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OU's first Lavender Graduation allows LGBTQ students to walk stage with pride

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Chris Ebert

Chris Ebert sits outside of the Oklahoma Memorial Union April 25. Ebert will walk in OU's first Lavender graduation. 

OU student Chris Ebert will graduate this May alongside fellow LGBTQ students, who for the first time have the opportunity to participate in two ceremonies — one for their diplomas, the other to honor their identities.

Ebert is not just participating in the event — he has been planning the Lavender Graduation for months. The Gender + Equality Center student intern said the graduation ceremony is designed to acknowledge the unique experiences graduating LGBTQ students have had during college.

“LGBTQ people are a historically marginalized group of people, so our experience through college is a little bit different than everyone else’s,” said Ebert, a sociology and non-profit administration senior. “It’s a major part of my identity … so I think it’s really cool to recognize the specific struggles that students have.”

The Lavender Graduation is not a new concept, but this is OU’s first time hosting one.

“I think it’s something that we’ve always wanted to happen on campus, so now we’re taking the initiative to do it,” Ebert said.

The tradition of Lavender Graduation ceremonies began in 1995 at the University of Michigan, and they are now held at hundreds of campuses, according to the Human Rights Campaign website. Lavender has historically represented LGBTQ identities, said Erin Simpson, director of the Gender + Equality Center.

“(The ceremony) is actually one of the things that the Campus Pride Index evaluates a campus on,” Simpson said. “Around its readiness or its inclusivity of LGBTQ students.”

OU has a 3.5 out of 5 on the Campus Pride Index, which gives a list of criteria a campus should meet to be LGBTQ-friendly, according to its website.

The graduation will feature Megan Sibbett, professor of women’s and gender studies, as the main speaker, as well as speakers from the OU LGBTQ Alumni Society. Students will also have the option to be identified by their chosen names and pronouns.

The Lavender Graduation is not in place of OU’s larger ceremony, but in addition to it, Simpson said.

“Commencement and convocations, they honor your academic contribution to the institution, and certainly any cultural graduation celebration is going to do that, because you’re graduating — that’s a big deal,” Simpson said. “But (Lavender Graduation) also honors the fact that maybe the university was a little bit of a different space for you.”

Joe Sangirardi is president of the OU LGBTQ Alumni Society and a 2013 letters graduate who is helping get the word out about the Lavender Graduation to OU alumni.

LGBTQ resources at OU have improved since Sangirardi’s time in the university, he said. The majority of the alumni society’s members did not come out as undergraduates because there was not as much cultural acceptance, even as early as a decade ago, Sangirardi said.

“I think I would have loved to (have a Lavender Graduation),” Sangirardi said. “I think having a Lavender Graduation also can be an extraordinarily exciting thing for our alumni to learn about. Because so many of them went to the university, you know, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years ago, and in a time when they didn’t feel they could be out.”

Jake Mazeitis, letters, international studies and women’s and gender studies senior, said that he is excited to walk in the Lavender Graduation and celebrate the past four years with his “LGBTQ siblings.”

“Graduation ceremonies are often just as much about the families and support networks as the graduate,” Mazeitis said in an email to The Daily. “However, if your family is not affirming and chooses not to acknowledge your full identity, be that through acknowledging a partner, your real name, or some other facet of your identity, then you lose the opportunity to celebrate your amazing accomplishments as your authentic self.”

Ebert is also looking forward to the ceremony and celebrating his and other LGBTQ students’ hard work in finishing college.

The ceremony tells students that “sometimes it was hard to navigate (college), but you figured it out and you were successful,” Ebert said.

The Lavender Graduation will be at 5 p.m. May 7 in the Molly Shi Boren Ballroom of the Oklahoma Memorial Union, and is open to graduates and guests as well. Participants are welcome to register until May 3.

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