Lavender Graduation

Produced by the HRC Foundation

What is Lavender Graduation?

Lavender Graduation is an annual ceremony conducted on numerous campuses to honor lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, intersex, queer, asexual/aromantic, and ally students to acknowledge their achievements and contributions to the University. The Lavender Graduation Ceremony was created by Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish Lesbian, who was denied the opportunity to attend the graduations of her biological children because of her sexual orientation. It was through this experience that she came to understand the pain felt by her students. Encouraged by the Dean of Students at the University of Michigan, Dr. Sanlo designed the first Lavender Graduation Ceremony in 1995. The first Lavender Graduation began at the University of Michigan in 1995, with three graduates. By 2001, there were over 45 Lavender Graduation Ceremonies at Colleges and Universities nationwide. Graduating students, including undergraduates and graduates, are invited to take part in the celebration, which typically occurs each year the week prior to university-wide commencement events.

Why Have a Lavender Graduation Ceremony?

For decades students at colleges and universities around the country have been celebrating both their academic achievements and their cultural heritages at specialized commencement events. Many of these events are student-initiated and usually occur during the university-wide commencement weekend. These events provide a sense of community for marginalized students who often experience tremendous culture shock at their impersonalized institutions. For many students they are the payoff for staying in school, and friends and families find the smaller, more cultural ceremonies both meaningful and personal.

Lavender Graduation is an event that LGBTQ+ students look forward to, not only to share their hopes and dreams with one another, but where their unique LGBTQ+ student experience is officially recognized and celebrated by the institution. This ceremony is a cultural celebration that recognizes LGBTQ+ students of all races and ethnicities and acknowledges their leadership, success, achievements and contributions to the university as students who survived the college experience.

Through such recognition, LGBTQ+ students may leave the university with a positive last experience with the institution and thereby encourage them to become involved mentors for current students as well as financially contributing alumni.

The significance of "Lavender"

Lavender is important to LGBTQ+ history. It is a combination of the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps and the black triangle designating lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany. The LGBTQ+ civil rights movement took these symbols of hatred and combined them to make symbols and color of pride and community.
Lavender flowers are often a main theme at Lavender Ceremonies, and for some institutions, a sachet of lavender will be gifted to the graduates.

Does my college/university have this celebration?

Institutions are organized by state

If we have missed your university, please contact us and we will update the list.

The Human Rights Campaign reports on news, events and resources of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that are of interest to the general public and further our common mission to support the LGBTQ+ community.

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