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What is Lavender Commencement?

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Lavender Commencement is the annual ceremony conducted at Cal Poly to honor students of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, queer, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, non-binary, agender, intersex and questioning students and notable allies and acknowledge their achievements and contributions to the University. 

The Lavender Graduation Ceremony was created by Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish Lesbian, who was denied the opportunity to attend the graduations of her biological children because of her sexual orientation.  It was through this experience that she came to understand the pain felt by her students.  Encouraged by the Dean of Students at the University of Michigan, Dr. Sanlo designed the first Lavender Graduation Ceremony in 1995.  The first Lavender Graduation began at the University of Michigan in 1995, with three graduates.  By 2001, there were over 45 Lavender Graduation Ceremonies at Colleges and Universities nationwide.  Graduating students, including undergraduates and graduates, are invited to take part in the celebration, which occurs each year the week prior to university-wide commencement events.

2020 marks our 13th Lavender Commencement at Cal Poly.

Why a Lavender Commencement Ceremony?

For decades students at colleges and universities around the country have been celebrating both their academic achievements and their cultural heritages at specialized commencement events. Many of these events are student-initiated and usually occur during the university-wide commencement weekend. These events provide a sense of community for underrepresented students who often experience tremendous culture shock at their impersonalized institutions. For many students they are the payoff for staying in school, and friends and families find the smaller, more ethnic ceremonies both meaningful and personal.

Lavender Commencement is a cultural celebration that recognizes LGBTQ+ students of all races and ethnicities and acknowledges their achievements and contributions to the university as students who survived the college experience. Through such recognition LGBTQ+ students may leave the university with a positive last experience of the institution thereby encouraging them to become involved mentors for current students as well as financially contributing alumni.

Lavender Commencement is an event to which LGBTQ+ students look forward, where they not only share their hopes and dreams with one another, but where they are officially recognized by the institution for their leadership and their successes and achievements.

The Significance of "Lavender"

Lavender is important to LGBTQ+ history.  It is a combination of the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps and the black triangle designating lesbians as political prisoners in Nazi Germany.  The LGBTQ+ civil rights movement took these symbols of hatred and combined them to make symbols and color of pride and community.

The Spring 2020 Lavender Commencement will be held virtually featuring notable guests from the Human Rights Campaign, Campus Pride, GLSEN, PFLAG, and other notable queer and trans leaders.  The Keynote will feature the Honorable "Auntie" Maxine Waters.  Sign up below to participate. 

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