After a lifetime of protecting his daughter Nicole from bullies and discrimination, Wayne Maines recently had to send her out into the world — first to college and then to Hollywood, where this season she joined the cast of Supergirl as Nia Nal, TV’s first transgender superhero.
The irrepressible Nicole Maines has been in the spotlight for years — including being featured in the HBO documentary The Trans List and the inspiration for California State University, Northridge’s 2018-19 Freshman Common Reading selection Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family. The 20-year-old embraces the role of trans rights pioneer, and this month she joined her father in greeting incoming freshmen and transfer students at CSUN’s 2018 New Student Convocation on the Delmar T. Oviatt Library lawn. She’s poised to reach an even larger audience on Supergirl.
“When I heard that she was going to be on television, I called her amazing management team in Hollywood,” Wayne Maines said. “I said, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done; you don’t know what the team at Supergirl has done. You have saved lives in America. There are kids in America that now have hope that they can be whoever they want to be.’”
Nicole and Wayne Maines are the protagonists in a 21st-century American success story, which is recounted in Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt. The book details Nicole’s fight to be herself — including successfully suing her Maine school district for barring her from using the girls’ bathroom in a landmark 2014 case — as well as the individual decisions by her father, her mother Kelly and twin brother Jonas’ individual decisions to create the space for her to be herself.
For much of her life, the world saw Nicole Maines only as Wyatt, but she never wavered in her knowledge of herself. Still, she told CSUN students at the Sept. 13 convocation event, she discovered much about herself after moving to a new high school, where she was finally accepted for who she was.
“I was able to come to a place where I could be comfortable with myself as a transgender person, where I was able to reach a kind of acceptance with myself and my body,” she told the crowd of thousands of incoming CSUN freshmen and transfer students. “And that was only because I was in an environment where I had room to explore my identity on my own. I was in a place where I didn’t have to explain myself to other people, and because of that I was able to turn my attention inward and focus on my personal growth.”
CSUN can be that place of growth for incoming students, she added.
New Student Convocation offers an inspiring academic kick-off for CSUN’s newest arrivals. It’s held on a stage on the Oviatt Library lawn — the site of CSUN commencement ceremonies each year — and faculty and staff wear full academic regalia, giving students a taste of what is to come when they successfully complete their education and reach commencement.
Maines, who loved her brief life in college (before landing the role on Supergirl), shared both silly and serious stories of misadventures and camaraderie at the University of Maine. Before delivering the CSUN convocation address, she asked her friends what advice they wished they’d heard when they first started college.
Their advice included: “The first and most important thing I can tell you is, it’s OK to change,” Maines said. “You should change. You are going to change. I am in no way the same person I was in high school; I’m not even the same person I was a year ago.”
Nicole said attending CSUN should be a time for exploration, and she encouraged students to try activities that intrigue them.
“Try new things, meet new people, put yourself out there,” she said. “Every one of those experiences, good or bad, is going to widen your horizons.”
The incoming CSUN students got to see real-life exemplars of how to make the most of the university experience. One was Christopher Ordoñez, recipient of the 2018 Dianne F. Harrison Leadership Award. Ordoñez, a sociology major with a minor in art, was honored for his impact on other students. As a freshman, he was a student intern at the CSUN DREAM Center; on the University Student Union board of directors, facilities and commercial services committee; Student Housing academic mentor; and a research assistant for the CSU UndocuServices Project (CUSP).
Incoming students also heard from recent CSUN graduate Kenya Lopez, who was active as a CSUN student, including serving as Associated Students (AS) vice president, Delta Zeta sorority member, New Student Orientation TAKE XXVIII cast member and summer intern for the Mexican embassy in Washington, D.C. Lopez is beginning a program in USC’s Marshall School of Business, where she will work to attain her Master of Science in social entrepreneurship.
Lopez urged students to find mentors and specifically thanked President Dianne F. Harrison and other CSUN administrators onstage.
“Take advantage of the people behind me,” Lopez said. “They care more than you can possibly imagine. Every time I had an idea they helped me.”
CSUN offered opportunities Lopez never thought she would have, she said.
“This is your brand-new opportunity to be who you want to be, achieve everything you’re possibly capable of and live all the dreams that you ever dreamed of,” Lopez told the new CSUN students.