Harry Hawkins, former LGBTQ+ coordinator for UMSL, gives the keynote address at the 2021 Lavender Graduation.

Harry Hawkins, UMSL’s former LGBTQ+ coordinator, gives the keynote address during the 2021 Lavender Graduation (Screenshot).

For former University of Missouri–St. Louis LGBTQ program coordinator Harry Hawkins, it was a point of pride to deliver the keynote address for UMSL’s 2021 Lavender Graduation, an annual ceremony to honor LGBTQ+ students and their achievements, successes and leadership. 

Hawkins served as UMSL’s first-ever LGBTQ+ coordinator from 2017-2020 and is currently the assistant director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center at Case Western Reserve University. 

He told the online audience that during his time at UMSL, he saw so many LGBTQ+ students shine in the face of adversity.

“To be LGBTQ in this day and age is one of adversity and great promise,” Hawkins said. “We all know how resilient you all are. Some of you are first generation students working to support yourselves and maybe your family too. And many of you, over this time, have been living your authentic selves. My hope is that this pandemic has shown to you what many of us already saw and that each of you are brave, beautiful and resilient individuals.”

Eight students registered to be a part of this year’s Lavender Graduation, which is open to students who are graduating with their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees.

The Lavender Graduation began at the University of Michigan 25 years ago by educator and author Ronni Sanlo, who identifies as a Jewish lesbian, to celebrate LGBTQ+ student achievement. There are currently more than 200 Lavender Graduation ceremonies at colleges and universities.

Hawkins, who also worked as an organizer for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, said he dedicated himself to advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community when the death of a college friend made him realize that he could not insulate himself from injustices faced by people in the LGBTQ+ community.

“LGBTQ people are being killed, discriminated against,” he said. “I can’t just sit on the fence, be selfish, reap the benefits. And so ever since that moment, way back on a beach in 2008, I really dedicated my life to wanting to better my community and better all folks in that community, including myself. And to make it better to where we don’t have LGBTQ people being kicked out of their homes, we don’t have them losing their lives.”

Hawkins told the graduates, and their friends, families and allies who were tuned in, that in order for them to “go out there and kick ass and change the world,” they have to find their “why.”

“If you know your ‘why’ you will have your feet firmly planted on the ground and all of the amazing things that you are,” Hawkins said. “In these moments of crisis from the death of a friend in college, the Pulse nightclub shooting and COVID-19 over this past year, I would always think back to the ‘why.’ Because that ‘why’ is what is my bedrock of clarity and strength in those moments where I feel shaky.”

Moderator and Associate Director of Student Involvement Mindy Dilley made an important and especially appropriate announcement during the graduation ceremony.

“I would like to share some exciting news,” Dilley said. “As of Monday, we have filled the LGBTQ+ diversity coordinator position here in the Office of Student Involvement.”

Dilley said that the new program coordinator, whose name has not been announced, will begin in June, the month designated nationally to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.

Congratulations to the following graduates who registered to be a part of the 2021 Lavender Graduation:

  • Mark A. Allen, bachelor’s in psychology and a minor in sociology
  • Renee Brugmann, master’s in criminology and criminal justice
  • Kristine Carey, doctor of education
  • Samantha Fairchild, bachelor’s in anthropology
  • Tiffany McBain, bachelor’s in psychology, minor in communication
  • Rose Logan, bachelor’s in criminology and a minor in psychology and sociology
  • Lexi Neal, bachelor’s in music and vocal performance and a minor in French
  • Melody Newberry, bachelor’s in anthropology
Ramona Curtis

Ramona Curtis