Section: News

Virtual Lavender Graduation celebrates LGBTQ+ seniors

Virtual Lavender Graduation celebrates LGBTQ+ seniors

Each year, Kenyon’s Lavender Graduation provides a space for celebrating the accomplishments of LGBTQ+ seniors, as well as recognizing service and leadership from students, staff and organizations across campus. Despite Kenyon’s community being spread across the country and world, this year was no different.

Kenyon’s first virtual Lavender Graduation took place on Tuesday, April 28 via Zoom. The ceremony had a strong turnout, with over 70 unique Zoom connections and an estimated 85 students, staff, friends and family in attendance. Among the recipients of the LGBTQ+ Service Awards this year were Micah Fisher ’20, recipient of the Outstanding Advocacy Award, and Teddy Hannah-Drullard ’20, recipient of the Kenyon PRIDE Senior Leader Award.

Timothy Bussey, assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), told the Collegian he was happy that he and others were able to organize his favorite annual event despite the challenges of putting together a remote ceremony.

“While this year’s virtual Lavender Graduation was certainly different than our annual in-person ceremony, we couldn’t have been happier with the excitement for our graduating LGBTQ+ seniors,” Bussey wrote in an email to the Collegian.

In fact, Hannah-Drullard thought that there was a major benefit to hosting the event on Zoom, which they believed allowed for a greater attendance than previous ceremonies.

“I honestly think attendance via Zoom should be an option for all events now,” they wrote in a message to the Collegian. “LGBTQ+ events are often small affairs due to inconvenient times, so they don’t usually reflect the true vastness of the support network we’re so lucky to have here at Kenyon.”

When colleges across the country began announcing their shift to remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester, many of them cancelled their Lavender Graduation ceremonies. According to Bussey, this was never something ODEI considered.

In fact, ODEI has been among the most active college departments since the College went remote, regularly hosting online events such as one for Trans Day of Visibility, a virtual tour of the AIDS Memorial Quilt exhibition at the Gund Gallery and regular meetings with ODEI-affiliated student groups.

With this wealth of experience, ODEI was able to arrange a virtual program that was roughly the same as an in-person event. The invocation was delivered by Liz Keeney, associate director of student accessibility and support services, and President Sean Decatur made his remarks in his tam, the purple cap that he wears his regalia for Commencement exercises. After the President’s remarks, a speaker chosen by the Unity House Managers delivers a keynote address. Associate Professor of Chemistry Simon Garcia delivered the keynote this year, and he was introduced by Fisher and Hannah-Drullard, who are co-managers of Unity House.

In addition to Fisher and Hannah-Drullard, several other students and staff were recognized at the ceremony. Micah Smith ’22 won the Rising Star Award, Chaplain Rachel Kessler ’04 won the Faculty/Staff Award and Bussey won the Trailblazer Award. The Gund Gallery was recognized as the Outstanding Departmental Ally for celebrating art from the LGBTQ+ community throughout the year, namely in the Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A. exhibition. In addition, the total number of nominations for these awards was higher this year than in the previous three years combined.

After presenting the service awards, Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 and Provost Joseph Klesner presented the lavender cords, albeit virtually, that recognized students are given to wear at graduation. Bussey was able to wear his cords, though, and he reminded attendees that the celebration was not just for them, but also for the LGBTQ+ seniors who were not out and those unable to participate in Lavender Graduation.

Bussey believes that the event helped people to feel connected, despite their distance, and appreciated for their accomplishments.

Hannah-Drullard echoed this, expressing that having over 80 people in attendance, including alumni who otherwise would not have been able to be present for the event, was especially meaningful.

“It’s tough to put into words how important that is, especially for those of us who have to pretend to be someone else in front of our families, or who don’t have any family anymore except the one we’ve been blessed with at Kenyon,” they wrote.

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