Kent State celebrates LGBTQ+ graduates at Lavender Graduation


Matthew Brown

Kent State graduating senior Austin Brewster says a few words as she takes the stage before receiving her stole during the Lavender Graduation May 5, 2023.

Aden Graves, Reporter

Messages of empowerment, inclusiveness and love filled the Kent Student Center Ballroom Friday for Lavender Graduation, an event honoring and celebrating the accomplishments of LGBTQ+ graduates.

Guests were greeted with rainbow banners and signs of pride as they stepped into the brightly decorated room. The ceremony consisted of a presentation of awards given out by the LGBTQ+ Center, speeches by graduates Natalia Cruz and Lana Kuhlenschmidt, an alumni keynote address by Michael Varatti and a moment where graduates could walk across the stage and deliver short ‘thank you’ speeches to people who supported them.

“I think this event is very beautiful and very necessary,” said Kent State graduate Alexis Wilson, who graduated in the fall. “I think, especially at such a tumultuous time like the one we’re living in now, to have an affirming space where you can go be yourself and celebrate your queerness so loudly, it is so important. It’s always been important, but it’s extra important now.”

Director of the LGBTQ+ Center Ken Ditlevson welcomes attendees to the Lavender Graduation May 5, 2023. (Matthew Brown)

She hopes to work with queer youth in the future and was honored to attend the event both as a graduate and now as an alumna.

While the tradition started at Kent State by the LGBTQ+ Center in 2016, the story of Lavender Graduation can be traced back much further.

The event was founded in 1995 by Dr. Ronni Sanlo at the University of Michigan. Sanlo, a Jewish lesbian, was denied the opportunity to attend her own children’s graduation because of her sexual orientation, LGBTQ+ Center Director Ken Ditlevson said.

“She chose to pull the color lavender, which is signified in LGBT history, by pulling together the color of the pink triangle that gay men were forced to wear in concentration camps, and the black triangle, designated for lesbian prisoners,” Ditlevson said.

Kent State President Todd Diacon said the event grows every year.

“I’m honored to be here at the Lavender Graduation,” he said. “It’s just been such a joy to watch it grow every year. I thought last year was about as big as it would get, and it’s much larger this year.”

Natalia Cruz, a theatre and political science graduate, delivered the student keynote address, reflecting on their time at Kent State.

After being unable to attend last year’s Lavender Graduation, alumni Bill Hoover receives the 2022 alumni award during the 2023 ceremony May 5. (Matthew Brown)

“Even though it has been a very rough road, my big romance was falling in love with Kent,” Cruz said. “From walking along the Cuyahoga River to the drag shows at Zephyr, meaningful academic conversations, to picking up flowers around campus, I am going to miss the place that has helped shape me into something marvelous.”

Cruz said they’re passionate about creating meaningful art that has the ability to create change. At the end of their speech, they highlighted the importance of advocating for change, especially in light of recent proposed bills in Ohio such as Senate Bill 83.

“As for the future, I don’t know if Ohio will be a part of mine, but even if I leave, I still care about the people here that live in this state,” Cruz said. “Regardless of what happens, I know there will still be people here in Kent who will continue to support the queer community.”

Ditlevson spoke about the importance of the event.

“I hope that this really sends a message of hope and support,” he said. “I’m hopeful that this provides a little bit of rejuvenation and an uplifting feeling so that we can continue fighting forward, because we need to take good care of ourselves in this fight for equality.”

Aden Graves is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected]