Aric Faulkner ’12 certainly picked the right year to help launch Illinois State’s first graduation celebration for LGBTQ students and their allies.
Earlier this semester, Illinois State hosted the Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference, the largest such college conference in the nation. ISU Pride just kicked off its Color Me Queer campaign to create a discourse on LGBTQ issues, and a new class (Introduction to LGBT/Queer Studies) is introducing students to the field of LGBTQ studies and the perspective of queer theory. Just last year, two ISU grads worked with Alumni Relations to launch the University’s LGBTQA Alumni Network.
“Illinois State was primed to have its first Lavender Graduation,” said Danny Mathews ’11, M.S. ’13, a specialist for Diversity Advocacy in the Dean of Students Office and advisor to ISU Pride. “All of these things are working together to really give life to this community on campus.”
The inaugural LGBTQA ceremony, called Lavender Graduation, was held Wednesday, May 6, in the Bone Student Center. Faulkner and 24 other graduates participated in the ceremony featuring music by the Clef Hangers, remarks by President Larry Dietz, and special reflections from other graduating students.
Illinois State is only the latest campus to host a Lavender Graduation, an event that was created at the University of Michigan in 1995. It’s one of several smaller pre-commencement celebrations hosted at Illinois State every year; Umoja: Celebration of Black Graduates is another notable example.
“It has taken 20 years for this ceremony to blossom into reality at Illinois State University,” Dietz said to the students who walked across the stage to receive their rainbow-colored cords. “And I know in my heart it will become an annual and celebrated event on our campus for years to come.”
Faulkner, who last year won the Student Partner in Diversity Award, was a student advocate for diversity even before he started exploring whether ISU could host its own Lavender Graduation. He also knew the founder of the original Lavender Graduation, Ronni Sanlo, who mentored him through the process.
“It’s a very unique celebration that has its own spin to it at every institution that has one,” Faulkner said.
Over the past year, a coalition of student leaders and Illinois State staff members planned “Lav Grad.” That group included ISU Pride leaders Katie Schuette and Mary Dougherty; Dean of Students Art Munin; Dave Bentlin ’88, ’93 from the President’s Office; Mandy Dartt ’03 from the Women’s and Gender Studies program; as well as Faulkner and Mathews.
“Most importantly, as I reflect and I think about the impact this event will have on our campus, I feel proud about being able to leave behind some sort of legacy for future students at the institution,” said Faulkner, who is graduating with a master’s degree in college student personnel administration.
Munin was one of the featured speakers at the event, giving the unique history of Lavender Graduation celebrations on college campuses.
“I am excited to see Lavender Graduation come to fruition not only for the opportunity to celebrate our graduates, but also to communicate to every other member of the LGBTQA community at ISU that you matter and you belong,” said Munin, an assistant vice president at Illinois State.
Former ISU Pride advisor Barb Dallinger ’81, M.S.E. ’01, a founding member of the alumni network, gave the keynote speech about the history and evolution of ISU’s LGBTQA community.
“When students exited after Lavender Graduation, I wanted them to really feel like ISU sees them, validates their contribution to this campus community, that they feel like they matter to this University,” said Mathews.
Bentlin, who is a co-founder of the LGBTQA Alumni Network, congratulated the graduates at the ceremony and noted he had great confidence in the future.
“You have heard the phrase, ‘It gets better,'” he said, “I want to tell you that you have made it better, and the future is brighter than we ever imagined.”
Graduating students can learn more about Illinois State’s LGBTQA Alumni Network.
See more photos from Lavender Graduation on Illinois State’s Flickr page.
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu. Rachel Hatch can be reached at rkhatch@IllinoisState.edu.