With the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures in place, in-person commencement ceremonies have been postponed as schools across the country wait for further instruction or develop a way to celebrate graduation safely. While they still hope to have an in-person ceremony when it’s safe to do so, Kent State’s LGBTQ+ Center will be hosting a virtual Lavender Graduation from May 4–8 across their social media platforms. 

Lavender Graduation honors the achievements of graduating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally students at Kent State. All graduates wishing to participate and be recognized must register on the center’s website.

Director of the LGBTQ+ Center Ken Ditlevson said the center didn’t want to overlap the events of the virtual May 4 Commemoration on Monday, so the center will start their first day of Lavender Graduation posts toward the end of the day Monday and continue throughout the week. 

The first day of the virtual ceremony will be “Mondays with Melody.” Melody Tankersley, Kent State’s interim provost, will be presenting a message from the university for the graduates. 

Tuesday will consist of a message from the LGBTQ+ Center’s planning committee. Ditlevson said they normally get 15 to 20 people every year from all across the university, including students, faculty, staff and even community members, that help with Lavender Graduation. 

“They kind of helped us craft (the) week and what we’re going to be offering,” Ditlevson said. “It’s basically just going to be a message from different entities across the university just saying, ‘Congratulations, we’re so proud of you graduates.’ So that has some people in there that have been really connected with our students, really involved. So there’ll be some familiar faces in there that I think our students will really appreciate.”

On Wednesday, the center will present messages from students who were going to be keynote speakers at Lavender Graduation. 

“It’s basically going to be a very condensed version of what they would have presented at the Lavender Graduation ceremony,” he said. “Typically, it’s just one student that presents, but because we’re doing it virtually, we invited two students to speak and that will be compiled into one video that’ll be featured on Wednesday.”

Thursday’s event will be a “Throwback Thursday.” The center will feature memories from ceremonies, pictures of graduates and they’re also encouraging past graduates to share photos of themselves. 

Also on Thursday, the LGBTQ+ Center will be promoting and encouraging people to attend Karamu Ya Wahitimu/Celebración de los Graduados, the Student Multicultural Center’s pre-commencement ceremony, which will be taking place virtually on Thursday.

Finally, on Friday they will feature this semester’s graduates who submitted their information to be recognized in the virtual ceremony. Ditlevson said it will be like a commemorative video for the graduating class along with congratulatory messages from Alfreda Brown, vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and associate vice president Dana Lawless-Andric. 

“Anyone that submits their information, will be featured with photos with information about themselves that they submitted, like favorite moments at Kent or thank yous that they want to send out to people that helped them reach this milestone of reaching graduation,” Ditlevson said. 

After recognizing the graduates, Ditlevson and Assistant Director of the LGBTQ+ Center Katie Mattise will present a closing message congratulating the graduates, encouraging them to stay connected and reminding them that eventually there will be an in-person celebration.

During the following week, Ditlevson said they plan to release a couple videos that will recognize the winners of the LGBTQ+ Center’s six awards that are normally distributed at graduation including the Outstanding Collaborative Ally award, Out and Proud Student Leader award, Rising Star award, Faculty/Staff award, and Alumni and Community award. 

“This isn’t really our favorite mode because we are really people that like to really be connected and social,” Ditlevson said. “But I feel like this is at least the best thing that we can offer in these times.”

Ditlevson said he is very proud of all people rallying around the LGBTQ+ Center during this time to help create a Lavender Graduation ceremony for these graduates.

“It’s not Katie and I that are just going to be doing it all,” he said. “We really have very active faculty, staff, students and alumni. That actually just gives me goosebumps talking about it because people are stepping up and helping. So that’s amazing. It doesn’t surprise me because it’s always been the case. But the best (part) is the celebration of the graduates. Honestly, every year that is one of the highlights for Katie and I both. It just is incredible to see students that sometimes have really faced some insurmountable challenges and have overcome and have reached this amazing celebration of reaching graduation.”

However, some students are not able to be their authentic selves in a setting as public as social media. Previously, Lavender Graduation was held in a public setting like the Kent Ballroom, which is very different than being broadcast worldwide, Ditlevson said. Therefore, because of some people’s fear of privacy, some of this year’s graduates will be unable to participate in the virtual ceremony and will instead wait until the in-person graduation to be recognized publicly. 

“LGBT people are not protected legally when it comes to employment, housing, public accommodations, a lot of other places,” Ditlevson said. “So there’s a real reason that people can’t always be their authentic selves and put their name out there. Being connected with an LGBT center, people are afraid they might not get the job that they want, or that their family might disown them. I mean, there’s a lot of things that people have to consider. I just wanted to acknowledge that. We’re doing our best and trying to celebrate our graduates and we’re supporting those students on the back end on the phone and through Skype and other platforms to help support those other students that can’t be celebrated publicly.”

Those interested in viewing the week of events can do so by tuning in on the LGBTQ+ Center’s social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Maria McGinnis is the features/opinion editor. Contact her at mmcginn9@kent.edu.

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