Three hundred members of the LGBTQ community and allies gathered at the ninth annual Lavender Graduation ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of the class of 2017 in the Healey Family Student Center Great Room last night.
Organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center and the Tagliabue Initiative for LGBTQ Life, the celebration recognized 113 students from all undergraduate and graduate schools of Georgetown University. It featured speeches from Dean of Students and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Jeanne Lord, University President John J. DeGioia, Fr. Michael A. Zampelli, S.J. (CAS ’82) and senior speaker Luke Brown (COL ’17).
Additional awards were presented to six students and one faculty member for their work surrounding the LGBTQ community, as well as to the center’s 10 undergraduate Out for Change fellows, who participated in a yearlong initiative to explore “queer masculinities.”
With standing room only and attendance by numerous staff and faculty, this year’s ceremony is an example of how LGBTQ initiatives on campus have grown since the first official Lavender Graduation in 2009, according to LGBTQ Resource Center Director Shiva Subbaraman.
Although students had been hosting their own ceremonies for many years before, Lavender Gradation has expanded in size and support every year it has been held, Subbaraman said.
“The most joyful thing about this has been the numbers and numbers of faculty and staff and other administrators who come out to show love and support for our students. It’s quite amazing. President DeGioia has come since 2012. It’s one ceremony he will not miss no matter what happens,” Subbaraman said in an interview with The Hoya.
DeGioia said Lavender Graduation is an important tradition to recognize the roles members of the LGBTQ community play on campus.
“Each of you has made your own unique and lasting contributions to our university. You’ve enlivened our mission with your passion and talents. You’ve enriched and strengthened our university in countless ways,” DeGioia said in his address to the graduates.
Zampelli, who was an executive producer of the Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society during his time at Georgetown, is the first Jesuit to speak at Lavender Graduation. He has done pastoral work with LGBTQ Catholics through the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.
At the ceremony, Zampelli reflected on his experience at Georgetown when he faced the decision to stand with LGBTQ friends. He said his commitment to the LGBTQ community today was “born out of a failure.”
“Something deep inside pulled me toward the conversation in which people were laboring to understand more adequately a range of identities, sexual, religious, political. Something deep inside pulled me, and I did nothing,” Zampelli said.
The question of how to address silence surrounding issues of oppression was the theme of Brown’s reflection on his time at Georgetown. Brown opened his speech by recognizing that he was the fourth white cisgender male to address the audience during the event, and addressing that as a white cisgender male, his experience navigating identity issues at Georgetown has come with a significant amount of privilege.
“I have been welcomed here on the Hilltop in the fullness of my gay identity, yet I know not everyone can point to such a cookie-cutter, picture-perfect narrative as mine,” Brown said. “We, white people, men, cis people and other privileged identities especially, must remember that marginalization and oppression do not exist somewhere out in the world. Rather they work through us and in us, whether or not we acknowledge that fact.”
Lavender Graduation was held during the final week of classes, rather than closer to other commencement activities in mid-May, because many LGBTQ-identified students or allies are unable to celebrate their identities with their families, according to LGBTQ Resource Center Assistant Director Julian Haas.
“In response to that shame and guilt, this large ceremony of the entire campus community is really our way of saying, ‘We are proud of you despite what other things go on in our life. Because you are LGBTQ, we are proud of you’,” Haas said in an interview with The Hoya.
Brown expressed his pride and gratitude for the class of 2017 and recognized many of its accomplishments, including organizing around the sale of 272 slaves to settle Georgetown’s debt and demanding answers about Georgetown’s investment in prisons and occupied Palestine.
“You have turned a school into a home for me, and I think I can say this without exaggeration, thousands of other students,” Brown said. “You have showed me the person I one day hope to be.”