As part of efforts to recognize individuals for their defining contributions to the university, Grand Valley State University is hosting a “Lavender Graduation” online to recognize LGBTQIA+ students’ and acknowledge their achievements throughout their college career. GVSU will be having a variety of different graduation ceremonies for 2021 graduates; not to segregate, but to recognize students in a unique way.
“This is not a splitting up of graduations, this is more of an extra option for LGBTQIA+ students to celebrate with their community at GVSU,” said Krista Stites, Graduate Assistant in the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center. “Students still attend their college’s graduation celebrations as well.”
This year’s celebration will include a weeklong virtual recognition from April 19 to April 23 with various acknowledgments and highlights of the graduates. Guests can join the celebration through the LGBTQ+ social media accounts and on their webpage.
The Lavender Graduation began in 1995 at the University of Michigan to honor the accomplishments of LGBT and allied graduates. Ronni Sanlo, the director of the resource center at that time, believed LGBT students needed their own graduation ceremony like that of other racial and ethnic minorities on campus. Since 1995, campuses across the country have hosted their own Lavender Graduations to honor the accomplishments of LGBT graduates.
“Students are officially recognized by the institution for their leadership, success and achievements,” Stites said.
The color lavender is important to LGBT history and culture as it is a combination of pink and black: the colors of triangles gay men and lesbians, respectively, were required to wear as prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. During the 1950s in the United States, when paranoia over the increasingly visible gay community led to the mass dismissal of anyone suspected to be gay from federal employment, “lavender lads” were often used as a euphemism for those being removed from government service. When feminist leader Betty Friedan tried to distance the movement from “mannish, man-hating” lesbians in 1969, she referred to them as the “lavender menace.” Since then, the LGBT rights movement reclaimed these symbols of hatred to create a color symbolizing pride and community.
“In prior years, our celebration was an in-person event with speakers, music, and celebrating presentations of our graduates,” Stites said. “This year we will not be meeting in person due to COVID. The celebrations virtually will be asynchronous and highlighted on our social media pages.”
An outstanding LGBTQIA+ Graduate Award will be given out during the ceremony. This award is given to an exceptional student graduating this semester of 2021. They can be an undergraduate or graduate who self-identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The student recognized will be one who has excelled in leadership and academically during their time at GVSU.
Candidates must be graduating from GVSU in 2021 and have to show impressive participation in extracurricular activities in the GVSU community and/or Grand Rapids community. Lastly, candidates must demonstrate exceptional ability to balance both academic responsibility and extracurriculars.
Both the university and GVSU President Philomena Mantella are very excited to recognize and celebrate all the graduates of the 2021 school year.
“I am looking forward to celebrating our LGBTQIA+ graduating students and giving them the recognition they deserve,” Stites said.