Georgia College student leader visits White House
Georgia College senior Grace Nichols joined emerging leaders during equality discussions at the White House this fall.
The music therapy major attended the event with approximately 100 next generation lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) participants to discuss equality efforts taking place on the federal level.
“The celebration was an opportunity to connect us,” said Nichols. “John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management at the White House and highest-ranking, openly gay government official, spoke to us and encouraged us to become a resource and support system for one another.”
The event was part of President Barack Obama’s and his administration’s dedication to eliminating barriers to equality; engaging LGBT communities across the nation; and fighting discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
During panel discussions at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building, participants talked about topics such as LGBT rights, health and safety.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, also hosted a barbecue at their home for the future leaders.
“I spoke to the Bidens briefly,” Nichols said. “Both were encouraging of photos. As I stood on the edge of a group photo, Vice President Biden pulled me into the center and said, ‘Get in here tiger.’ All I could do was give a really big smile.”
Jessica Rehling, area coordinator for Georgia College University Housing and adviser for student organization PRIDE Alliance, nominated Nichols for the daylong event.
“Grace was one of the first to come to mind,” said Rehling. “She is one of the most mature, sincere and committed students at Georgia College already making a difference on campus through state and regional activities within the LGBT community. I know she has the potential to make an impact on a national level if given the opportunity.”
On campus, Nichols has served as an executive officer with PRIDE Alliance and as a member of Music Therapy Society. She is passionate about both groups because each one promotes self-actualization.
“Personal affirmation is so crucial in order for people to feel safe to be themselves,” said Nichols. “This notion applies to everyone. Regardless of identity, socio-economic status, physical ability, race, religion or music preference, we all deserve to feel OK to be ourselves.”
Currently, Nichols interns with development disabilities arts program Creative Expressions at The Life Enrichment Center in Milledgeville. She believes music art and movement are effective methods to help and heal people.
Juggling her classroom studies and internship experience, the senior also is guest services director at local bed and breakfast Antebellum Inn.
As graduation approaches in December, Nichols keeps her options open.
She is considering graduate school with Georgia College’s new Master of Arts in Art Therapy program and continuing work with The Life Enrichment Center.
“My White House experience taught me the United States is inspiring equality movements worldwide,” Nichols said. “Although complete equality for LGBT citizens is not yet actualized, the current administration is working diligently to create that kind of reality.”