EWU shows its lavender at LGBTQ+ graduation ceremony


Nick Franco, the Pride Center manager, hosts the Lavender Graduation. EWU has been holding the ceremony since 2010 | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

By Kaitlyn Engen, Reporter

Tears flowed and hearts were touched as students modeled their colors across the stage at EWU’s ninth annual Lavender Graduation ceremony on May 4.

“I’m graduating really happy,” Ryan Simonis, an undergraduate senior speaker at the event, said.

EWU is one university out of a handful in the country that holds a Lavender Graduation. The ceremony is specifically dedicated to LGBTQ+ students and allies to honor their achievements throughout their educational careers.

Lavender Graduation, now expanding to many high schools and universities across the nation, holds a lot of history and meaning according to the Human Rights Campaign. The first Lavender Graduation was organized in 1995 at the University of Michigan by a woman who was prevented from attending a college graduation based on her sexuality.

In the LGBTQ+ community, the color lavender is a “mixture” of black and pink—the colors worn by gay and lesbian concentration camp prisoners in WWII. Today, the color lavender’s initial meaning is exchanged as a symbol of pride and togetherness for the LGBTQ+ community, and EWU was not afraid to show this off last Friday.

The “20 Gay Teen” (a play on words for “2018”) EWU ceremony celebrated 27 LGBTQ+ students from various high schools, community colleges and universities in the region: Rogers High School, Colville High School, Spokane Community College, Whitworth University and of course, EWU.

Spectators cheered with enthusiasm for every graduate adorned with lavender stoles and rainbow tassels to not only recognize their academic accomplishments, but to commemorate their search for identity and the hardships they might have faced as LBGTQ+ individuals in society.

“It’s finally the end and I get to spend it with the people that really mean a lot to me,” senior graduate student Carissa Voelker, also a speaker at the event, said.  

Lavender Graduation is just one way that EWU has continued its ongoing efforts for LGBTQ+ student representation and support on campus.  

Monica Serpas-Chase shows off her graduation certificate at EWU’s Lavender Graduation with her friend Dulce V. Gutierrez Vasquez | Mckenzie Ford for The Easterner

“[Before college,] No one in my family knew what to do, what to expect. I really had no  support in learning what to do and how to navigate the stress of it,” said Voelker, who is a first-generation college graduate. “Eastern from the very first day I was here provided me with a space where I felt I would be supported.”

The Pride Center in particular has provided a safe space for LGBTQ+ students since 2010. Being relocated from Showalter to the PUB next year, the Center is a meaningful place of remembrance for graduates reflecting on their experiences at EWU.

“I’m excited to see what happens with the Pride Center in terms of the new PUB, because when I first got here, we had been fighting all that first year I was here to get that first space,” Simonis said.

Post-Lavender Graduation, EWU looks forward to continuing its momentum in uplifting its current LGBTQ+ student population, giving them a reason to smile upon receiving their diploma as they look back at their college experience at EWU.

According to Nick Franco, the Pride Center manager who hosted Lavender Graduation, EWU will also eventually be the first university to host an LGBTQ+ housing dorm.