As college and university students around the country flip tassels and throw caps into the air, Point Foundation will be celebrating our 107 graduates who are completing their degrees and classes. Celebrating LGBTQ students through Lavender Graduations, rainbow regalia, and other visible acknowledgments help build community and hopefully will foster increased equality for LGBTQ people in higher education.
What is Lavender Graduation?
Lavender Graduation ceremonies are annual celebrations honoring the contributions and achievements of graduating LGBTQ students. They take place in colleges and communities across the country.
The first Lavender Graduation was held in 1995, hosted by Dr. Ronni Lebman Sanlo at the University of Michigan, honoring just three graduates. In the early 1990s, Dr. Sanlo attempted to attend her child’s graduation, but was refused entry because she was an active and visible member of the LGBTQ community. That experience combined with her fight for greater inclusion as the director of Lesbian and Gay Programs at the University of Michigan, inspired her to create this affirming event for LGBTQ students.
Today, Lavender Graduations are popular events on numerous campuses. At least 208 colleges and universities across the country are planning Lavender Graduations this May, providing LGBTQ college students a chance to be fully visible as members of the LGBTQ community.
What Do Lavender Graduation Cords Mean?
The Lavender Graduation ceremony often includes the awarding of lavender stoles, cords, or tassels, and a reading of the names of each graduate, followed by a reception for loved ones. Many students go on to wear their Lavender Graduation gear at their university’s commencement.
The color lavender has long been a symbol of the LGBTQ community. Some believe this color is a combination of the pink triangle and the black triangle used to categorize gays and lesbians during the Holocaust. However, the origins of shades of purple symbolizing LGBTQ identities and desires is much older than the 1930s. The ancient Greek poet Sappho used violet as a symbol of her love for women and Oscar Wilde often spoke of the “purple hours” he spent with other men in the late 19th century.
By the 1950s, “lavender lads” was a phrase used by Congress and the American press to refer to gay and bisexual men in the federal government. At the time, LGBTQ people were being examined and fired for their sexuality and gender expression. In the 1970s, LGBTQ women in the National Organization for Women created a group called the “Lavender Menace" to demand equality. Together, these women demanded equality for marginalized women within Second Wave Feminism.
By the first Lavender Graduation in 1995, the color was already established for celebrating LGBTQ identity and love.
#PointProud of our 2023 Lavender Graduates
Lavender Graduation is an opportunity to bring more visibility to the community and LGBTQ successes. This visibility is essential for LGBTQ community to thrive on campus.
“It’s important for LGBTQ students to be out on campus because we might be that superhero on campus to that one person who is questioning or scared to come out,” Point Program Coordinator Zorra Ortega (they/she) said. “Visibility on campus can give us the strength to push forward.”
This is one of the reasons Point provides graduating Point Flagship and Community College Scholars with a rainbow stole for their graduation. Rainbow Point stoles allow our scholars to show not only their pride as Point Scholars, but also as LGBTQ scholars.
“They’ll always be able to look back at their graduation pictures and remember that they were part of the Point Scholar community,” Zorra said.
For Point Scholars on campuses with less LGBTQ community resources, these stoles show them that they are not alone. Around the country, other graduating Point scholars also wear their rainbow regalia in celebration of graduation, and root for the success of the community of scholars.
In 2023, Point is celebrating 107 lavender graduates across the country. Point LGBTQ students are graduating from community colleges, undergraduate, and graduate programs. They have made their mark as leaders, activists, and community members and are now preparing for the next chapter of their stories.
“LGBTQ students go through such specific struggles and challenges while in college, it makes that feeling of graduating that much sweeter when you know you didn’t go through it alone,” Zorra said.
Point 2023 Graduates Making an Impact on Communities
One graduate, Point Community College Scholar Daffodil Bisono (they/them), is already doing essential work to create inclusive opportunities for LGBTQ people. They are studying exercise science at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn and plan to transfer to a four-year program after graduating this spring.
Daffodil teaches self-defense classes for LGBTQ students, drag performers, and other marginalized people. After graduation, they plan to pursue a career as a boxing coach and continue to build their portfolio as a coach and trainer. They currently coach at Gay Fight Club, which provides a safe and community-centric experience for gay, bi, or trans people who may not otherwise feel welcome in a gym environment.
Point’s support has helped Daffodil pursue their educational goals and feel support from the larger network.
“Without (Point’s) support in this pivotal time, I would not have the certainty and the resolve that I am currently enjoying,” they said. “I can be confident in my future, and I can lean into my support structures.”
Point Flagship Scholar Adriann Dolphin (she/her) has also found the support structures provided by Point critical to her professional growth. After graduating with an MBA from Harvard, Adriann will start her new job as the Associate Brand Manager for Mars-Wrigley. She worked with her Point mentor, Julia Bradsher, to navigate her new career. Julia is the president and CEO of Huntington Medical Research Institutes. She has over two decades of experience navigating the business world as a lesbian.
“My Point mentor has helped me so much in determining what career path to pursue and giving me advice for how to network and negotiate for my future career,” Adriann said. “She specifically gave me advice for negotiating my internship and job offer, as well as navigating being the only out LGBT person at my workplace.”
An essential component to building LGBTQ visibility and community is preserving LGBTQ history. Point Flagship Scholar Marc Ridgell’s (they/them) senior thesis examines how Black queer and trans communities in Chicago and New York City have organized against state violence, HIV/AIDS neglect, and ongoing hyper-segregation in the last 35 years.
“By highlighting the acts of these Black LGBTQ+ people, I try to pay homage to those before me who have made the same neighborhoods and city I navigate better to live in and experience,” Marc said. “Also, I engage the very important grassroots politics of Black queer and trans folks whose critical work is sometimes deemed as ineligible due to their lack of access to/non-participation in formal municipal politics.”
Marc is graduating from Washington University in St. Louis. They will continue their education at the University of Pennsylvania as a PhD student in Africana Studies this fall. They plan to continue their current research as part of their dissertation work, with a focus on grassroots organizing in Philadelphia.
Daffodil, Adriann, and Marc are all working to establish themselves as leaders in their chosen fields. Together, they’ll continue to break down barriers to LGBTQ visibility and inclusion. Point is proud of all scholars graduating in 2023, and we are excited to continue to build our network of more than 700 Point alumni.