Lavender is a color that has represented the LGBTQ+ community throughout history. Lavender, a mix of pink and blue, represents the fluidity and blurring of gender lines in society.  When lavender graduation was first introduced in 1995, it was no surprise lavender was the color chosen to represent this ceremony. Lavender graduation was an event created to thank and celebrate students of the LGBTQ+ community for their contributions and achievements to their university and holds a high importance in creating a diverse and accepting environment at JMU. 

Lavender Graduation has not always existed in the United States. The ceremony was created by Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian, who was denied attendance at her biological children’s graduation because of her sexual orientation. Dr. Sanlo then went on to design the first lavender graduation at the university of Michigan in 1995, and there were three graduates in attendance. 

Much has changed since the first Lavender Graduation, as multiple universes across the country participate in having their own lavender graduation to celebrate their LGBTQ+ students. This year was JMU’s 17th annual Lavender Graduation, and for the class of 2023, there were 10 lavender graduates. This is not to say these are all the members of the LGBTQ+ community on JMU’s campus, but those who wished to be recognized by Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) as a member and graduate of the community. SOGIE serves a a support for the JMU LGBTQ+ community and a way for queer students to meet and find community. This year, SOGIE hosted its first ever Pride Prom this year for queer students to dance the night away in a safe and accepting space. At the graduation, Dr. Kristen Kelley gave a speech about her experience as a queer professor at JMU. Dr. Kelley serves as the coordinator for the Multilingual Student Service and is an assistant professor teaching in the English as Second Language program, the Equity and Cultural Diversity M.Ed. program, and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program.

I was in attendance at this graduation, as a lesbian senior, and hearing sentiment about Dr. Kelley being one of the only queer professors students have had at their time at JMU, was heartbreaking to me. I thought through my time at JMU and realized I have had only two openly queer professors in my four years here. It is a weird experience to see the lack of queer representation in higher education. Why are there not more queer professors? Are they here but closeted, or are they just not hired? I don’t have an answer but what I do know is, I am disappointed. Lavender graduations show clear acceptance for LGBTQ+ students on campus. By honoring and congratulating students for their affinities in the community, the school says that they care about all of their students. With only nine graduates, it’s easy to start to feel alone, like you’re one in a crowd, but it’s also confronting to know that even if there aren’t many, there are so many others like you. 

Creating spaces to celebrate queer students is more important now than ever. Lavender Graduation brings together queer students to help them feel less alone in a world where acceptance has not always been a guarantee, and this ceremony not only accepts these students, but praises and congratulates them for all of their hard work in their time at JMU. I am proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community here at JMU and I deeply thank my queer professors and SOGIE for hosting this event. 

4 thoughts on “SOGIE’s lavender GRADUATION

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience and your blog post. Before this I had never even heard of lavender graduation or known about the colors connection to the LGBTQIA + community. I think you have an interesting point about professors and teachers under representation in this community- I’m not sure if it has to do with safety or discriminatory behavior/ backlash but I don’t think I have ever had a teacher in my life time who is openly not heterosexual and I think that visibility would be validating for many students.


  2. Wow! I actually did not even know we had a Lavender Graduation. It is disheartening to hear how little staff members we have that are apart of the LGBTQIA+ community. Super interesting read, thank you so much.


  3. Dr. Kelley is an amazing professor who has been very open about her experiences as a queer faculty member at JMU. It is hard to be in a place where you do not feel represented, seen, or safe, and I applaud SOGIE and the people involved with this event for creating safe and comforting queer spaces on campus! Thank you for sharing!


  4. I didn’t know we had a Lavender Graduation, but I’m so glad this is a thing and an opportunity for students!


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