Sixth annual Lavender Graduation a reminder to celebrate inclusion, advocacy, and intersectional social justice

June 02, 2017

Author: Andrew Greenman, '10

lavender graduation image

The sixth annual Lavender Graduation ceremony, a celebration featuring the 2017 graduates from the LGBTQA community, along with allies, was held at the Elstad Auditorium on May 10, 2017.

Emma Balderas, class of 2018 and Joseph Antonio, class of 2020, emceed the ceremony. Emcees are selected based on their charisma and interaction with the audience, as well as their energy and dedication to the LGBTQA campus community.

Edgar Palmer, '77, executive director of the Office of Diversity and Equity for Students, opened the ceremony with welcoming remarks, reminding the community to continue being vigilant and not allowing their rights to be stripped away.

"Fight for what you believe in, and for your rights," said Palmer. "Together, we can make a difference. This is vital to the future of the deaf community. Our Lavender Graduation ceremony helps unify the community and ensure everyone feels included."

Dr. Cara Miller, G-'10 & PhD '11, coordinator of the LGBTQA Resource Center, acknowledged the positive direction the ceremony took.

"Labels change, names change, identities change, sometimes more quickly than we can keep up with," said Miller. "I want to encourage you to hold on to the conviction of your truths in spite of the changing world all around you, and in spite of the challenges like inequality, oppression, and violence. I also want to encourage you to remain open and curious.

"I'm delighted by the continued growth and increased recognition of the Lavender Graduation tradition here at Gallaudet. This ceremony, also observed by our counterparts in higher education around the country, marks an important milestone for LGBTQA students who in many cases have had to surmount numerous challenges stemming from bias and discrimination related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Most importantly, this ceremony also provides the opportunity for the LGBTQA Resource Center to recognize and thank the 'movers and shakers' among the students, faculty, and staff who work tirelessly to make our campus a more LGBTQA-inclusive and affirming place."

Nayo Lim Franck, G-'17, who graduated with a Masters in ASL and Deaf Studies, gave the student address, concentrating on her experiences as a LGBTQA student of color at Gallaudet.

"What they say is true-there is no other place like Gallaudet in the world," said Franck. "This served as a reminder for me to appreciate what I have, and you all should, too. Let's always work together as a team, across communities."

Barbara Kannapell, PhD '61, an internationally known scholar and lecturer on bilingualism of American Sign Language, English, and Deaf Culture, gave her keynote address. Dr. Kannapell had worked at Gallaudet for 25 years as a researcher, linguistics specialist, and staff fellow, and was selected as a model deaf LGBTQA member who came out of the closet long before it was safe to identify as such. Dr. Kannapell reflected on the old days before coming out was an option.

"We used to have code words we would use in lieu of labels," said Kannapell. "For example, baseball was used to designate bisexuality."

She fondly recalled going to the Grand Canyon for the very first time with her partner, and seeing the world slowly begin to accept the LGBTQA community.

"You are very lucky, compared to me during my time," said Kannapell to the audience.

President Roberta J. Cordano agreed.

"What Dr. Kannapell said was on target," said Cordano. "Always love yourselves, and when you go out in the world, share your love with others. It is not always easy, but we will always be here to support you."

Awards were handed out to the following graduating students and University staff:

  • "Drago Renteria Commitment to the LGBTQA Community Award" (the highest award to honor a student who provided extraordinary service and outstanding leadership in helping strengthen the LGBTQA community and promote LGBTQA issues and awareness) to Nayo Lim Franck, G-'17.
  • "Faculty/Staff Commitment Award" (bestowed upon a staff or faculty member for going above and beyond the call of duty to support LGBTQA students and the LGBTQA Resource Center) to Risa Shaw, AAS-'83, professor and graduate program coordinator of the Department of Linguistics, and Usherla DeBerry, '99, executive assistant at the Office of the President.
  • "Most Distinguished Ally Award" (bestowed upon an ally who is recognized for their strength in advocating for equality and equity for the LGBTQA community) to Felicia Williams, '12 & G-'13, lecturer and ASL Center coordinator for the ASL and Deaf Studies department.
  • "Rainbow Keeper Award" (bestowed upon a department, program, or campus organization that worked proactively to promote an LGBTQA-affirming campus climate) to the Department of Linguistics.

The ceremony concluded with purple tassels, stoles, and Lavender diplomas handed to graduates by members of the administration. Certificates of Appreciation were also handed out to advocates among faculty and staff members, to thank them for their tireless advocacy, designed specifically by the graduates. A reception was held following the ceremony.

Photo by Zhee Chatmon.