Lavender Graduation celebrates 30 LGBTQ+ students completing their degrees

by | May 16, 2022

UMSL's Office of Student Involvement has been organizing formal, public Lavender Graduation ceremonies since 2018.
Dee Drenning waves to the audience as she walks across the stage during Lavender Graduation

Studio art major Dee Drenning walks across the stage during the 2022 Lavender Graduation ceremony last Thursday in the Century Rooms of the Millennium Student Center. (Photos by Steve Walentik)

Graduation celebrations began even before the University of Missouri–St. Louis held the first of six commencement ceremonies over the weekend.

A crowd of nearly 100 people turned out to honor the accomplishments and perseverance of 30 LGBTQ+ students taking part in Lavender Graduation on Thursday afternoon in the Century Rooms of the Millennium Student Center.

As student speaker Megan Camp noted in her remarks, those students have overcome the odds.

Megan Camp speaks at Lavender Graduation

MSW graduate Megan Camp delivers one of the student speeches during Lavender Graduation.

“The American Psychological Association reported that one third of LGBTQ+ students drop out of just high school,” said Camp, who earned a master’s degree in social work. “So to all the graduates here tonight, you overcame the high possibility of being part of a dropout statistic, and that’s why achievements like this must be recognized and celebrated.”

Lavender Graduation is a tradition started by educator and author Ronni Sanlo, who identifies as a Jewish lesbian and who had been denied the opportunity to attend the graduations of her biological children because of her sexual orientation. She held the first Lavender Graduation at the University of Michigan in 1995 while directing what would come to be known as the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs.

By 2001, there were 45 Lavender Graduations held across the country, and that number has continued to rise to more than 1,000 over the past two decades. UMSL’s Office of Student Involvement has been holding formal, public Lavender Graduation ceremonies since 2018.

Camp and fellow graduate Amanda Lopez Cachan each spoke to an audience of friends, family and members of the UMSL faculty and staff about their experiences pursuing their education while finding acceptance within themselves and from people around them to live as their authentic selves.

“Our community empowers us to live a life of authenticity,” Camp said. “I know this because every time I’m in public with my partner and we see another couple from the LGBTQ+ community, we turn and whisper so silly like, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re like us.’ Going back to my self-discovering journey, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I completely let go of what others would think because I just wanted to stop living what felt like a double life with my family. This is when I realized there’s so much empowerment in the self-acceptance of their own identity.”

Amanda Lopez Cachan speaks at Lavender Graduation

Amanda Lopez Cachan, the president of PRIZM and the UMSL Chapter of Associated Students of the University of Missouri, shares her gratitude for the support she received from UMSL’s LGBTQ+ community.

Lopez Cachan described herself as disenchanted with higher education when she enrolled at UMSL two years ago after earning an associate degree at Marshalltown Community College in Iowa. But she got a job as the LGBTQ+ and diversity initiatives student programs manager in the Office of Student Involvement.

“This job challenged me as a person, but it was also the first indicator I had that, ‘Hey, maybe I am going to be OK at this school,’” Lopez Cachan said. “The queer community at UMSL is small, as you all probably know, but it was what I needed to motivate me.”

While pursuing her degree in political science, she has served as the president of PRIZM, UMSL’s Queer-Trans-Straight Student Alliance, and also has been the president of the UMSL chapter of Associated Students of the University of Missouri and the fundraising chair for the Women Empowering Women at UMSL.

“I want to congratulate myself, and I want you to do the same,” Lopez Cachan said. “All of us have this beautiful, creative stories inside of us. And it’s time to be proud of ourselves for it. I want all of you to think about your journeys to this moment and be thankful for your resilience, your perseverance and yourself. Thank you all for being a part of the UMSL LGBTQ+ community. I know that with your presence you gave all of us a place to feel comfortable enough to reach our goals. I felt alone before finding you.”

Ariana Smith, UMSL’s former LGBTQ+ and Diversity Coordinator, served as the master of ceremonies for the event and presented each of the graduates with lavender chords and a purple stole with rainbow-colored stripes and a pink triangle.

Susan Kashubeck-West delivers the keynote address at Lavender Graduation

Professor Susan Kashubeck-West gives her keynote address at last week’s Lavender Graduation ceremony.

Tanisha Stevens, the vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion, and Chancellor Kristin Sobolik also delivered remarks and offered their congratulations during the event.

Professor Susan Kashubeck-West, the associate chair in the Department of Education Sciences and Professional Programs, gave the keynote address to conclude the program. She congratulated the graduates and encouraged them to apply the perseverance they learned while pursuing their degrees to the continued fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

“What we do matters,” Kashubeck-West said. “A lot of people doing small things can create big change, and so I encourage you to not wait for those opportunities for advocacy to come to you but to search it out.”

Congratulations to the following graduates who registered to be a part of the 2022 Lavender Graduation:

Bachelor’s degrees
Amanda Lopez Cachan, political science
Amia Patrice McLemore, international relations
Anna Joyce Betts, organizational leadership
Brittany Ehmke, nursing
Casey Miller, civil engineering
Charles Travion White, media studies
Clarissa Lilanna Reel, gender studies
Dee Drenning, studio art
Elizabeth Whitmore, psychology
Enola Ann Kiely, English
Gwendolen Minks, communication
Jordan Mori, psychology and criminal justice
Kai Perry, studio practice
Malik Lendell, media studies
Maya Josephine Harter, supply chain management
Rebecca Taylor, social work
Ryan Michael Lowry, history
Tarek Hamdan, accounting and marketing

Master’s degrees
Brittany Elizabeth Joy, biochemistry and biotechnology
Dominique LaMeecha Stringer, education
Jessica Guadalupe Aguilar-Adan, criminology and criminal justice
Kevin Conrad Knarr, clinical mental health counseling
Megan Elizabeth Camp, social work
Mindy Choo, marketing
Moss Bailey, cellular and molecular biology
Natalie Rose Piper, public policy administration
Sydnee Ann Marie Maberry, social work

Doctoral degrees
Amy Lynn Roznos, heritage leadership, sustainability, social justice and participatory culture
Caitlin Leah Crain, heritage leadership, sustainability, social justice and participatory culture
Javania Michelle Webb, educational leadership and policy studies

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Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik

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