President Maloney and the Lavender graduates

University celebrates LGBTQIA community in Lavender Graduation

May 14, 2024
By: Nancy Sheehan

Worcester State University honored lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally students to acknowledge their achievements and contributions at its second annual Lavender Graduation May 9.

There was a standing-room-only crowd in the Blue Lounge as nearly 20 students who took part in the Lavender Ceremony were given lavender stoles to wear at Commencement, representing their accomplishments as LGBTQIA+ students/allies. 

Lavender Graduation recognizes the unique challenges and experiences that LGBTQ+ students may have faced during their academic journey and honors their resilience and perseverance, said Alison Park, assistant director of the LGBTQIA+ Resource Center, which hosted the event. It also serves as a reminder of the progress that has been made in LGBTQ+ rights and equality, while acknowledging the ongoing struggles and discrimination that the community faces.

“If you’re here today as a student, I thank you. I congratulate you, and I want you to know that your presence here is so important to our community,” Park said. “Your identity and unique LGBTQ+ student experience is officially recognized and celebrated by us all.”

Park welcomed guests and President Barry M. Maloney gave opening remarks followed by student speaker, Lily Morgan ’25, who is secretary of the LGBTQ+ Alliance Student Club. The keynote speaker was Patrick Hare ’12, M.S.’14, executive assistant to the president at Clark University and formerly a staff associate in the Worcester State president’s office.

President Maloney delivered a message of encouragement and inspiration to the graduates. He emphasized the importance of getting involved on campus and in the community, and encouraged the graduates to continue learning, exploring, and advocating for change. He also expressed his confidence in the graduates’ abilities and their potential to make a positive impact in the world.

“I stand with you in support of you as you go forward,” President Maloney said. “To all of you today, enjoy this Lavender Graduation and enjoy the graduation next Saturday. I hope to be able to shake your hands individually as you cross that stage. This is a wonderful time of the academic year and I’m so proud to be part of this celebration.”

In his keynote speech, Hare said Worcester State University helped him overcome his shyness in his first few months at the school by providing a sense of community and belonging. He said he found the university to be a place where people saw him for who he was and allowed him to be himself. The Pride Alliance played a significant role in his journey, he said, as it provided a sense of activism and a platform to discuss LGBTQ+ issues.

Hare also said he was encouraged by faculty and staff, particularly Kristie McNamara, director of the Office of Student Involvement, to use his voice and get involved in student government. This support and encouragement helped him gain confidence and grow as a person, and he urged the graduates to also recognize their strengths and to use them to society’s benefit.

“As you stand at the threshold of a world eagerly awaiting your unique talents, passion, and commitment to making a positive difference, remember that you hold the power to shape the future,” he said. “You have the potential to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive society for all.”

In her remarks, Morgan shared some of her own journey of personal growth and encouraged the graduates to continue to learn and grow despite obstacles that may come their way.

“I have been asked and judged about my sexuality before, but take my advice, and don’t let that stop you,” she said. “I could not tell you how many friends I have that are queer and if they are not, are accepting.”

After the speeches, the students came up from the audience to get their lavender stoles as Drew Goins, a counselor with Worcester State counseling services, called their names. 

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. Encouraged by the dean of students at the University of Michigan, Dr. Sanlo designed the first Lavender Graduation Ceremony in 1995 at the University of Michigan with three graduates. By 2001, there were more than 45 Lavender Graduation Ceremonies at Colleges and Universities nationwide. 

“Fast forward to today and there are over 200 lavender graduation celebrations across the U.S.,” Park said. “Worcester State continues to be part of that growing number.”

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