Lavender Graduations Celebrate LGBTQ+ Students

Lavender Graduations center the accomplishments of LGBTQ+ college students. Explore the history of these events and learn how to host one on campus.

portrait of R.B. Brooks, M.Ed.
by R.B. Brooks, M.Ed.

Updated June 25, 2022

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Lavender Graduations Celebrate LGBTQ+ Students
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Lavender Graduations are a special occasion honoring the accomplishments of LGBTQ+ college students and those who support them. Some college campuses have hosted this event for decades. Others, like Boston University, have newly joined in on the legacy of celebrating LGBTQ+ student successes. Explore the history of the event, learn about the graduation program, and find examples of how to host a Lavender Graduation on any campus.

History of Lavender Graduations

The first Lavender Graduation — a ceremony or event celebrating LGBTQ+ college students' graduation and other campus successes — is credited to Ronni Sanlo. The inaugural event celebrated three students at the University of Michigan in 1995. Today, hundreds of students are recognized at many colleges and universities across the country.

The color lavender is significant to LGBTQ+ communities. Lesbian poets used lavender as a common trope for centuries. "The Lavender Scare" titles a time when individuals were interrogated over their sexuality by officials seeking to imprison LGBTQ+ community members. In both historical and in present-day movements, lavender is used as a symbol in gay and lesbian liberation marches and other LGBTQ+ rights actions.

While not all colleges and universities refer to their ceremonies as Lavender Graduations, these events are held in similar ways to celebrate LGBTQ+ college students.

How to Celebrate a Lavender Graduation

Colleges that host Lavender Graduations often put unique spins on their events. Commonly, many colleges provide graduating students with a form of lavender or rainbow graduation apparel such as a cord, stole, or tassel.

Some celebrations incorporate awards for students who contributed to the campus climate, lead LGBTQ+ student organizations, or supported connections between LGBTQ+ students and faculty, staff, and alumni. Keynote speakers, student speakers, and other motivational remarks from campus figures frequently occur at the event.

LGBTQ+ student service departments or LGBTQ+ student organizations commonly coordinate these events. Student sign-ups for participation may also differ from campus to campus. Some campuses may require RSVPs in advance, while others may include all students who show up to the event wanting to participate.

Colleges Celebrating Lavender Graduations

Regardless of program details, a common goal of lavender graduation ceremonies is to acknowledge that LGBTQ+ college students overcome immense obstacles on the path to graduation. In the face of mental health disparities, identity development, and other unique experiences, LGBTQ+ students receive a platform to celebrate the milestone of college graduation.

Hosting events such as Lavender Graduation can contribute to a campus's inclusivity of LGBTQ+ college students. For campuses that only recently formed LGBTQ+ student centers, lavender graduations can provide an additional nod of support for LGBTQ+ students.

As the site of the first Lavender Graduation, University of Michigan has hosted this event since 1995. Iowa State and several large institutions in the University of California system have hosted Lavender Graduations for upwards of 20 years.

Other campuses are newly joining in on this historically significant event. Point Park University hosted its first Lavender Graduation this year after a graduate student vouched that his experience attending Lavender Graduation during undergrad was meaningful.

Boston University hosted its first Lavender Graduation as a collaboration between students and faculty. These examples of inaugural events display ways that college students and administrators can consider launching a Lavender Graduation.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Lavender Graduations

What is the significance of lavender for LGBTQ?

The color lavender has historical significance and has been a recurring symbol within LGBTQ+ art, culture, fashion, and activism. For example, lavender armbands were distributed to attendees of a march in 1969 commemorating the Stonewall Riots.

What is a rainbow ceremony?

A rainbow ceremony is another title for a Lavender Graduation event. Not all colleges that host a graduation celebration for LGBTQ+ college students refer to the event as Lavender Graduation.

How can schools support LGBTQ students?

Seek out, listen to, and act upon the needs of LGBTQ+ college students. A celebratory event honoring LGBTQ+ college students is a bittersweet gesture if there are students who cannot complete their degrees due to hardships, inability to afford college, or not experiencing a meaningful connection to the campus community.