2008 Youth Scholar - Cara Cerise, Highland High School, Salt Lake City, UT
"Cara has demonstrated leadership and initiative by speaking out in class, participating in Equality Utah's lobbying efforts, serving as President of the social justice club BOND at her high school, and establishing the Utah chapter of the Pride Center's support group Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere. Her experiences have instilled a personal commitment to defending the rights of all."
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Cara Cerise of Salt Lake City, UT, has been active in supporting LGBT rights and social justice throughout her high school career. In addition to accepting leadership roles in her school's social justice club, Building One New Dream (BOND); and lobbying against dangerous anti-gay bills in Utah's state legislature; Cara also started the Utah chapter of Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE). COLAGE is a support group designed to "engage, connect, and empower people to make the world a better place for children of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender parents and families." The ACLU of Utah also recognized Cara in their local scholarship competition for her demonstrated leadership and initiative.
Cara's Scholarship Essay
"I have a solution to the whole gay marriage issue" my Ceramics classmate stated as I was working my cold clay trying to get the perfect structure for my vase. This statement piqued my interest and I couldn't help but push my vase aside. Expecting a fresh idea or something brilliant, I eagerly listened. "Just kill all gay people" he calmly stated. Shocked, silence fell upon me, my heart sank, there was a bowling ball in my stomach, and tears welled in my eyes. I thought of my gay father who has raised me and my younger sister since I was four. Hearing death wished upon someone I love so dearly was like being run over by a semi. I was hurt. As a shy freshman, lost in the new world of high school, I went searching for a safe haven.
Unfortunately, it wasn't until the end of my sophomore year I found my place of refuge. It's Highland High School's social justice club BOND (Building One New Dream). Getting involved provided a safe place for me to share my ideas and I feel I'm part of something great. However, I longed to explore social issues deeper. I got my opportunity with an application for a student leadership/human relations camp called Anytown run by the Inclusion Center for Community and Justice.
When I ponder the question; why are you a civil liberties activist? the Inclusion Center experience comes to mind immediately. It sparked my activism and it was where my journey as an activist began.
The summer before my junior year, I attended Camp Anytown in Big Cottonwood Canyon. I experienced a safe and comfortable place with the opportunity to understand more about myself. I was able to explore what makes me the same and different from those around me, learn how to build an inclusive community, and walk away with the skills, tools, and resources necessary to address injustice, bias, and bigotry in myself and my surroundings. I left with an open heart, a positive attitude, and the courage to face the obstacles ahead.
Traveling back down to the valley, I knew great challenges and adventures awaited me. I was eager to implement things I learned into my school and community. I started the week I got back, have been going ever since, and will continue to go in the future. I began with volunteering for the Inclusion Center. I signed up for an internship, enabling me to run BOND Club. This club works toward eliminating prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination in our school. We do this through activities that help bring the student body more awareness of oppression in its many forms. Mix It Up Week and Oppression Awareness Week are two large events we host every year.
During Mix It Up Week BOND facilitates activities to help break the strong barriers held between social cliques. We bring students of all backgrounds together by playing games in the lunch room, interviewing students for the school news about how they feel about the opportunity to mix it up, and conducting student surveys.
Oppression Awareness Week is another major event for the BOND club. Hallways are plastered with informative posters that address the eight common "isms" of oppression. "Break away your bias" is a popular activity that draws a large crowd. Students gather in front of the school to write down one of their own biases or a slur on a glass plate; then hurl and shatter it at a tarp lying in front of a brick wall. Other activities include a twenty-four hour vow of silence, an anti-oppression pledge, and a display honoring rape victims. During two lunch periods, a poster is taped up displaying the alarming U.S. statistic that one woman is raped every two minutes. We section off a portion of the lunch room to honor these victims by laying out one pair of shoes every two minutes. We often see shocked looks and students doing "double takes." After our hard work, we celebrate with a party at the end of the week. Besides running Mix It Up, Oppression Awareness Week, and partying, we also host open discussions, film screenings, and plan service projects. BOND club helps me wake up in the morning and gives me motivation to make a difference.
In addition to BOND club, I actively participate in the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender community. I contacted the Utah Pride Center and Equality Utah. Through participating in Equality Utah's lobby training, my peers and I were able to successfully lobby against HB 236 (designed to put significant limitations on school clubs such as Gay Straight Alliance and BOND). I have also had the opportunity to meet with Equality Utah and elected officials to address the issue of bullying from a student's perspective, particularly against the LGBT community.
The Utah Pride Center's mission statement "to be a catalyst for personal growth, acceptance and equality for GLBT people in Utah" is also something I can identify with. Through volunteering with them, it has enabled me to open up the Utah chapter of COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere).
COLAGE is a group that I hold close to my heart. It's a national organization that works to engage, connect, and empower people to make the world a better place for children of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender parents and families. Having experienced first-hand the discrimination the LGBT community faces, I am honored to have opened and successfully run the Utah Chapter of COLAGE. It's a support group for youth 9-18 with one or more LGBT parent. We do fun activities together and find comfort in the fact we have the commonality of unique families. Since I was a young child, I had thought I was "the only one," Finally, I know I'm not. I am overjoyed to offer this group and my support to the many other youth in the same situation.
I'm an activist because I know I can make a difference. Running BOND club and the Utah Chapter of COLAGE are fulfilling, challenging, and bring me an immense amount of joy. They have given me confidence, a sense of belonging, and chances for my voice to be heard. As I finish high school, my activism will not stop. I see it as an ongoing process. It is my passion, my drive, my reason for living. I intend to live by the words of Gandhi "Be the change you wish to see in the world."