Why Your School Needs a Lavender Graduation

5 min read

Katarina Gligovic

We've written about social causes before and are happy to introduce and discuss, "Lavender Graduation." Lavender graduation is a commencement ceremony celebrating the achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally graduates. Prominent universities and colleges have recognized the importance of the ceremony, thus making Lavender Graduation an annual event.

Lavender Graduation was first introduced in 1995 at the University of Michigan was attended by only three participants. Today, it is an event attended by numerous students and their loved ones to acknowledge both achievements and struggles of LGBTQ+ students. 

Why is Lavender Graduation Important?

Lavender Graduation originated as a wish to officially honor LGBTQ+ students of all nationalities, genders, and ethnicities. The founder of the ceremony is Dr. Ronni Sanlo – a renowned author and LGBTQ+ activist. In 1994, she started her career in education at the University of Michigan as the director of the Office of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Affairs. After a year, she created the concept of "Lavender Graduation," and the University of Michigan conducted the first official ceremony in 1995.

Today's importance of the ceremony stems from the very reasons that it originated. Firstly, Dr. Sanlo was not allowed to attend the graduation ceremony of her children due to being a lesbian. Secondly, during her career at the University of Michigan, she realized that LGBTQ+ students' campus lives were marginalized and they experienced micro-aggressions daily. She came up with the concept, led by personal experience and the wish to acknowledge the students' contribution to academia. Dr. Sanlo continues to support and inspire, and she is a common keynote speakers at Lavender Graduations worldwide. 

Having experienced difficulties expressing their sexual orientation and identity, this ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate as their authentic self. Graduates celebrate their identity with the group, share personal experiences and encourage each other in adjusting from student life to work life. In addition, speakers at the graduation advise on life after graduation, i.e., how to contribute to the LGBTQ+ community further and continue to be themselves in professional life.

Higher education institutions that host Lavender Graduation indicate that they are participating in the global initiative of providing equal education for everyone. Providing equal opportunities creates a discrimination-free environment where students can succeed based solely on their knowledge and abilities—acknowledging the history and lives of LGBTQ+ students and helping them flourish results in accomplished and proud alumni. These graduates will represent the institution in their chosen career and continue supporting the school that paved their way. Moreover, they will continue contributing to the university's development financially and supporting its initiatives.

How can a campus start doing this?

Lavender graduations do not differ from other commencement ceremonies in terms of planning and organizing. The ceremony consists of reading graduates' names, giving out awards and certificates, keynote speakers, and refreshments for attendees. Since it is the first time the school is organizing the ceremony celebrating LGBTQ+ lives and history, consider the following steps. 

Ask for help: To create a memorable experience for your students, ask for the support and help of LGBTQ+ student organizations and associations. They can communicate with students and help in tailoring the event to your graduates specifically. On the other hand, if there are no such organizations, reach out to a local LGBTQ+ organization and partner up! They could advise you during the whole process – from the design ideas to get in touch with influential persons within the community. 

Budget: Before you assign the price range for specific items, talk to local organizations and even businesses if they can loan or donate some items from your checklist. Also, many things should be considered as investments since most of them are reusable, and you can use them the following year.  

Don't be afraid to copy others: Research well how other higher education institutions conduct the graduation. Some universities have been organizing the ceremony for over 20 years, and therefore, see how they approach the event schedule and its content. 

Give it a personal touch: When you have researched how Lavender Graduation is usually organized, see how it can reflect your institution. Most universities and colleges include their logo and symbols of LGBTQ+ in the design of specific garments. These can also serve as a memento for your graduates.

Keynote speakers: Your guest speaker should be an influential member of the community. But also, remember that the graduation is about your future alumni. They should be given a chance to share their story and leave their mark in the history of your university.

Promote your event: Both student organizations and local ones can help in spreading the word. To make the event visible to everyone, use your website, newsletters, and social media. By promoting digitally, you are engaging with both your students and prospective students. 

Join the long list of universities that annually host LGBTQ+ graduates and their loved ones, such as Harvard, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, and so many more!

How do prospective students view a school which hosts Lavender Graduation?

Prospective students apply to universities and colleges whose values and tradition match their personal beliefs and interests. They want to become an active part of a community that will help them develop as individuals, professionals, and scholars. Lavender Graduation shows students that the university is involved in making a change, supporting students, and preparing them for an inclusive future after their studies.

Celebrating one's real identity shows that LGBTQ+ students are not disfranchised from higher education institutions. Prospective students would opt for a university that hosts Lavender Graduation because it emphasizes that students will not be marginalized but belong to the institution's group of students and alumni. 

Higher ed institutions that constantly update their traditions indicate that they are up-to-date with society's developments. This ensures prospective students that the university works on improving their education and providing career and academic opportunities.

Prospective students have high expectations and prefer schools that are relevant to their lives and their future. Lavender Graduation will increase your enrolments and improve your brand among prospective students. 

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