By Kennedy Tavares
For the first time ever, SUNY Plattsburgh’s office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the LGBTQ+ Resource Committee teamed up to host a Lavender Ceremony for the fall graduating class Wednesday, Dec. 7 in Krinovitz Recital Hall.
A Lavender Ceremony is a graduation ceremony hosted on hundreds of college campuses around the country. The point of the ceremony is to celebrate the achievements and contributions that’s LGBT students have made on campus.
The Lavender Ceremony originated in 1995 by Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian who was prohibited from her daughter’s graduation because of her sexual orientation.
According to Sanlo’s personal website, ronnisanlo.com, she wrote: “I created Lavender Graduation for two reasons: first, I wasn’t invited to my children’s graduation because of my sexual orientation. Second, LGBT students were telling me that their lives were miserable on campus, and they couldn’t wait to get out. I wanted their last taste of their college experience to be positive, to remind them that they and their scholarship mattered to the academy.”
Lavender plays an important role in the queer community. During the Holocaust, the color lavender was assigned to gay men and women. Lavender and violets were written about often by 7th Century queer poet, Sappho. Sappho is the root word for sapphic, which relates to lesbianism.
While the office for DEI came to the LGBTQ+ Resource Committee with the idea for the ceremony, LGBTQ+ Resource Committee co-chairs Regan Levitte and Leah Sweeny jumped at the opportunity.
“The idea was actually brought to us by the Interim VP for DEI, Dr. Richard Miller, so we latched onto it as a feasible goal to achieve while we rebuild the committee,” Levitte said.
Before attending SUNY Plattsburgh, Levitte was enrolled in a university that didn’t support LGBT efforts.
“I went to a very conservative, Catholic college in Michigan for undergrad, and a Lavender Graduation Ceremony was absolutely not allowed. We weren’t even allowed to have a Gay-Straight Alliance student organization. For me as a young bisexual woman, it was devastating to not have that important part of my identity celebrated when I was graduating,” Levitte said. “I am personally committed to bringing awareness to queer joy and queer achievement.”
Leah Sweeny wants the lavender ceremonies to be a reminder of the good in the world.
“I think it is important to have the Lavender Ceremony because there is so much darkness in the world. There are many serious issues that need to be addressed in the LGBT community, but if we don’t have celebrations to honor the joy, the accomplishments, the achievements, the successes, and what was overcome despite all the challenges, it may be hard to see the good that still exists,” Sweeny said. “I want members of the queer community to know there is still good in this world, and here at SUNY Plattsburgh.”
Guests that attended the ceremony Wednesday were educated on the history of the Lavender Ceremony. Then watched a video recording from President Alexander Enyedi, who wished to be there but had family obligation.
There was also a speech from Chris Chamars, the executive director of institutional advancement at Clinton Community College, a member of the LGBT community as a trans man. Finally, winter graduates will be honored with a mini-graduation ceremony where a lavender cord will be draped around their necks, following a social hour with food and refreshments for attendees.
“LGBTQ+ students deal with many barriers to their education in college, from transphobic and homophobic remarks in classes and sexual harrassment in housing situations, to being dead-named and misgendered in various college-wide situations,” Levitte said. “When a group is marginalized, it is thus extremely important to celebrate, to remind us of why we continue to be out and proud, and why we should keep pushing for acceptance in society.”