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Credit: Nathan Adler

The LGBT Center’s seventh annual Lavender Graduation will be completely virtual this year, and will honor Penn’s LGBTQ+ graduates from undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. 

The Lavender Graduation will take place on Zoom on May 7 at 5 p.m., and feature individually designed slides for each graduate, three speakers, and two performances from the newly merged gender-inclusive Glee Club, Director of the LBGT Center Erin Cross and Associate Director of the LGBT Center Malik Muhammad said. Rainbow tassels will also be distributed to each graduate during the ceremony.

Although Penn only adopted the Lavender Graduation as a tradition in 2014, over 45 Lavender Graduation ceremonies were held at colleges and universities across the nation by 2001. The first ceremony, which celebrated three graduates, was created at the University of Michigan in 1995 by Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian who was prohibited from attending her biological children’s graduation ceremonies because of her own sexuality, Muhammad explained. 

Both Muhammed and Cross spoke to the importance of inclusivity in the plans for the ceremony. Any graduating LGBTQ+ Penn student can register for and be honored at the ceremony, they said, whether or not they are active in the LGBT Center’s community. 

Besides undergraduates, graduate and professional students alike will be honored at the event, Cross said, which is another factor that distinguishes the graduation from the schoolwide commencement ceremony. Penn’s Class of 2021 commencement will be held in person for undergraduates on May 17 with limitations on who can attend, while graduate and professional ceremonies will be separate and held entirely online. 

“It's always been important to us to have everybody in the same space celebrating their achievements,” Cross said. “So we're really excited that we have that breadth of folks and we can see folks in the LGBTQ+ community achieving different goals, doing different things.”

Cross emphasized the ceremony as a place where graduates can be their “full selves” and be celebrated for their accomplishments. In some cases, she said, graduates might not be out to their parents, or may not feel comfortable wearing the rainbow tassel or makeup in the schoolwide graduation ceremony.

The events of the ceremony will include a speech from Vice Provost for University Life Mamta Accapadi and a toast to the graduates given by Reverend William Gipson, the associate vice provost for equity and access, as well as a congratulatory video from PennGALA, Penn’s LGBT Alumni Association.

Muhammad and Cross added that they were especially excited to have the Penn Glee Club perform at the beginning and end of the event, as the LGBT Center supported the club’s recent decision to open its choir to singers of all genders.

College senior João Campos said that he’s looking forward to being able to take part in traditions like the rainbow tassels, as he has worked at the LGBT Center as a program assistant since his first year at Penn in 2017, and was part of the committee to organize this year’s virtual Lavender Graduation.

Another part of the ceremony will provide each graduating student with a chance to honor a mentor who has shaped their journey at Penn, Cross said.

Last year, Cross said the event was smaller than anticipated because of the virtual format, which meant the mentors and students alike were able to speak about their experiences with each other in “heartwarming" and "profound” speeches. She added that she is excited to again showcase these student-mentor relationships in the virtual ceremony this year.  

Campos chose his close friend, Felipe Gomez, who has also worked with him at the LBGT Center, to honor at the ceremony.

“He's one of the people who has been with me, part of my Penn journey,” Campos said. “I feel like we've just gone through a lot together. And we've worked at the center this whole time. So I felt like it made sense to put him there.”

Cross and Muhammad emphasized the importance of the Lavender Graduation ceremony for celebrating the LGBTQ+ community at Penn.

“More and more people feel like this is an important way to mark my journey here, that ‘this is a part of me that may not be what's always out there in the front, but it's important to me, and it was important in my journey here at Penn,’” Cross said. “And the more we can celebrate that and we can celebrate everybody and their whole selves, the better.” 

Muhammad agreed, adding that visibility and providing graduates an opportunity to celebrate with a more intimate community are also reasons for the Lavender Graduation’s significance. 

“It really is something that provides a chance to uplift a community that is oftentimes pushed to the margins,” Muhammad said. “So we don't want to just be in this marginalized space, but really want to center the queer and trans and nonbinary experience[s] of our folks here at the University.”

Muhammad and Cross said that assuming next year’s ceremony can be held in person, it will be larger than past ceremonies and in a new venue, as the LGBT Center may not be able to hold the increased number of participants who will attend.

“We hope to see it continue to grow, and more and more folks involved, so we can get into a new space, and make this thing bigger and better every year,” Cross said.