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The fifth annual Lavender Graduation ceremony, a celebration featuring the 2016 graduates from the LGBTQA community, including allies, was held May 11 at the cafeteria’s second floor.

Class of 2017 members Sean Norman and Stephanie Niaupari emceed the ceremony. Edgar Palmer, ’77, executive director of the Office of Diversity and Equity for Students, opened the ceremony with welcoming remarks, thanking the audience for coming to support the graduates. He also mentioned the importance of vigilance in the continuing struggle for civil rights for LGBTQA people.

Dr. Cara Miller, G-’10 & PhD ’11, coordinator, LGBTQA Resource Center, acknowledged the positive direction the ceremony took.

“The LGBTQA Resource Center is thankful to the administration and all of our supporters within and outside of the University,” said Miller. “Lavender Graduation is truly a community effort and a celebration of community support in light of the challenges that many LGBTQA students face on the road to graduation. It is quite fitting that this year’s speakers discussed the power of and importance of love! As we continue to advance the movement for LGBTQA rights, we must acknowledge and address intersectional injustices, lift up those who are doing good work, and make time for celebration.”

Several awards were handed out, in the following order:

“Drago Renteria Commitment to the LGBTQA Community Award” (the highest award to honor a student who provided extraordinary service and outstanding leadership in helping to strengthen the LGBTQA community and promote LGBTQA issues and awareness) to Morgann Smith.

“Faculty/Staff Commitment Award” (bestowed upon a staff or faculty member for going above and beyond to support LGBTQA students and the LGBTQA Resource Center) to Dyana Thurgood, G-’15

“Most Distinguished Ally Award” (bestowed upon an ally who is recognized for their strength in advocating for equality and equity for the LGBTQA community) to Kellynette Gomez

“Rainbow Keeper Award” (bestowed upon a department, program, or campus organization that worked proactively to promote an LGBTQA-affirming campus climate) to the Department of Social Work.

Morgann Smith, ’14 & G-’16, who graduated with a M.A. in social work, gave the ceremony’s student address and shared one of her success stories that occurred during her student teaching.

Smith described an experience she had with an eight-year old student who she worked with. “She initially brushed me off and called me disgusting for being with another woman. However, after explaining and educating her, she came around and gave me two drawings. One said ‘I love you’ with flowers and hearts; another was of a lotus flower,” said Smith.

A lotus flower, Smith explains, represents a new beginning and new opportunity for success, as lotuses are beautiful flowers that can successfully grow from thick, muddy water.

“This was the turning point for the student’s appreciation of diversity and differences,” said Smith.

She went on to encourage the audience to always be authentic. “Always show kindness, compassion, and love. Any new beginning can make it through the clearest or murkiest waters when they are allowing the lotus within themselves to grow.”

She concluded her address by explaining the importance of a support system and thanked the audience for its support.

Storm Smith, ’10, video producer and director with the Department of Institutional Advancement, was the keynote speaker of the ceremony.

“For a long time, growing up, I wore so many jackets that they really started to pile up on me. People had so many expectations of me as a deaf black young woman. It really began to get overwhelming,” said Smith.

“At one point, it became too much. I finally decided to take off jackets one by one, revealing my real self. Every time I did that, I felt lighter,” said Smith.

Smith shared advice with the graduates about happiness, and received huge applause.

“My secret advice for being happy is — love yourself first,” said Smith. “Always love yourself, and never compromise your standards for anyone else. As long as you believe in yourself, everything will fall in place.”

President Roberta J. Cordano, who followed Smith’s keynote speech with remarks to the audience, agreed with Smith’s advice.

“Always love yourselves; don’t weigh yourselves down with jackets,” said Cordano.

The ceremony concluded with purple tassels, stoles, and Lavender diplomas handed to the graduates by administration members, and a group picture of all graduates under the large “2016” logo was taken. A reception for graduates and guests was held following the ceremony.

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