For many college students, graduation day is a rite of passage that marks a significant transition in their lives. It’s a time to reflect on the journey they’ve made and the supportive people who helped them along the way. This day is especially important for “Lav Grads” who walk in solidarity with fellow members of the university’s LGBTQA+ community.
Complete with lavender balloons, rainbow tassels and inspiring speakers, the ceremony recognizes the many achievements students have made along their collegiate journey. Liz Elsen, interim director of the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC), says the big sendoff is especially meaningful because it’s supported by the university.
“It’s important for our students to get recognition from their university and to know they are valued and that their contributions are important in so many ways,” says Elsen, a College of Education alum who walked at the university’s first Lavender Graduation in 2008.
This year, more than 65 graduates will walk under the lavender balloon arch and across the stage on May 17, beginning at 4 p.m., in the Student Activity Center Ballroom. After the ceremony, all attendees head to the alumni center—balloons in tow—to top the night off at a festive reception.
Elsen says Lavender Graduation is all about celebrating the students. Whether they come in jeans, formal attire—even glitter beards—graduates are welcome to express themselves freely in a supportive environment. Everyone is invited and alumni are always welcome to come back to their alma mater and walk.
Literally surrounded by support, the room is set up so that graduates are sitting surrounded by friends and allies they’ve known throughout the years, including faculty, staff and fellow students.
“It’s a way to recognize their time at UT and the barriers they’ve overcome,” Elsen says. “It’s a day to be happy and to give our grads a place to fully be themselves.”
In honor of the DDCE’s 10-year anniversary, this year’s event will feature an impressive lineup of speakers and performers. The keynote will be Thomas Tonatiuh Lopez, a prominent voice in the resistance movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline. He spent months working with the International Indigenous Youth Council in the Two-Spirit Nation Camp at Standing Rock.
“We are very excited to have Thomas as our keynote,” Elsen says. “The students have been talking about resilience and resistance a lot this year and that’s something he embodies.”
Resistance—and various other topics related to the LGBTQA+ experience—are mentioned in the students’ self-authored biographies printed in the program.
“A lot of folks say it’s validating to describe themselves and bring their whole selves to graduation,” Elsen adds. “It’s empowering for them to express who they are and talk about their academic and activist work.”
Lavender Graduation is co-hosted by the GSC, The Queer and Trans Students Alliance, DDCE, The Pride and Equity Faculty Staff Network, and the Queer Graduate Student Alliance. Visit the GSC’s Lavender Graduation event page for more information. To learn more about the origins of Lavender Graduation—hosted by universities across the nation—go to the Human Rights Campaign website. Follow the online conversation: #longhornlavgrad.