Lavender Graduation | Queer History

Pride month is over, but we’re always here.

Hello and welcome! The end of June got a little chaotic for me. I went to a conference, so that ate up time, and travel, and so on. I didn’t succeed in doing as many videos as I wanted. But I will continue making these videos over time. I think this summer, I will do a little more of a focus on Pride videos, and still do book videos of course!

Today, I want to talk about Lavender Graduation. I know most colleges are finished, but I want to tell you what my experience was going to one. Plus, I just want to put it out there for those might be graduating next spring, so you can keep it in mind to maybe plan one at your own university.

So! What is Lavender Graduation? It’s an annual celebration honoring LGBTQ+ students, recognizing their achievements and contributions to their university. Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian, wanted to go to the graduation of her biological children. She was told no, just because she was a lesbian. That made her realize her LGBTQ+ students may have felt that pain. She talked about it, and the Dean of Students at University of Michigan encouraged her to go ahead. She created the first Lavender Graduation ceremony in 1995. That first ceremony at the University of Michigan had only three graduates. Now, going forward to 2001, there were 45 different graduation ceremonies nationwide. This usually happens during the university’s graduation weekend, during it or just before it. What’s the purpose of this? For a long time, universities and colleges have had specialized ceremonies for cultural heritages to celebrate their achievements. So they set up Lavender specifically for LGBTQ+ students.

Why the color lavender? Going back in history to Nazi Germany, the inverted pink triangle labeled gay men, and the inverted black triangle labeled lesbians, as political prisoners. Those combined colors was intended to turn symbols of hate into a symbol of love, pride for the community.

That’s a brief history of Lavender Graduations. Now, I want to discuss my experience going to one at Western Oregon University.

One of my chosen family was graduating, and they asked me to go to their graduation, and lavender graduation. Of course! And congratulations (again). You know who you are. I’m sure every university is a little different, so I’m going to explain how WOU does theirs. They have a welcome, reception, opening. They explain a little about why we have lavender graduations. They have a keynote speaker, guest speakers, cord ceremony, then closing and social.

Now, that cord ceremony isn’t just giving the cords, that’s it. (By the way, the cords are rainbow!) It’s a little more than that. What they do is, they’ll call the name of a person, they come up. If they decided that they wanted to, they ask someone to speak for them. Meaning, maybe a teacher, mentor, best friend, roommate, family, and so on. They talk about that person who’s graduating, about their growing up, stories, jokes, their achievements at school, the growth that they saw in that person.

After talking, they give the cord, plus a tassel (they’re rainbow too!). So they go through the list. Not all, some prefer to just get the cord, that’s it. Sometimes, they want to pick that person to give the cord, but no talking. Some want the talking, so they both come up, do the talking, give the cord.

Let me tell you, there were plenty of tears. Every table had a box of tissues. That… They planned for this, they know. There were a lot of really touching, good stories. It made me really happy to see that many people out, proud, having those stories, and graduating. I had to pause for a minute, because–it’s been a few weeks, but still, whoo. It was really powerful.

So, I just wanted to make sure I said something about this, because I know not every university has this. Probably not every one will, because you know, some places aren’t safe. But I just wanted to put that out there, if you never knew about this before, now you know. And if you know… Maybe yourself, or know someone who’s soon graduating that would love to do this ceremony. You could start now, or soon, contacting, working it out and talking with your school about setting up a Lavender Graduation. Getting your friends to join the Lavender Graduation.

I think that’s it for today. I hope you learned something new from this. Let me know if you’ve experienced one yourself, either as part of, or watching. Or if you would love to see one at your university. Let me know in the comments!

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