Leav­ing a laven­der legacy

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

Each year, thou­sands of Ge­or­gia col­lege stu­dents don caps and gowns, pre­par­ing to en­ter the hal­lowed life phase of “adult.” Many of th­ese stu­dents are hon­ored through their in­di­vid­ual schools, ath­letic de­part­ments and or­ga­ni­za­tions they’re part of.

And at four Ge­or­gia in­sti­tu­tions, LGBT grad­u­ates are rec­og­nized through Laven­der Grad­u­a­tion.

“LGBT grad­u­ates typ­i­cally have had to face ad­di­tional ob­sta­cles and unique bar­ri­ers to com­plet­ing their col­lege de­gree or their grad­u­ate de­gree. They may have faced chal­lenges with friends and fam­ily not ac­cept­ing them, home­less­ness, men­tal health con­cerns, just the dif­fi­culty of fig­ur­ing out who you are as a per­son with a mi­nor­ity iden­tity,” said Aby Parsons, the di­rec­tor of Ge­or­gia Tech’s LGBTQIA Re­source Cen­ter.

Laven­der Grad­u­a­tions be­gan in the mid90s at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan as a way to con­grat­u­late stu­dents for over­com­ing those chal­lenges, plus the ob­sta­cles of ob­tain­ing a col­lege de­gree in the first place. In the Peach State, the cer­e­monies are held at Ge­or­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and Emory Univer­sity in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia Col­lege and State Univer­sity in Milledgeville and Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia in Athens.

“I think it’s a very nice way to build a sense of com­mu­nity and cel­e­brate the ac­com­plish­ments of the peo­ple around you,” said Ho­bie Hunter, a gay se­nior economics and his­tory dou­ble-ma­jor from Boca Raton, Florida, who went through Emory’s cer­e­mony in March. “I think it’s also about hon­or­ing LGBT Emory stu­dents in the past. Laven­der Grad­u­a­tions be­gan be­cause queer stu­dents didn’t feel safe, and thank­fully that’s no longer the case.”

Laven­der Grad­u­a­tions — or LavGrad, as they’re some­times re­ferred to — show stu­dents how grate­ful a univer­sity com­mu­nity is for their con­tri­bu­tion, Parsons said.

April 28, 2017

Left: Mil­ton James, a sixth-year in­dus­trial and sys­tems en­gi­neer­ing ma­jor at Ge­or­gia Tech, holds his com­mem­o­ra­tive di­ploma af­ter the univer­sity’s 2017 Laven­der Grad­u­a­tion, a spe­cial cel­e­bra­tion hon­or­ing LGBT grad­u­ates. (Cour­tesy photo). Right: Emory Univer­sity 2017 laven­der grad­u­ates re­ceived a di­ploma along with rain­bow cords. (Cour­tesy photo)

De­pend­ing on the year, the num­ber of laven­der grad­u­ates ranges from a dozen to more than 30 at each univer­sity, and the au­di­ence of fam­i­lies, part­ners, com­mu­nity sup­port­ers, friends and fac­ulty grows ev­ery year.

Queer vis­i­bil­ity through grad­u­a­tion re­galia

Mil­ton James, a gay sixth-year in­dus­trial and sys­tems en­gi­neer­ing ma­jor from Wash­ing­ton, Ge­or­gia, went through Tech’s LavGrad ear­lier this month.

“It was time for me to be more open and show peo­ple, you can do this and you can grad­u­ate,” James said. “It was re­ally cool to no­tify peo­ple we’re not only grad­u­at­ing, we’re thriv­ing and do­ing great things. … It’s like al­most any other or­ga­ni­za­tion would have a salute to grads, this is a salute to LGBT grads.”

He said un­der­class­men should con­sider at­tend­ing to watch and learn from re­turn­ing alumni and to hear the ca­reer plans of each year’s grad­u­ates — in­clud­ing LGBT stu­dents go­ing on to pur­sue jobs with NASA and con­sult­ing firms, as was his ex­pe­ri­ence.

At UGA, grad­u­ates re­ceive rain­bow stoles, and Emory grad­u­ates re­ceive both a laven­der di­ploma and rain­bow cords, which can be worn dur­ing stu­dents’ main grad­u­a­tion at the end of the se­mes­ter.

“We’re not al­lowed to do that here. Tech has rules around who can wear what,” Parsons said. “We do give out a laven­der di­ploma, which is a keep­sake cer­tifi­cate that the dean of stu­dents signs. It’s more of a me­mento they can keep and frame.”

Both Tech and Emory roll their LavGrad fes­tiv­i­ties into an awards cer­e­mony.

“As part of that awards cer­e­mony, there was a recog­ni­tion of peo­ple who were grad­u­at­ing from Emory,” said Danielle Steele, in­terim di­rec­tor for Emory’s Of­fice of LGBT Life. “This is for LGBT or queer folks on cam­pus who want to re­ceive this honor.”

She said Laven­der Grad­u­a­tion is some­thing stu­dents look for­ward to, even those who may not have been very in­volved or con­nected with the univer­sity’s LGBT com­mu­nity.

For uni­ver­si­ties that want to start their own Laven­der Grad­u­a­tion, Parsons ad­vised get­ting buy-in from sup­port­ive de­part­ments and com­mu­nity spon­sors.

“They want to demon­strate they’re an in­clu­sive or wel­com­ing school or col­lege,” she said. “In­vite the pres­i­dent of the in­sti­tu­tion, or a re­ally well-re­spected mem­ber of se­nior lead­er­ship to give a laven­der com­mence­ment ad­dress or key­note. It shows stu­dents that the in­sti­tu­tion takes their com­mu­nity se­ri­ously and wants to cel­e­brate with them.”

Laven­der Grad­u­a­tions don’t have to be fancy and in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized, Hunter said. He said it would be easy for a col­lege to start its own small-scale Laven­der Grad­u­a­tion — all it takes is some­one to make the diplo­mas and some space on the quad to meet.

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