LGBTQA’s Lavender Graduation

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The LGBTQA Resource Office’s most anticipated event is just around the corner. Lavender Graduation will take place on May 16 to honor graduates who have been involved with the LGBTQA Resource Office throughout their college careers.

Each year students and staff are invited to the May ceremony. Each participating graduate receives a lavender cord, presented by the Chancellor, to wear at the UIS commencement ceremony the next day. Though the LGBTQA Resource Office sponsors this event, it is open to anyone who wishes to register.

UIS was not the first university to host a Lavender Graduation. The tradition was started at the University of Michigan in 1995, and from there has spread to hundreds of universities throughout the country. The event uses the color lavender because it was the color adopted during the 1960s gay movement in Sayville, New York. The history of gay movements, such as the Stonewall Riot of 1969, is honored during this ceremony. The lavender cord worn at graduation signifies the ability of graduates to create their own mark in history as they move on into the adult world.

Senior Maureen Bocka has been involved in the LGBTQA Resource Office for four years and said, “Lavender Graduation is important because there are few opportunities for queer students to be recognized for the work that they do.”

Awards are given out to students and staff nominated by ceremony attendees. While registering for the event, guests are asked to nominate people throughout the campus to be recognized for their work and dedication throughout the year. There are awards such as the “Outstanding Student Ally Award,” the “OUT! Front Student Activist Award,” the “Pat Langely Award for Outstanding Community Engagement,” the “Departmental Ally Award and the Faculty/Staff Ally Award.”

Every year a student is chosen to give a speech called the Lavender Graduation Prairie Star Address. The student chosen to give this speech is nominated by peers, and they are an example of “Leadership Lived” during their time at UIS. Last year’s speaker was Katie McEvoy, who was the inQUEERy coordinator and a dedicated LGBTQA Resource Office member. This year’s speaker is Nafia Khan.

“I feel humbled and excited to be able to address Chancellor Koch, my peers and mentors,” said Khan. “I hope to leave the Class of 2014 with useful advice they can take with them wherever they go, as well as leave my friends, new family and mentors with kind words of gratitude for their support.”

Chancellor Koch not only gives out the lavender cords, but also says a few words to the crowd. She takes the time to thank all those who have “given to our campus community…through the important perspectives offered in class,” as well as, “involvement in campus activities” and “leadership of student organizations.”

Bocka added, “I think this university has come a long way in the four years I have been here, but it has more work to do. I still feel like queer students are tolerated at this university, but they have not been embraced.”

Despite the frustration Bocka feels, she is still happy to attend the Lavender Graduation ceremony, “this is a unique opportunity to have all my queer and allied friends and faculty to celebrate with me before I go out into the world.”

During the ceremony it is important to recognize the hard work students such as Bocka have done. As they move on it is up to the remaining students to continue to pave the path towards queer acceptance. As each Lavender ceremony passes we can expect to see greater changes in the attitude of UIS towards the LGBTQA community.