Conceived by Dr. Ronni Sanlo while she worked as director of the LGBT Center at the University of Michigan in the mid-1990s, Lavender Graduation has become one of the most important events on many college and university commencement calendars. Taking many forms, it may be as simple as an awards ceremony, a dinner or banquet, or as elaborate as a full scale commencement exercise coinciding with a campus’s other graduation activities.
At Oregon State University, Lavender Graduation is always the Thursday evening before Commencement Weekend. And, true to the do-it-yourself-spirit of OSU’s LGBT community, the Beavers have put their own special twist on the event. Where many LGBT campus communities invite dignitaries to address their graduates, graduating Beavers carry that tradition an extra step further by inviting one individual special to each graduate – a parent, partner, favorite professor, advisor, best friend – to speak about the graduate for 3-5 minutes. These 3-5 special minutes are the heart and soul of the OSU Lavender Graduation ceremony, turning the evening into lifetime memories for many in attendance.
In her essay describing the beginnings of such ceremonies, “Lavender Graduation: OUR Ceremony On Campus,” Dr. Sanlo talks about how many LGBT students struggle through their college years while dealing with the coming out experience, most never having the experience of their university or college celebrating who they are as LGBT members of the campus community. For this reason, she says,
“Lavender Graduation is an event to which LGBT students look forward, where they not only share their hopes and dreams with one another, but are officially recognized by the institution for their leadership and their successes and achievements.”
This is the heart of the celebratory nature of OSU’s Lavender Graduation ceremonies. On June 15, 2006, nineteen OSU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, and Intersex students and their Allies were recognized before their peers, families, friends, administrators, professors, and loved ones for completing bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in a wide variety of disciplines. Pomp and Circumstance was played on kazoos as the students processed into the Construction & Engineering Auditorium in the LaSells Stewart Center, and for two hours all of the difficulties, struggles, and challenges were washed away in the celebration, laughter, and love called OSU Lavender Graduation.