Fordham to Hold First LGBTQ Graduation Ceremony



Students at Lavender Graudation will be able to choose the name on their certificates, giving the option for transgender students to use their preferred name.


On May 8, students, professors and alumni will gather for the first Lavender Graduation held at Fordham University to recognize the achievements of graduating LGBTQ students and faculty.  

A Lavender Graduation, affiliated with the Human Rights Campaign, is a separate ceremony from a university’s official commencement to honor the achievements of LGBTQ students. Robin Happel, Fordham College at Rose Hill ’19 and coordinator of the ceremony said, “A Lavender Graduation celebrates LGBTQ students and allies, and provides a positive experience to close out their college years.”

While separate cultural heritage and specialized ceremonies have long since been apart of universities because they often provide a sense of community for minority students, this will be the first event of its kind at Fordham.

When Happel noticed the lack of a Lavender Graduation ceremony at Fordham, she sought to plan the event, even if it meant having a small, unofficial get together with her friends.

The urgency to plan the ceremony increased after Happel realized Fordham’s chosen name policy would not take effect until the Fall 2019 semester, meaning many of her transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) classmates would have their “dead name” on their diploma. “For what many of our students pay in tuition, they deserve at the very least a diploma with their name on it,” Happel said.

Happel is coordinating the event alongside Orit Avishai, associate professor of sociology at Rose Hill, and J. Patrick Hornbeck, chair of the theology department. Happel chose to work with academic departments because “Fordham’s academic freedom policies grant them greater leniency in scheduling events and putting up flyers than most student groups have.”

The event is sponsored by the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department, and will involve Rafael Zapata, chief diversity officer, in the ceremony. Happel hopes that the Lavender Graduation will carry on through future years as a Fordham tradition to further support LGBTQ students.

Lavender Graduation will take place on the Butler Commons at Rose Hill from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the ceremony starting at 5 p.m. According to the RSVP, the dress code is to “wear something you wouldn’t wear to regular graduation.”

Graduating students, faculty and alumni in attendance will receive a certificate of appreciation and members of of the class of 2019 will receive an honor cord. All members of the community and guests are welcome to attend the ceremony and reception.

Lavender Graduation aims to be a safe space for all attendees to be their true selves without fear or judgment. Attendees choose the name that appears on their certificate, along with the option to leave the name field blank, and coordinators promise everyone’s identity will remain private outside of the event. “No photos please” buttons will be available for everyone who does not wish to be photographed at the event.

Fordham has taken steps in TGNC inclusion in the past, including the chosen name policy and switching the single-occupancy restrooms to all-gender restrooms on campus over the summer. Happel hopes the ceremony can build off this momentum. Her main goal is for TGNC alumni to receive updated versions of their diplomas.

Happel also invited students who do not identify as either LGBTQ or TGNC to attend because it is a “show of allyship since it shows the administration that there’s support for this becoming a new tradition.”

“For those who have felt excluded and faced prejudice from professors and fellow students, my hope is that it restores a sense of family among Fordham students, and encourages students to stay involved in our community as alumni,” she said.