Friends and strangers carefully balanced black plastic plates piled high with food and clear plastic cups filled with various drinks as they laughed and caught up with one another Saturday night in Grazie! Italiano.
The GLBT Alumni Association, in an effort to reach their $1 million goal for the year, put on its annual silent auction to raise money for the association’s operating costs and scholarships fund.
“It’s refreshing to see the young people here,” said Kim Davis, former GLBTAA president. “It makes my heart happy.”
A rainbow pride flag hung over a booth in the entrance of the restaurant as people began flooding into the event. As attendees waited in line to check in, buy tickets and redeem their silent auction bid numbers, friends and strangers hugged and introduced one another. Within just a half hour, the bar area of Grazie! was packed with people, and it was hard to hear over the loud buzz of conversation.
Wearing sneakers, light wash jeans, a grey zip-up hoodie and a dark blazer, Mike Shumate was just one person in the large crowd offering hugs and handshakes to nearly everyone he came across.
Shumate is a former president of the GLBTAA board of directors, and, on Friday night at a separate event, he was awarded the GLBTAA Distinguished Alumni Award.
Shumate is the eighth person to win the award, which was created to recognize achievements by LGBT alumni or their allies and supporters. To be named the distinguished alumni, one must be nominated for the award. A committee in the GLBTAA then reviews the nominations and votes for that year’s winner.
Friends and colleagues alike had only good things to say about Shumate, who they said was instrumental to the success of the organization and the scholarship fund.
“If it wasn’t for Mike, looking at what we had on the path and pushing forward, I’m not sure where we would be today,” Davis said. “He stepped on the gas pedal and kept it going forward.”
Others focused on the Shumate’s dedication to all the students he came across and said he always took care to listen and see how they were doing.
“The thing that strikes me is that he still takes an interest in the students,” GLBTAA President Tim Lemper said. “I often say he has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I’ve ever known.”
Though praised by many, Shumate didn’t take all the credit for the award and instead gave credit to the figures, whom he called the real heroes, in the program who came before him.
“I didn’t accept this just on my behalf but on behalf of all of those committed volunteers and those whose footsteps I follow,” he said.
On Friday night, in addition to Shumate being awarded the GLBTAA Distinguished Alumni Award, the organization announced its scholarship fund was just shy of $1 million. William Yarber, a senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute, was in attendance and was moved by how close the organization was to its goal, Shumate said.
Then Saturday at the reception, Yarber wrote a check for $1,600 to the IU Foundation that put the organization’s scholarship funds over the million dollar mark.
As Shumate relayed the good news to those around him, Yarber stood by ready to write the check. In his right hand he balanced a plate of bruschetta on top of his wallet, and in his left hand, a yellow check waited to be filled out.
When Lemper announced the news of reaching the million dollar mark to the crowd, cheers arose from everywhere in the bar area, drowning out Yarber as he spoke of his decision to cut the check. As the cheers died down, he picked up his explanation again.
“This organization stands for the human right to be who you are,” he said. “I admire it. I’m proud of Indiana University and its support of equalities and proud it declares that and fights for it to be a clear tenant of the University.”
Yarber is a professor of applied health science and the senior director at the Rural Center for AIDS/STD prevention. He earned four degrees at the University and said IU changed his life.
Yarber said the scholarship fund’s achievement of reaching a million dollars separated IU from other universities in its financial support for LGBT students.
“It’s overwhelming,” Shumate said. “First, consider that this was groundbreaking and the first LGBTQ student scholarship campaign in the nation, and the results are gratifying. It means that we have now endowed our scholarship program, allowing us to continue providing scholarships to IU students for a very long time.”
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