Lavender ceremony celebrates queer graduates for fifth year

By Michelle Meyer, Staff Reporter

Columbia’s Lavender Ceremony took place Thursday, May 4, 2023, at Haus, located at 623 S. Wabash Ave. Lavender ceremonies are used in multiple institutions as a means to recognize and celebrate LGBTQ+ graduates. Bianca Kreusel

Over 60 graduating students were recognized at this year’s Lavender Ceremony—an event that celebrates LGBTQ+ graduates. Lavender-colored cords were given to the students, so they are able to wear them during the main graduation ceremonies next week.

This is the fifth year Columbia hosted the ceremony and the first time it was held at the event space Haus, located within the Quincy Wong Center for Artistic Expression at the 623 S. Wabash Ave. building. The ceremony is solely organized by Matthew Rillie, the Coordinator of Student Support and Engagement in the Student Diversity and Inclusion Office, and LGBTQ+ programming intern Aaliyah Lindsey.

Rillie approached SDI to create the first Lavender Ceremony in 2019—and paid for it himself—before they worked in the SDI department. They hope that a committee is created so more staff and students can help with the ceremony planning process in the future.

The Lavender Ceremony had 12 registered graduates the first year, and this year there are 63 students, Rillie said.

“I hope it grows because I know there’s more than 63 graduates who can be celebrated and I’m really glad that there’s 63,” Rillie said.

It is estimated that over one-third of Columbia’s students identify as LGBTQ+, Rillie said.

Lindsey, a senior fine arts major, performed their own original song “Done” for the first time to kick off the event. They said they were always interested in working with SDI so when the LGBTQ+ programming internship opened, it was the perfect opportunity.

“I felt connected to SDI since my sophomore year here,” Lindsey said. “It just feels like a huge honor because I’ve looked up to these folks for a while now.”

Columbia alum and former Instructor in the Communications Department Kristen Kaza was the keynote speaker at the event. She is an event producer, known for putting on queer celebrations and parties in Chicago. She spoke about the historic importance of nightlife for LGBTQ+ communities to feel free and safe.

“It’s a space where people have been able to explore to find their truth and feel affirmed in that,” Kaza said.

She said it was a full circle moment to have her brother and parents together again since she was just coming out as lesbian when she graduated from Columbia, and that caused a rift in her family. Kaza was given a cord of her own since Columbia did not have a Lavender Ceremony when she graduated in 2007.

Kaza’s “work in our city is very much making queer spaces, making queer parties, making queer celebrations,” Rillie said. “Naming and recognizing that queer spaces can mean so much and they’re always challenged, they’re not a given, they’re hard to make.”

Lavender graduations started in 1995 when Dr. Ronni Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian, was denied from attending her children’s graduation because of her sexual orientation. The color lavender represents the combination of the pink triangle gay men were forced to wear and the black triangle lesbians were forced to wear in Nazi Germany.

The SDI office, in collaboration with Columbia’s Asian Student Organization and Latino Alliance, also honored Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander graduates this year with their own stoles to represent their cultural backgrounds at graduation.

Anyone who registered as an LGBTQ+ graduate can pick up their cords in the Student Diversity and Inclusion office next week.

Rillie said they hope for more support for LGBTQ+ students from the college in the future.

“What we would like is some more hands-on-deck, concerted effort so that it feels less isolated and more big institutional things,” Rillie said.