Graduating seniors will be taking their final steps as students in their Carolina Blue cap and gowns and some with a dash of lavender.
On May 5, the UNC-CH LGBTQ Center will host its 13th annual Lavender Graduation for LGBTQ-identifying students or students graduating with a minor in sexuality studies at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.
Junior Sophia Hutchens said she will be attending the graduation in support of her best friend.
“The years of effort and work wouldn’t be recognized anywhere else,” Hutchens said.
Hutchens is the social justice chairperson with the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) on campus. SAGA and the LGBTQ Center often work together to help LGBTQ-identifying students feel included and welcome in their collegiate space.
Hutchens noticed that all the different school departments had their own graduation ceremonies.
“So it makes sense to me that there is one for queer students as well,” Hutchens said.
At the Lavender Graduation, students are announced with their chosen names and are also given the opportunity to make a personal speech. Mariel Eaves, the LGBTQ Center's administrative support specialist, said that’s what makes the graduation even more special.
“The idea is to have a ceremony or have a way to celebrate folks who are graduating, that also affirms their identities that may or may not be affirmed by like their family or their departments,” Eaves said.
The Lavender Graduation tradition was started in 1995 by University of Michigan professor Ronni Sanlo who was not allowed to attend her children’s graduations because of her sexual orientation. The first Lavender Graduation ever was held at the University of Michigan and had only three graduates.
Since it started in 2006 at UNC, the attendance of the Lavender Graduation has grown exponentially and is also the event that awards students the LGBTIQA+ Advocacy Award for one faculty or staff member, one undergraduate and one graduate student who have made an impact in the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ Center Director Terri Phoenix said that this year the center already has 32 students registered. This would be the graduation's largest attendance yet.
In years past, former Chancellor Carol Folt has attended the Lavender Graduation. However, Phoenix said Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz will probably not be in attendance.
Even so, Phoenix said the graduation is a special time to celebrate the accomplishments of all those who have been involved with the center in a space that is full of love and acceptance.
Pheonix shared some words of advice for these graduating seniors: “I would say be true to themselves and challenge privilege and systems of oppression.”
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