Susquehanna University didn’t host a Lavender Graduation until after Melissa Ballow left which made receiving her rainbow cord at Temple even more significant because she didn’t have that opportunity at her former school.
“It’s important to reach out to communities that have had additional education that they’ve needed to go through to be able to feel comfortable in themselves before they go through that big official graduation, to have an opportunity to commune with each other,” said Ballow, a third-year graduate student studying secondary education.
After three years of virtual ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership hosted Lavender Graduation in person Wednesday afternoon, where LGBTQ students received gift bags and rainbow cords to wear with their caps and gowns at the university’s graduation ceremonies.
IDEAL hosts Lavender Graduation to increase LGBTQ visibility on campus. Students can nominate each other or themselves by filling out a form with their name, pronouns and how they support the LGBTQ community at Temple and submitting it to IDEAL, said Nu’Rodney Prad, the director of student engagement at IDEAL.
The event started with remarks from Prad, along with Katrina Velasquez, IDEAL’s gender and sexuality inclusion graduate extern, and Valerie Dudley, the director of multicultural education and training.
Dudley introduced Gingi Wingard, Temple University President Jason Wingard’s wife, who gave a speech about the importance of the LGBTQ community at Temple and congratulated seniors on making it to graduation.
“I know you’ve been challenged in your time here at Temple, I know you’ve been challenged academically and personally, but you have persevered, and that is what it means to be Temple Made,” Gingi said.
Gingi’s speech was followed by a performance from members of Pitch, Please, Temple’s queer acapella group. Kirthana Kannan sang “Heal Me” by Grace Carter, and Nikki Moscony sang “I Know a Place” by Muna.
Following the second song, Kendall Stephens, a transgender activist and a junior public health and social work major, gave the event’s keynote speech about LGBTQ oppresion and intersectionality.
Stephens hopes her speech inspired students to think more about LGBTQ history and activism, and how that history impacts the LGBTQ community today, she said in an interview with The Temple News after the event.
“It was very important that I empower them as much as I could and allow them to tap into their resilience because this has been a very tough four years,” she said.
Attendees were called up individually to receive their rainbow cords at the podium and pick up their gift bag from a table at the back of the room.
After all seniors were honored, Pitch, Please performed two more songs, with Lauren Iglio singing “Midnight Sky” by Miley Cyrus and Benjamin Herstig singing “Look Up” by Joy Oladokun.
The group rehearsed for the ceremony all semester and chose to perform songs by LGBTQ artists to help share LGBTQ people’s expereinces, said Zoe Necowitz, a sophomore theater education major and president of Pitch, Please.
“Seeing all the love and support that exists here when so much hate is out there in the world, outside of the community, it’s really encouraging,” Necowitz said.
Lavender Graduation is a way for LGBTQ students and allies to support each other and acknowledge their process of self-discovery, she said.
Justin Ryan Allen, a senior political science major, wanted to be part of Lavender Graduation because connecting with other LGBTQ students is affirming and continues the legacy of LGBTQ activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, who co-created the transgender rights group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.
Jennifer Pollitt, the assistant director of the gender, sexuality and women’s studies program, told Allen about Lavender Graduation and encouraged them to nominate themself for their hard work in their gender, sexuality and women’s studies minor, Allen said.
Prad hopes Lavender Graduation increases visibility on campus for LGBTQ students and their hard work.
“Visibility creates that belonging, it allows other students — future students, prospective and current students — to be able to say ‘Oh my goodness, that person may have a very similar experience to what I have, that person is a part of a community or my tribe,’’” Prad said.