Another page of William Paterson University history was penned this month when the institution held its first-ever Lavender Graduation Ceremony for LGBTQIA+ students and allies. Though the ceremony had to be held virtually due to the COVID-19 crisis, the message of acceptance, support, and celebration in the face of adversity rang out nonetheless.
“You now rank among approximately one third of Americans who hold a four-year college degree, and one more reason to be extra proud is that percentage is even lower in the LGBTQIA+ community given our historic marginalization in the broader society,” said William Paterson University President Richard J. Helldobler in kicking off the ceremony. “By sticking with your education and getting your degree, all of you are helping to improve that situation…as we struggle and fight for equality.”
WATCH THE CEREMONY HERE.
Yolany Gonell, director of the University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Black Cultural Center, helped plan this year’s historic Lavender Graduation Ceremony as part of a committee comprised of students from Pride Alliance and representatives from the Women’s Center and Residence Life.
“The Lavender Graduation Ceremony is a remarkable way to acknowledge the great achievements of students who may have varied experiences of challenges and obstacles as young adults making meaning of who they are, their intersecting identities, and how to show up in a world that is not always friendly or accepting of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Non-Binary, Queer people,” Gonell says.
“I love that we can celebrate the simplest value of ‘BEING’ authentic and living unapologetically. Lavender graduates don’t have to do anything extra to receive this recognition,” she continues. “They don’t have to be part of a club or have made any big contribution for social change – they just have to ‘BE’. Be here, be present and be proud of who they are.”
Gonell also acknowledges those LGBTQIA+ members of the Class of 2020 who self-identified as such by completing a form, but who did not consent to having their identities revealed through the ceremony.
Making WP’s inaugural Lavender Graduation ceremony even more “remarkable” was the fact that it was one of 12 broadcasted online as part of a national Lavender Graduation celebration spearheaded by two of the largest and most prominent national organizations that advocate for LGTBQIA+ people, allies, and their families: Campus Pride and PFLAG National.
Additionally, four new recognition awards were debuted during William Paterson University’s ceremony, presented by WP resident director Steven Marks to LGBTQIA+ students who exemplify the institution’s core values of diversity and inclusion.
The Pride Alliance Rising Star Award—for a Pride Alliance member who goes above and beyond in their commitment and initiative to support the organization—went to Alyssa Robbins ‘20; the Building Bridges Award—recognizing the building of coalitions and lobbying for LGBTQIA+ issues and events—went to Alexia Mairagas ‘21; the Outstanding Ally Award—honoring a LBGBTQIA+ ally whose words and action help make WP a more inclusive campus for all—went to Kate Ferraro ‘20; and the Lavender Leadership Award—for outstanding leadership, dedication, or service that has led to new LGBTQIA+ resources at WP—went to Sacha Matthew Trinidad ’20.
Trinidad, president of Pride Alliance, accepted their award during the Lavender Ceremony. In thanking members of the campus community and their own parents, Trinidad also expressed remorse that the ceremony—for which they advocated—had to take place virtually.
“I’m sorry that we don’t get to be at school to see each other and accept these awards in person. I’m sorry that we don’t get to walk with our cords and our stoles to show that we are here, we are part of the campus, part of the school, and we are an important group,” Trinidad said. “I’m sorry we don’t get to show our friends and family that moment.”
President Helldobler challenged the Lavender graduates to show the world at large what an important group they are—long after their days as WP students.
“It is my strong hope that as you move out into the world as an educated member of society, that you will ponder the need to advocate for those that follow in your path,” Helldobler said. “I know that the world will be a better place for all of us in the LGBTQIA+ community because you are in it, out doing great things, being proud.”
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