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SDSU honors LGBT graduates at third annual Lavender Graduation

SAN DIEGO – As the end of the academic year approaches, San Diego State University (SDSU) held its third annual Lavender Graduation Celebration on Tuesday, to honor some of the school’s LGBT and ally graduates.

Nearly 100 people attended the afternoon ceremony, held in a ballroom in the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center, including graduates, their family, friends, and other special guests. Over 30 students participated in the ceremony and received a rainbow “honor cord,” a certificate, and a chance to address the crowd.

Janelle Fejeran, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies and Communication with a minor in LGBT Studies, told the crowd why she believes this event is important.

“It’s so important that we have this safe, supportive space to share and celebrate together, and for that, I truly thank the organizers,” Fejeran said.

Dr. Susan Cayleff, a professor of Women’s Studies, campus co-chair of Safe Zones at SDSU, and one of the organizers of the ceremony, said that many students who are not “out of the closet” to their family or classmates may feel extra invisible at graduation time.

“The spirit of Lavender Graduation is to create a space to celebrate you and all of your beautiful oneness,” Cayleff told the graduates. “It is so beautiful to have you all here today.”

Over the past decade, SDSU has made extra strides to create a safe campus environment for LGBT students and faculty. Besides hosting a number of campus-wide events that support the LGBT community, such as the annual Rainbow Flag Raising ceremony, an LGBT Studies minor program was launched in 2009.

This past January, SDSU became only the second university in the nation to offer a major in LGBT Studies. Despite severe budget cuts across the California State University system, campus officials were able to create the undergraduate degree by combining a series of existing courses to make up the requirements for the program.

Students were able to first register as LGBT Studies majors this semester.

The first ever “Outstanding LGBT Studies Major/Minor Graduate” award was also handed out at Tuesday's event. Ruth Downey, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in LGBT Studies, said she was pleased to receive the award.

“This is extra exciting because this is the first year that LGBT Studies is a major,” Downey told the crowd. “It has been a pleasure working with Dr. Cayleff who has been a great friend and mentor to me.”

Cayleff was then awarded “Most Influential Faculty,” upon the nomination of Downey.

Special recognitions were also given to Associate Dean Linda Holler of SDSU’s College of Arts and Letters for her support of the LGBT Studies academic program, and to Dr. Oliva Espin, Emerita Professor of Women’s Studies and community activist Larry Baza, for their support of LGBT students and the greater campus community.

Holler, Espin, and Baza each spoke to the crowd, sharing words of thanks and advice.

“I ask you to become active in the struggle for civil rights and be role models for our youth, and the organizations fighting for our rights,” Baza said to the graduates.

Graduates who participated in the event did so by signing up and paying a small fee, which covered the cost of the ceremony and honor cords. Rikki Bower, who will graduate with a degree in Child and Family Development and a minor in LGBT Studies, announced that he will be working to create a scholarship program for students who might not be able to participate in Lavender Graduation because of the cost.

Bower asked his fellow graduates to give what they can, and he pledged $90 to start the fund.

Daniel Wright, who is receiveing a bachelor’s degree in Studio Arts, said it meant a lot to him to have this space to celebrate.

“I told some friends about the Lavender Graduation, and they said to me ‘Oh, this is just another gay thing,’” Wright recalled. “My reply to them was ‘No, this event is so much more than just a gay thing. It is a recognition of who we are, and celebrates not only LGBT people, but also our allies.’”

SDSU’s official commencement ceremonies will take place Friday, May 18-Sunday, May 20 in the Viejas Arena.

For more information about SDSU’s LGBT Studies program click HERE.