Columbia College Chicago to Confer Honorary Degrees on Journalist and LGBTQ+ Community Leader at Commencement 2022
CHICAGO—April 15, 2022. At its upcoming 2022 Commencement exercises, Columbia College Chicago will confer honorary degrees on journalist and alumnus Danny Fenster and LGBTQ+ community leader Modesto Tico Valle. The honorary degree recipients will address graduates and their families at the college’s four Commencement ceremonies, with Fenster speaking at two ceremonies on Saturday, May 14, and Valle at two ceremonies on Sunday, May 15.
“At the apex of humanity are those courageous individuals who fight to make the world a better place for us all,” said President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim. “Beyond their professional successes, Danny Fenster and Modesto Tico Valle stand out because of their bravery and deep conviction, even in the face of daunting public health crises or harsh state oppression. They are not just accomplished individuals but exemplars for others to follow.”
Fenster is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an award-winning investigative news magazine that covers business and politics in Myanmar. In May 2021, while attempting to travel home to the U.S., he was arrested and imprisoned by Myanmar’s junta for six months and eventually convicted by a military court of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations, and violating his visa requirements. Through diplomatic efforts led by former U.N. Ambassador and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Fenster was released three days after his sentencing.
Modesto Tico Valle is the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago-based Center on Halsted, the most comprehensive community center in the Midwest dedicated to advancing community and securing the health and well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. A longtime activist and community organizer, he founded the Chicago Chapter NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, and has also served as a volunteer and staff member at several Chicago-area non-profits, including Chicago House, Test Positive Awareness Network, and Open Hand Chicago.
Columbia’s in-person Commencement ceremonies will be held at the Auditorium Theatre, where the college will confer undergraduate and graduate degrees on more than 1,400 students.
Danny Fenster ’09 honored at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 14, and will address graduates at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Danny Fenster ’09 is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an award-winning investigative news magazine that covers business and politics in Myanmar. His journey to becoming a journalist began at Columbia College Chicago, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2009. While studying in Chicago, he and his brother volunteered to help Burmese refugee youth make the transition to life in the United States. That experience, together with his time at Columbia, contributed to Fenster’s decision to use journalism to make a difference in the world.
Before moving to Southeast Asia in 2018, the suburban Detroit native worked for news outlets in his hometown and in southern Louisiana, where his writing and reporting won numerous local and state journalism awards.
While imprisoned by Myanmar’s junta for his reporting on military-linked businesses, Fenster received the National Press Club's John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, which recognizes journalists “who bravely push to disclose the truth in trying circumstances.”
Modesto Tico Valle honored at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 15, and will address graduates at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Modesto Tico Valle is the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago-based Center on Halsted, the most comprehensive community center in the Midwest dedicated to advancing community and securing the health and well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. He was named the Center’s CEO in 2007, and in that same year oversaw the opening of its 175,000-square-foot community center in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.
Since he took the helm, Center on Halsted has grown into a full-fledged community organization with an annual operating budget of over $7 million. Under his leadership, more than 1,400 community members visit the Center every day. Valle was instrumental in bringing several landmark efforts to the Center, such as the first LGBTQ-friendly affordable housing project for seniors and the nation’s first LGBT clinical psychology internship with Northwestern University. He led the launch of the Center’s Youth Housing Initiative in the spring of 2016, as well as the fall 2017 launch of the Get to Zero campaign.
In 1990, Valle founded the Chicago Chapter NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and was instrumental in bringing the AIDS Memorial Quilt to the National Mall in 1996. He has served as a volunteer and staff member at several Chicago-area non-profits, including Chicago House, Test Positive Awareness Network, and Open Hand Chicago, where he served as the organization's first Volunteer Services Director.
Valle was recently appointed to the Board of Directors of CenterLink. He has served on the board of the NAMES Project Foundation; the Equality Education Project; the City of Chicago’s LGBT Health Council, Employment Task Force, and NATO Host Committee; the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority and HIV/AIDS Advisory Council; Horizons Community Services; and the Chicago Children's Choir. He was appointed a Commissioner of the Chicago Park District in 2021.
In recognition of his work, Valle has been named Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine, inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame, and honored by the national NAMES Project Foundation. He was a 2013 recipient of the Norman Bobins Leadership Award from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago and was recognized as one of Crain’s Chicago Business Notable LGBTQ Executives in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021.
A Chicago native, Valle attended DePaul University and Notre Dame's Seminary School.
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