Lavender Graduation Provides Personal Celebration for LGBTQ Students

As the academic year comes to a close, seniors look forward to graduation, a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of their undergraduate career and the person they’ve become. But for some students, developing their identity was closely connected to exploring their sexuality. These students may choose to participate in Lavender Graduation, a special ceremony for Northwestern graduates who identify as LGBTQ and their allies.


Lavender Graduation was started in 1995 when Dr. Ronni Sanlo, at the time the director of the University of Michigan’s Lesbian and Gay Programs office, was forbidden from attending the graduation ceremonies of her own children due to her identity as a lesbian. While the first ceremony only included three students, it quickly expanded not only at the University of Michigan’s campus, but across the country. Today, over 175 colleges and universities in the United States hold their own Lavender Graduation ceremony. This year, Northwestern’s Lavender Graduation will celebrate nearly 40 graduating students. While most of these students are undergraduates, the ceremony is also open to graduate students, who are invited to become part of the community.

Lavender Graduation is not meant to replace the regularly scheduled school-wide commencement ceremonies. Instead, it will be held a few weeks earlier so that students can easily attend both programs. While students have different reasons for choosing to partake in Lavender Graduation, one common draw is the smaller, more personalized ceremony it offers. With a less formal event open emphasizing a specific community, Lavender Graduation can be a fun way for students to mark the end of their Northwestern experience- plus, what college student doesn’t love a free meal?

Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) and Northwestern’s Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association (NUGALA), a group for Northwestern graduates who identify as part of the LGBTQ community annually co-sponsor the event to ensure all interested students are able to attend. In addition, every year during the ceremony NUGALA gives a scholarship to a graduating senior “who contribute[s] to Northwestern's LGBTQ community through leadership, service, volunteering, or research.” Following the official commencement ceremonies, all participants in Lavender Graduation are invited to join NUGALA. Participants are also given a special rainbow tassel and stole they can choose to wear along with their commencement robes.

Last year's scholarship recipient Yamari Lewis with members of NUGALA

Last year's scholarship recipient Yamari Lewis with members of NUGALA

For current Northwestern students, there are many opportunities to find support on campus and become involved in the LGBTQ community. Rainbow Alliance, a club made to build connections between members of the LGBTQ community and to engage in activism, has weekly meetings and schedules additional fun events throughout the school year. Current students can also take advantage of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, a multipurpose center on the third floor of Norris that can be used for studying or socializing and features a large collection of books and movies.

Seniors interested in participating in Lavender graduation were able to register in early May through an online form on the MSA website. Lavender Graduation will be held on June 7 from 4:30-6:30 PM in the Guild Lounge of Scott Hall.