How to Plan your Lavender or Rainbow Graduation

Graduation is a Time of Tradition, Ceremony and Celebration

Tasheera Cooper (left) Isabel Williams (right) SafeZone Lavender Celebration Spring 2014 College of Charleston Photo Credit: Nancy Santos

by Isabel Williams, College of Charleston

It can be an especially important time for communities to acknowledge a transitional moment in the lives of student leaders within their ranks. Campus Pride is passionate about the idea that institutions of higher learning (IHE’s) have the potential to be the epicenters of change and create positive communities for LGBTQ students, therefore Lavender or Rainbow Graduations could serve the important purpose of making exceptional, graduating students leaders and the LGBTQ student population as a whole visible.

What is a Lavender or Rainbow Graduation? 

The First Lavender Graduation was held in 1995 at Michigan State University because of the work of Dr. Ronnie Sanlo. A Jewish lesbian, Dr. Sanlo envisioned the lavender color as a remembrance of gays and lesbians who were killed during the Holocaust. Gay men were made to wear pink triangles in concentration camps and lesbians were forced to wear black triangles. These symbols have been reclaimed as a source of pride and remembrance in modern times and the significance of lavender comes from the idea that if pink and black were mixed , they may create that lovely shade of purple. Today, many  institutions of higher learning participate in Lavender or Rainbow Graduation ceremonies or celebrations in order to honor the LGBTQ and Ally graduates within their communities.

How can I organize a Lavender Graduation celebration or ceremony on my campus?

 Graduate Raymond Marcell Buford at the 2013 Spring Rainbow Graduation at California State University Northridge. Photo credit: John Saringo-Rodriguez

Graduate Raymond Marcell Buford at the 2013 Spring Rainbow Graduation at California State University Northridge. Photo credit: John Saringo-Rodriguez

o   Gain support: Contact LGBTQ student groups or resources such as Safe Zone on your campus. A student group could also benefit greatly from a partnership with another organization or department.

o   Don’t have these? Perhaps a local organization outside of your campus would be willing to help you host a non-school-affiliated event that serves this purpose or, better yet,  help you negotiate a way to have your event on campus.

o   Make it official: Follow the channels in your school’s administration to make your event officially recognized by the school. This could allow your event to appear on school calendars, cater food through your campus, and use school security services, etc.

o   Order early: Make sure to order materials such as rainbow or lavender designed graduation stoles, printed banners, table cloths, frames, certificate paper, small gifts, decorations, etc. plenty of time ahead so that they can arrive on time and even be replaced if necessary.

o   Budget-Make one!: In that same vein, be sure to budget. Make sure that your costs do not exceed the funds available to you. Creativity, cost comparisons, and other strategies, such as asking business organizations or individuals (with permission from your school) to donate items that you may need rather than cash, could bring you closer to reaching your budget goals.

o   My best budget tip: One trick that my colleagues and I have used for GSA and Safe Zone events on my campus has been to purchase quality (but not overpriced) items that can be reused for recurring events like our Lavender Celebration.  Make sure items don’t have dates or references that would age them. Of course, for smaller quantity or lower cost items personalization and current information like guests names, the date, or an added theme is a nice touch.

o   Advertise Early: The key to effective advertising is to build momentum leading up to your event. For Lavender or Rainbow Graduations in particular, organizers run the risk of being drowned out by all of the other senior and year’s end programming so make sure that you start early (a month or more) ahead of time in order to stay in awareness. Also, be sure to diversify your advertisement strategies by combining social media, paper, mass media, tabling or other methods, and switch those messages up too! Just be sure to retain the valuable details like the date, time, and location, and perhaps a common registration link.

o  Speakers:  Consider asking someone  from your school or community to give a “commencement-style” speech congratulating your graduates on their accomplishments or speaking on a topic such as being an active member in the LGBTQ community post-graduation.

o   Know who you’re honoring!: Implement a uniform and organized system for graduates and other attendees to RSVP such as an online form or a physical sign up sheet in a central LGBTQ office. This way you can be sure you have the correct information on certificates or other mementos for graduates and make there is incentive for those who sign up to show up in other words: follow up.

o   Get closer: Make your campus’s Lavender or Rainbow Graduation personal and memorable. One of the benefits of this type of celebration or ceremony is that it could be smaller and more intimate than the full-scale commencement ceremonies at your school, which gives it the potential to be more personal. Therefore, it could be a time to have a mentor, family member, or friend speak on behalf of graduates or award graduates for their academic or social achievements.

o   Lastly, make it yours. As long as the key ingredients of love, respect, honor, and celebration are in the mix, your school can make their version of a Lavender or Rainbow Graduation totally unique! All the while knowing that hundreds of other LGBTQ and Ally communities are also celebrating their graduating classes.

Good Luck! Share your success, photos & memories with Campus Pride!   Tweet at us on Twitter @CampusPride or email us your photos at – who knows we may feature YOU and highlight your campus!


Isabel Williams is a 2014 Summer Fellow at Campus Pride. She is a rising senior at the College of Charleston studying Political Science. Isabel is the Student Organizer for College of Charleston’s SafeZone program and the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance. Learn more about Isabel 


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