This year’s Lavender Graduation ceremony took place on Friday, April 24 in Harris Hall Auditorium and honored the contributions and accomplishments of sexual orientation minority students and their allies.
Virginia Commonwealth University first held the ceremony in 2012 and is one of the now 93 colleges and universities to hold Lavender Graduation each year, a practice which first took place in 1995 at the University of Michigan with just three students. This year’s ceremony at VCU honored 45 distinguished students who make up an integral part of the VCU community.
Since the first Lavender Graduation at VCU, more than 200 Lavender graduates have been recognized.
The ceremony featured keynote speakers Carol Schall (VCU Class of 2003) and Mary Townley, plaintiffs in Bostic v. Schaefer, the Virginia marriage equality case. The couple spoke of their landmark Federal District Court case, the ruling of which stated that Virginia’s marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution. The two spoke to the audience, particularly the Lavender graduates, about the adversity they faced and also offered some advice.
“You are our guiding light,” Townley said. “What will be your great win?” In line with the theme of this year’s ceremony, “Be Fierce,” the keynote speakers reminded the Lavender graduates to “tell your story, and when you tell your story – be fierce.”
In addition to current VCU students, Schall was also recognized as an official Lavender graduate.
“Being recognized with the (Lavender) graduates was so wonderful,” said Schall. “To see how progressive our community has become, so many years after my own graduation, is quite remarkable,” she said.
All Lavender graduates received a rainbow cord to wear with their academic regalia during Commencement activities and were gifted with memberships to Rainbow Rams, the VCU LGBT and Allies Alumni Chapter, from a generous donation by guest speaker and class of 1981 alumnus Michael Fuller, president of Fuller Management Group, LLC.
“I wish we had it (Lavender Graduation) when I graduated,” said Fuller. “It’s phenomenal to see VCU doing such progressive things for the community.”
An integral part of the LGBT community are the allies, both student allies and community allies. Those who identified themselves as student allies were recognized as Lavender graduates, one of which is Lavender graduate Emily Akiyama, an LGBT ally for three years now.
“As an RA, we go through diversity training and I realized how important it was to support everyone regardless of how they identify themselves, especially since some of my staff members at the time identified as gay or lesbian,” she said. “Its such an honor to support such a worthy cause.”
For VCU, Lavender Graduation has become an annual tradition preceding the university’s official commencement activities, which take place on Saturday, May 9. This year’s two part event featured a ceremony and a reception, in which Lavender graduates mingled with speakers, faculty, staff and alumni. For Lavender graduates such as senior Brandon Day, the event was another reminder of VCU’s dedication to diversity in the community.
“VCU always says they love diversity but to see it in motion – to be recognized and realize that we were able to survive and conquer – is truly amazing,” Day said. “The support from our peers and the community is overwhelmingly positive. It’s a great feeling to know that we can always come back to this home.”