The University of Utah’s interim director for the LGBT Resource Center, Gabriella Blanchard, explains, “The first Lavender Graduation happened over 20 years ago at the University of Michigan. It was intended as a complement, not a replacement, of larger graduation ceremonies.” Lavender graduation started in 1995 after Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish Lesbian, was denied attendance to her children’s graduation because of her sexual orientation. Physical exclusion and cultural marginalization of women, queer folx, people of color, and people with disabilities has been too common throughout the history of higher education.
“How wonderful that we have so many different Office for Equity and Diversity graduation ceremonies to honor the truly breathtaking accomplishments of all of our students.”
Affinity celebrations, like the Lavender Graduation, are responses to historical and ongoing exclusion and marginalization. Describing this reality, Blanchard continues, “Unfortunately, many of us know the experience of not feeling like we belong in functions, rituals, and rites of passage that are presumably made for everyone. How wonderful that we have so many different Office for Equity and Diversity graduation ceremonies to honor the truly breathtaking accomplishments of all of our students.”
In addition to Lavender Graduation, the University of Utah community will celebrate numerous Affinity Celebrations including the Black Affair (Black Graduation), Somos Dreamers UndocuGraduation, Asian American Graduation Celebration, Pacific Islander Student Association Graduation, Year End Honoring & Graduation Ceremony (American Indian Resource Center Graduation), and the Raza Graduation Celebration (Latinx Graduation). The Office for Equity and Diversity and the School for Social and Cultural Transformation will also be hosting a graduation celebration.
“Being surrounded by other queer folx that are graduating is going to empower me to keep reaching for my goals and to never stop pushing myself.”
Chaise Edebiri discusses her anticipation of graduating with a B.S. in Sociology this May 2018, “Black graduation means a lot to her because I honestly would not care about walking across the stage if it weren’t for my people cheering me on…in spite of the odds stacked against us, we look out for one another to ensure success.” Edebiri said. “We show up and show out.” Similarly, Ray Taylor, who will be graduating with his M.Ed. in Educational Leadership & Policy this May 2018, reflects, “As a first-generation, queer person, I believe partaking in Lavender Graduation is going to be something I remember for the rest of my life…being surrounded by other queer folx that are graduating is going to empower me to keep reaching for my goals and to never stop pushing myself.” Edebiri and Taylor speak to the affirming effects of Affinity Celebrations and highlight the communal aspects of achieving their individual goals.
“These events and spaces allowed me to be seen apart from the sea of whiteness I had been drowning in for most of my educational journey.”
Affinity celebrations allow students to celebrate their persistence and resistance through college with their family, friends, and peers. Reflecting on graduating from the University of Utah with her B.S. in Sociology and B.S. in Political Science, Emilia Ataata said,
“I participated in the OED, PISA, and Raza Graduation Celebrations. These events and spaces allowed me to be seen apart from the sea of whiteness I had been drowning in for most of my educational journey. It was a time to celebrate resiliency with loved ones and my communities…it is much more than a celebration of me, but of the communities that have nurtured and supported me in this journey.”
Ataata looks forward to participating in multiple Affinity Celebrations again when she graduates with her M.Ed. in Educational Leadership & Policy next year. Echoing Blanchard’s sentiments, it is wonderful that students are increasingly claiming space to celebrate their achievements and their multiple identities.