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Seventeen students participated in the 2018 Lavender Graduation celebration, held May 12 at Perkins Student Center.
Seventeen students participated in the 2018 Lavender Graduation Celebration, held May 12 at Perkins Student Center.

Lavender Graduation Celebration recognizes LGBTQ+ seniors

Photo by Emily Taylor

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer Blue Hens celebrate with family, friends and allies

Beneath the sea of royal blue mortarboards and themed confetti, many graduates’ minds were overflowing with thoughts and memories that can be joyful as well as jarring. The journey to commencement was different for every Blue Hen. Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer (LGBTQ+) are uniquely attuned to the deliberation and soul-searching that can be involved.

Many of these students have navigated not only polishing their professional skills and paths, but whether and when to be their authentic selves in a world that has not been designed to meet their needs. As routinely as they’ve filled in scantron bubbles, these students have had to “come out” over and over again to every person they meet, completing tests above and beyond their academic exams as they endlessly field questions and opinions about their identities.

The Lavender Graduation Celebration, held at the University of Delaware for the first time last year, is facilitated through the Division of Student Life in recognition of these unique achievements. The event allows LGBTQ+ seniors to come together each May with their families, friends, and members of the administration to revel in a UD community that has affirmed their needs and supported their success.

Seventeen students participated in this year’s ceremony, held May 12 at Perkins Student Center. Seniors Riley Thomas, Elias Antelman and Ana Vega Ambriz spoke during the program, each recognizing the struggles that LGBTQ+ students face on campuses nationwide and around the world.

“It gives me a lot of hope to see that the attendance for this event has tripled since last year,” said Antelman, who also has worked as an intern for the LGBT Program. “Sometimes, holding a marginalized identity can be isolating. Looking around to see a room full of people who have shown up to celebrate your graduation is very meaningful, and the inclusion of a Lavender Graduation at the University of Delaware is so important for LGBTQ+ students to feel like their accomplishments are highlighted.”

Thomas echoed this sentiment, and noted that nearly 50 universities throughout the United States have begun the tradition of a Lavender Graduation since it was first held at the University of Michigan in 1995.

“I was an incredibly nervous first year, decently sure of who I was but certainly not proud of it,” said Thomas. “When I showed up to the Lavender Welcome Reception during 1743, I had no expectations, just the hope that I would finally meet other people like me.”

Thomas went on to join and eventually serve on the board for Haven, UD’s first and only LGBTQ+ student group for many decades, and mentioned the recent arrival of similar groups oSTEM, speQtrum, and AHAVA as evidence of the community’s burgeoning awakening to intersectional identities.

“Students saw that they did not have the space they needed, and they put forth the work to create them, which takes a strength that I admire,” she said. “Four years ago, we also did not have an LGBT Program or Program Coordinator, an LGBTQ and Racial Justice LLC, all-gender bathrooms, or all-gender housing. There was no Lavender Graduation … there has been important growth in the ways LGBTQ students are supported at UD, and while there is still work to be done, it is hard to look back at where we came from and not feel a sense of pride.”

For many attendees, the Lavender Graduation Celebration has professional as well as personal underpinnings. Kathleen Kerr, associate vice president for Student Life and executive director of Residence Life and Housing, joined several executive administrators in taking an active role at the ceremony. Introducing herself as the proud parent of a fierce daughter who identifies as queer, Kerr congratulated the graduates on conquering obstacles that other students have not faced at UD.

“I want to extend a special welcome and thank you to the biological families and families of choice who have joined us this evening,” Kerr said. “I know how important your support has been in their journey to this point.”

Kerr’s daughter, a UD graduate and Haven alum, had recently spoken on similar topics at her own Rainbow Graduation for her master’s degree.

“Life isn’t easy living in the margins of gender and sexuality,” Kerr said, quoting from her daughter’s address. “But she, and all of you, have persevered splendidly and we thank you for your courage, for your voice, for challenging us to consider other perspectives, and for the strength and compassion you have shown throughout your journey at UD. I am proud to call you Blue Hens.”

The Lavender Graduation is a bookend to the Lavender Welcome Reception, held each fall during 1743 Welcome Days for incoming students who may identify as members or allies of the LGBTQ+ community. All members of the UD community are invited to save the date for the 2018 Lavender Welcome Reception, to be held at Perkins Student Center on Monday, Aug. 27.

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