“Lavender Graduation” is an LGBTQ+ graduation celebration that was founded at the University of Michigan by Ronni Sanlo in 1995. In the years since, Lavender Graduation has spread to a number of colleges and universities around the country. On April 29, Rensselaer hosted its inaugural Lavender Graduation program to honor several graduating LGBTQ+ students (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer). The event served as an opportunity to celebrate their achievements, and to recognize individual students, faculty, and staff for their contributions to the campus community.
“We were very proud to present the first annual Lavender Graduation this year at Rensselaer,” said Rebecca Rouse, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Media in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS), who also serves as a member of the LGBTQ Task Force at Rensselaer. “This is a landmark event for our campus, made possible by the incredible support we received from across the Institute. We are extremely grateful, and excited that we’ll be able to develop this event further as an annual celebration for our LGBTQ+ graduates. The event makes a huge impact for our LGBTQ+ community, and also serves as a beacon on campus demonstrating the institute commitment to valuing diversity and inclusion in a tangible way.”
The Lavender Graduation was developed by the LGBTQ+ Task Force, which includes Tara Schuster, coordinator of health promotion in the Gallagher Student Health Center, who also serves a the LGBTQ+ Task Force chair, HASS Assistant Professor Rebecca Rouse, and Amy Corron, assistant director of student activities in the Rensselaer Union. The committee was assisted by the Lavender Graduation Planning Committee, which includes Brent Walker ’17, Emily Downs ’17, and Nadia Roumanos ’16.
During the inaugural ceremony, 13 students were honored. The students received a rainbow tassel and lavendar flowers in recognition of their participation in the event.
“As your average overly involved college kid, I managed to see a lot of different programs come in and out of RPI,” said Conrad Mossl ’17, who received a bachelor’s in information technology and web science during Rensselaer’s 211th Commencement Ceremony. “I can safely say that the Lavender Graduation will stick in my mind as one of the most memorable events that I have attended. While I have been involved with the LGBTQ community on campus during my entire undergraduate career, this event is unique with its intent and purpose. It was amazing to see so many respected faculty and staff members take time to celebrate this special time in our lives. The event was especially important to me since my mentor from the ‘LGBTQ Mentoring Network’ program was there and reminded me of how far I had come since my time as a freshman. Although I’ve graduated, I’m very much looking forward to hearing about the future success of the program and supporting it to be even better in the future.”
In addition, several Rensselaer students and faculty received awards during the program.
Chaz Goodwine, Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biological engineering, received the Campus Community Builder Award in recognition for his outstanding efforts to bolster support for LGBTQ+ causes, group activities, or individuals within the Rensselaer campus community.
Mary Simoni, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, received the Graduation Faculty/Staff Award that is presented to a member of the Rensselaer faculty or staff who has shown strong interest and support for the LGBTQ+ community on campus. Tamar Gordon, associate professor in the Department of Communication and Media, accepted the award for Simoni.
Brent Walker ’17 received the LGBTQ+ Outreach Award. The award is given to a graduating student who has not only been active in the LGBTQ+ campus community, but has also made efforts to connect people and support the LGBTQ+ Capital Region community at large.
Emily Downs ’17 received the Transgender Student Activism Award. The award is presented to graduating transgender identifying students who have shown perseverance and activism, and contributed to both the transgender and general Rensselaer community. Downs received a Ph.D. in materials engineering.
Simon Ellis ’16, who received his Ph.D. from Rensselaer in computer science, was awarded the Alumni Recognition Award. The award recognizes alumni who have significantly contributed to the LGBTQ+ campus community during their time as a Rensselaer student.
The Lavender Graduation program was sponsored by several Rensselaer departments and individuals as well as community organizations, including: the Rensselaer Union; Student Health Center; Athletics; Office of Student Living and Learning; School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Sabra-Joi Dingman, Class of 2017 Dean; Louis Trzepacz, assistant vice president of the student experience and dean of student success; Kelly Thibault, associate dean of the Off-Campus Commons; Jay Zhang Photography; and DJ Kevy K Entertainment.
Photo credit: Jay Zhang Photography