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 May 17, Rensselaer hosted its second annual Lavender Graduation ceremony to honor several graduating LGBTQIA+ students (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and/or questioning). The event served as an opportunity to celebrate their achievements, and to recognize individual students, faculty, staff, and alumni for their contributions to the campus community.
“We were very proud to present the second annual Lavender Graduation this year at Rensselaer,” said Rebecca Rouse, assistant professor in the Arts Department and Games and Simulations Arts and Sciences program, who also serves as the co-chair of the LGBTQ Task Force. “The importance of continuing to establish Lavender Graduation as an enduring, yearly presence on our campus cannot be overstated. This ceremony and celebration demonstrates tangible, institutional support for our LGBTQ+ community, and makes a huge impact. We were thrilled to once again receive generous support from so many portfolios across campus to fund the event and make it possible. We look forward to continuing to develop Rensselaer Lavender Graduation as a cornerstone of our campus Commencement celebrations.”
A keynote covering the topics of LGBTQ people, race, diversity, and intersectionality was given by Gwen Wright, executive director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. A longtime local activist, Wright challenged both graduates and attendees to think back on the people who helped support and pave the way for the queer community in our country—specifically citing transgender women of color who stood up in the face of adversity during the Stonewall Riots of 1969—and, moving forward, to provide similar assistance to others who might be struggling with equity in our society.
During the ceremony, 12 graduating students were honored. The students received a rainbow tassel and bouquet of flowers in recognition of their participation in the event.
In addition, several Rensselaer students, staff, and alumni received awards during the program.
Clifford Morrison, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, received the LGBTQ+ Outreach Award. The award is given to a 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.
SummerRay Morrow, a psychological sciences major, received the Rising Star Award. This award is given to a student not yet graduating, but who has shown great initiative and promise in the efforts to become a leader for the LGBTQ+ community.
Ashley Ferro-Murray, curator of theater and dance in the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC), received the 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. Constanza Armes-Cruz, curatorial assistant at EMPAC, accepted the award for Ferro-Murray.
Bryce Miller ’16, who received a bachelor of science in games and simulation arts and sciences, 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 was hosted by the Rensselaer LGBTQ Task Force, which includes co-chairs Tara Schuster, coordinator of health promotion in the Gallagher Student Health Center, and Rouse; Marc Destefano, senior lecturer in Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences; Jackson Harmon, industrial and management engineering student; and Nii Opare-Addo, health educator in the Gallagher Student Health Center. The task force was assisted by the Lavender Graduation Planning Committee, which includes Clifford Morrison and Nadia Roumanos ’16.
The ceremony and reception were sponsored by several Rensselaer departments and individuals, including the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS); Student Health Center; Department of Athletics; Union Speakers Forum; Lavender Ambassadors; Rensselaer Interfraternity Council; the Office of the Provost; “weR Gold” donors; Christine Zinzow, assistant director of the Center for Career and Professional Development; and Michele Matthews, interlibrary loan librarian of the Folsom Library.