with helping my kids create their own pride flags and trying to help them understand the importance of the day.  It seemed like the discrimination that had marked my upbringing in the 80s and 90s was stepping aside and creating space for true progress to emerge.  I never anticipated the attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, and particularly trans and gender queer rights, that we would be facing today.   It was a snowstorm I never saw coming.


And yet, here we are.


As we molded glass in the snow, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community.  Our rights, like glass, are often seen as fragile and easily shattered.  We’ve made strides, yes, but there is an ongoing storm threatening to undo our progress.  The recent challenges to LGBTQ+ rights are a stark reminder that our journey towards equality is far from over.  But it also reminds me that to strength of our inner fire is often underestimated.


I urge you to embrace your resilience like never before.  Your identity, your journey, your truth- they are your masterpiece, waiting to be shaped.  In a world that often feels cold and unwelcoming, let your inner fire burn bright.  In the face of unexpected snowstorms, I hope that you not only persist, but cultivate lives filled to the brim with exuberant joy, because life as a member of the queer community is nothing like morose Lifetime movies would have you believe.  Dance and laugh and build snow people and have snowball fights in the storms that surround us right now.  Craft a life full of beauty and silliness and above all, pride.  Use all of the brightest colors and hold back nothing as you create your masterpiece.


To the families who stand by us, both given and chosen, the friends who uplift us, and the mentors who guide us- thank you.  Your support is the roof above us, shielding us from the harshest winds.


As you step into the world beyond these walls, I hope that you will be like glass artists in the snowstorm.  May you embrace transformation, nurture resilience, trust the roof giving you shelter, and ignite that inner fire within you.  You are not just graduates, you are beacons of hope, warriors of change, and artists of your own destiny.


Congratulations, class of 2024!  May your lives be filled with purpose, passion, and the certainty that you can weather any storm and emerge stronger, brighter, and more beautiful than ever before.  Go forth and shine your light upon the world!

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