The University of Rhode Island’s Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) held its annual Lavender Graduation to honor LGBTQ+ graduates on Thursday, April 20.
This was the 11th annual Lavender Graduation, according to GSC Director Annie Russell. Russell started the ceremony when she came to URI in 2012.
“I had worked at a previous institution and was a coordinator there for LGBTQ programs, and we did a Lavender Graduation there as well,” Russell said. “So it’s just an opportunity to have our community come together at the end of the year, right? Kind of do some reflection on how our year has been together.”
Russell stated that Lavender Graduation is celebrated at many universities around the country, and was first established by the University of Michigan in 1995.
All students were welcome to register for Lavender Graduation, whether they identified as a part of the LGBTQ+ community or not, according to Russell. The graduation’s goal is to celebrate the hardships that are universal in the experience of getting a college education, as well as the extra barriers LGBTQ+ college students may face, such as anti-transgender and LGBTQ+ acts that recently have been passed by the government.
The ceremony is named Lavender Graduation because the color lavender is symbolic of the mixing of pink and blue and overcoming the idea of gender roles is usually forced on children from a young age, Russell stated.
“Really having lavender out there as a color is saying ‘we’re not going to buy into that,’ right?” Russell said. “We’re about the people, regardless of identity – it doesn’t have to be how we understand our gender roles.”
According to Katie Riedy, third-year and event planning and education specialist at URI, there are four awards given out at the ceremony every year.
The first is Honorary Lavender Graduate, an award given to any person who did a lot of work for the URI LGBTQ+ community. The other awards are Ally of the Year, Mentor of the Year and Outstanding Leader of the Year, which are all awarded to URI students.
Additionally, this year’s ceremony featured two speakers, an engaged couple, Amanda Neumann and Kelly Neumann.
Amanda Neumann is a part of the LGBTQA25+ Community, as well as the deaf community, since she is bilaterally deaf. Neumann works to help pioneer veterinary medicine and has worked to save over 12,000 animals by working to change state and federal laws.
Kelly Neumann is an attorney who has worked with Boston’s city counsel’s legislation department, the trial division of the attorney general’s office of Massachusetts and at an insurance defense law firm. She also ran the tort and workers compensation department at one of the biggest personal injury law firms on the East Coast.
“They [both talked] in part about, like, their identity development, but also just like, you know, giving the students kind of the positive examples to look up to as they’re graduating college and then entering the real world of what a successful queer person can look like,” Riedy said.
Riedy also said this ceremony is important to the URI community because college is the time when many students are working to find themselves and “fully flushing out their gender and sexual identity.”
This year, the Center honored 14 students, which Russell said was a record number. For more information on the GSC and Lavender Graduation, visit the URI Gender and Sexuality Center Website.