Lavender Graduation: A Time for Celebration

lav grad capby Ronnie Sanlo, Ph. D.

It was like magic. Who would have thought that such an event would take place here as an official UCLA commencement?

Such a simple concept: to honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students for the gifts they brought to campus and for the achievements they had as a result of having been in college. So simple a way to tell students they matter…

This was so fantastic! I got chills! I’ll be there when I graduate.

Until 1995, there were no ceremonies to honor our LGBT students. There were ceremonies for students of various ethnicities and for other non-academic groups like ROTC, but nothing for our students, those who tend to feel to most disenfranchised from their colleges and universities.

My parents finally understand why I’m out. Thank You!

Unfortunately, there are no data that describe positive celebratory events in the lives of LGBT college students.

It was so inspiring and affirming. I loved it! Thanks for a wonderful memory.

In fact, scant literature describes celebratory experiences in the general LGBT culture(s). LGBT students usually experience the culture of their ethnic, racial, religious, or national backgrounds, but rarely experience a university-supported event directly associated with their lives as LGBT people and LGBT students.

I finally feel like I belong at UCLA, ironically, just as I am leaving.

Celebration events provide significant impact on the lives of students. Lavender Graduation is an event to which LGBT students look forward, where they not only share their hopes and dreams with one another, but are officially recognized by the institution for their leadership and their successes and achievements.

I felt very honored to be part of Lavender Graduation.

When I was director of the LGBT campus resource center at the University of Michigan years ago, I realized that LGBT students deserved to be recognized not only for their achievements but for surviving their college years. As the planning of commencement activities for 1995 took place, I saw an opportunity to include LGBT students in the celebratory process.

Many ethnic groups were hosting their own ceremonies, so why not us? I often heard from LGBT students that they didn’t feel connected to the university nor their departments or even to their ethnic groups so they choose not to participate in commencement ceremonies. LGBT students said their journeys through college as out people had been painful enough. They wanted to leave quickly and quietly.

This was so encouraging. I can’t wait until my own Lavender Graduation in two years.

I am a lesbian Jewish mother. I love celebrations, so I created Lavender Graduation, an event that intersects both my religion and my sexual orientation. Lavender is important to LGBT history. It combines the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear and the black triangle designating lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany. LGBT activists took these symbols of hatred, combined them, and created a symbol and color of pride and community.

It felt great being here. I felt like my work was worth it, that I finally counted here.

When I moved to UCLA in 1997 as the director of the LGBT Campus Resource Center, I brought Lavender Graduation with me. With national keynote speakers, entertainment, leadership awards, and rainbow tassels, the event became an instant and popular success.

I’m here because I wanted to support and congratulate my friends. I know they’ll be here for my Lavender Graduation.

Over the years since the first ceremony in 1995, Lavender Graduates have only continued to grow.  Campus Pride student leaders and members of the National Consortium of Directors of Resources in Higher Education have begun hosting Lavender Graduations celebrations at their institutions as well.

I went to Lavender Graduation and really got inspired to start doing something active in the community.

My vision is that Lavender Graduation will be an annual celebration at every college and university in the country and that the lives of our LGBT students will be fully honored. Since LGBT students are of every race, ability, nationality, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic levels, Lavender Graduation provides a unique opportunity to present a truly multicultural event while acknowledging students who spent most of their college years succumbing to invisibility on their campuses.

Totally inspirational.

Lavender Graduation makes a strong institutional statement to LGBT college students: It tells them that they matter.

I just want to thank you for an amazing Lavender ceremony. It was fun and personal, an experience that I’ll never forget.

Source: Ronni Sanlo, Ph.D., Campus Pride, 2006

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