In addition to traditional congratulatory walks for all, CSUSB has brought forth a commencement that celebrates graduates who share the same pride in themselves. Lavender Graduation is being held virtually this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, on May 14.
The Lavender Graduation ceremonies were established by Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian who was not allowed to attend her biological children’s graduation because of her sexual orientation. Her story fueled the rights activists into fighting for a safe space. In 1995, the first Lavender Graduation was held with a graduating class of only three students at the University of Michigan.
Marisol Johnson, the chair for the lavender graduation, is working with two resource centers via Zoom – the LGBTQ+ Faculty Staff and Students Association and the Queer and Transgender Resource Center (QTRC) – to recognize the accomplishments of LGBTQ+ students.
Johnson said, “With the pandemic, we aren’t able to have an actual ceremony in person, but we are still recognizing this feat.”
Johnson shared that there will be a grad pack that will consist of the graduation stole that has the pride flag colors sewn into it. Tamy Mendoza who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a first generation student, spent her senior year online. Mendoza was very social before quarantine, having joined the Sociology and Math clubs and even wanting to join ASI. Because she was so active on campus, she has mixed emotions about attending the Lavender Graduation.
Another student who is graduating this year and participating in the Lavender Graduation is Crystal Carr. She is an honors student, who comes from a long line of graduates, and spent most of her senior year juggling two jobs on top of her classes.
Carr said, “I’m so upset that this doesn’t get to be in person. I was planning on coming out to my family by walking on that stage at the LGBTQ+ graduation. I am just glad that this event exists. It gave me so much hope that we are being recognized and represented. I still plan on coming out to my parents and all my siblings as they watch my graduation in the living room.”
The QTRC advisor, Dr. Jacob Chacko, is working with Johnson on the event and has been overseeing the Instagram accounts and posts, with the most recent one being the Lavender Graduation sign-up link which is also in the bio of both resources centers’ accounts. The posts are informational and are about any events and seminars that could be of help to LGBTQ+ students and staff.
A third student, who is very excited about this virtual format and chose to remain unnamed due to not being out as an LGBTQ+ member, said, “The fact that I can participate in this and not have my parents ask about the location and date means the world to me. They are very religious and would never be okay with me participating in the lavender graduation as long as I’m living under their roof. The virtual format is perfect and I can proudly watch my graduation and recognition, and then show my parents an edited recording that still showcases my achievement of being a first generation college graduate.”
Lavender Graduation alumni, Luis K., explained the relief he felt when learning about the resource center. Despite being a student for five years, he had never heard of the type of support they offered for people like him. He explains how his college experience went from being on the outside looking in, to being included and feeling safe.
He said, “When I was applying for graduation, I wasn’t even aware that this resource was here. I knew about the resource centers but never went in. One day, I overheard talk of something called the lavender graduation and instantly wanted to sign up. It was such a refreshing experience to be recognized and proud of not only myself but also the fact that I am graduating alongside others who deal with the same things I do. That was a truly special moment and I hope the virtual graduates enjoy it as I did.”