Lavender Graduation. For some, this is a new concept, but is actually a ceremony that's celebrated on college campuses across the country. The first Lavender Graduation was held in 1995 at the University of Michigan and was the brainchild of LGBT higher education guru, Dr. Ronni Sanlo. Because of her sexual orientation, Dr. Sanlo was denied the chance to attend her children's graduations. This helped her become aware of the pain felt by her students who had no supportive family at graduation.
Today more than 100 campuses host Lavender Graduation ceremonies, including my Alma Mater, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I was honored to give the 'commencement' speech at this year's ceremony and it was a bit surreal. I could have never imagined a school administration supported event like that when I graduated in '89. But fortunately things have changed - and in a big way. The event was co-hosted by the University Commission on LGBT Issues and the President's Commission on the Status of Women and I was over the moon to be introduced by Dr. Maureen McHugh, professor of my first Women's Studies class and witness to my giddy coming out process (fortunately, no embarrassing stories were shared). Lavender graduation cords and certificates were awarded to a dozen undergrads and graduates and more chairs needed to be brought in to accommodate the numerous supporters in attendance. My message to the grads centered on continuing education beyond graduation - not just to decrease the ignorance of others, but to increase our own awareness of intersectionality, humanity and the power of living out and open lives. I didn't miss the opportunity to mention HRC University or the GenEQ Guide to Entering the Workforce.
When I mentioned the support of the school administration, it wasn't just on paper - the President of IUP, Dr. Michael Driscoll not only attended LavGrad, but handed out certificates to the graduates. Continuing my awe of queer-supportive IUP, I learned that just two weeks earlier the first ever LGBTQIA Resource Room opened up on campus - thanks to the vision (and grant-writing!) of students Luke Sciulli and Shannon O'Reilly. And the last thing I learned to even further enhance my pride as an alum: that same evening the Department of Theater & the Arts' Keystone Repertory Company were performing Hedwig & the Angry Inch at one of the mainstay college bars in town. It is definitely not the 80's in Indiana anymore!