Photos by Steven Casanova, University Marketing

Lavender Graduation ceremony celebrates VCU’s LGBTQIA+ community

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Celebrating the achievements of Virginia Commonwealth University’s graduating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex seniors, the Lavender Graduation ceremony was held last week at the Cabell Library.

The theme for the 2016 Lavender Graduation was “Color the World.” George Kelly, assistant director of business and personnel services for Residential Life and Housing, and chair of Lavender Graduation, said the theme emphasized the importance of “sharing what you have to impart to others about LGBTQIA+ rights and getting them to see the beauty of us.”

The soon-to-be graduates in attendance were each presented with a rainbow cord to wear with their academic regalia at the university’s official commencement activities on May 14, and were entertained by a dance performance from Khalima and Laterna Dance Company, which sought to challenge restrictions projected onto people with regards to gender, orientation, body image and self expression.

Keynote speaker Camilla Buchanan, M.D., who graduated from the VCU School of Medicine in 1976 and is now a clinical professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences at the College of William & Mary, invited the students to celebrate the present but also challenged them to work to build a better future.

Camilla Buchanan, M.D., a VCU School of Medicine alumna, gave the keynote address. Photos by Steven Casanova, University Marketing.
Camilla Buchanan, M.D., a VCU School of Medicine alumna, gave the keynote address. Photos by Steven Casanova, University Marketing.

“I congratulate you on your graduation,” Buchanan told attendees, “and I am passing to you the baton from my generation to your generation to work for social justice, a justice that knows no distinction for sexual gender or orientation, or ethnicity, or race, or religion, or social class or disability. I trust that when you leave VCU, you will be fired with determination to change the world within your reach, helping to make 21st-century America a place we all dream of, a place of well-being, inclusion and justice for all.”

Lavender Graduation ceremonies began in 1995 on the campus of the University of Michigan, and have since expanded to universities around the country. The color lavender is significant to LGBTQIA+ history and represents a combination of the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps and the black triangle designating lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany. The LGBTQIA+ civil rights movement took these symbols of hatred and combined them to make a color of pride and community.

“To me, [Lavender Graduation] means progress,” said Jez Wood, a graduating elementary education major in the School of Education. “As Dr. Camilla said, 40 years ago this wouldn’t have been possible and 40 years from now our kids are going to be the ones telling us we aren’t progressive enough and I can’t wait to see that change. It was great. I felt very safe, which is very important, and I felt loved.”

Kelly appreciated the lack of complacency among attendees.

“This year the ceremony was fun and whimsical as well as thought-provoking and challenging for our graduates,” he said. “It’s great to see the students absorb the entire experience and realize that much work has been done but there is so much more to do.”

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Students Annie Maddox and Logan Bogert contributed reporting to this story.